Sexual Assault Survivor Robert Marshall Shares His Story and Empowers Men to Do the Same
Robert Marshall, founder of I Am Man Inc., is not only an advocate for male sexual assault victims, but also a survivor himself. Marshall spoke with The Root about how he used his story to empower other survivors to seek wellness and how his next delivered, Echoes, explores more intimately the stories of survivors and ways to overcome the effects of trauma.
Marshall, speaker, male empowerment coach, had introduced himself to his family and community to share his experience. Contrary to the negativity he expected, he was overwhelmed by the response from men from all walks of life who had shared his trauma.
The Root found Marshall’s experience with sexual abuse devastating. That it started so early in his childhood made us wonder, how has it affected him throughout his years?
“I’ve had nine sex offenders in my life. I started getting sexually treated from the age of four until I was almost 19 years old. For a long time, I thought it was my fault. I thought something was wrong with me. It never really crossed my mind that I never had the chance to choose who I wanted to be what I wanted to be. He was chosen for me.
I started sharing my story of sexual abuse and was very nervous at first, but I really felt like I had to be totally honest. I didn’t think it would take well. When I started sharing, I started getting this overwhelming response from men from all walks of life. Everyone from different races, different cultures, sexual orientation, it was just, that, it was just starting to come out of the floodgates,” Marshall said.
We asked Marshall why he was hesitant at first to share his story publicly and why other survivors might be reluctant to talk about their experiences.
“I didn’t feel like it was going to be okay. I didn’t feel it suited the religious community. I didn’t feel like it would fit in an urban hip-hop community because it doesn’t speak to toxic unrealistic and unhealthy definitions of masculinity and manliness.
I was afraid, you know, of embarrassing my wife and her family. I was also scared of what my kids would encounter, because once I posted here, it is what it is. You can’t decide who does what with this information and how they can return it, or what would be said. I wanted to protect my family and was really encouraged by my wife. She was my biggest fan. She was the one in the corner saying, you know, ‘You have to do this,'” Marshall said.
Along with her journey to sharing her story, Marshall noted that most people in communities of color tend not to talk about their traumas in part because it’s hard to get someone convicted of sexual assault. Men are especially reluctant to speak up or even tell someone about their experience because of shame, Marshall found.
“Not everyone has been sexually abused by a man. Some of them have been abused by babysitters or cousins, family friends, girlfriends, and it has touched them. men are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of being seen as gay,” Marshall said.
This fear of talking is what made him start I am an Inc man. As the #MeToo Movement spotlighting resources that female victims of sexual assault can use, Marshall noticed that male survivors had almost nowhere to turn.
I Am Man Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safe space for male survivors of sexual assault by advocating, educating and empowering men to take back the power to choose who they want to be, according to the echoes Press release. Marshall’s first event for male survivors of sexual assault drew 92 men. Marshall said he then realized there was a real problem.
We wanted Marshall to describe his work with the organization; what they are doing to support survivors and the demographics of men who seek support from I Am Man Inc.
“My specific role and what we do, because we are not therapists, is to inspire, encourage and empower men to begin their journey to wholeness. When a man experiences sexual trauma, uh, scientifically, it changes them. It literally changes different elements of the person in general. What we’re doing is we’re creating safe spaces for them to give them the opportunity to start realizing, “Hey, that’s what I’ve been through. Most men don’t say anything because they don’t realize what they’ve been through is sexual abuse or sexual trauma.
We really do in-depth work through programs or resources through books and programs, helping them dig deeper into this. We can provide frameworks, forums, conversations to empower men to choose who they want to be and not live by unhealthy toxic definitions [of masculinity] that don’t serve them,” Marshall said.
Statistics found 1 of 6 men have been sexually assaulted. About 14% of these men had experienced sexual assault before the age of 18, the US Centers for Disease Control reported.
Through outreach and investigations, Marshall found that most of the survivors he met were heterosexual black men between the ages of 40 and 60. He also noted that men are less likely to report their incidents to the police, but men of color even more so because of the ongoing battle. against police brutality and mass incarceration. Moreover, their experiences translate into who they are in relationships.
“There are a lot of men who have trust issues, who have relationship issues and they have confided that often they have these issues because they have been sexually abused and have never told anyone about it. Or they have commitment issues because they are scared Even performing certain sexual acts with their partners they have a problem with that because they have been through sexual abuse or a traumatic sexual experience and never have anything said,” Marshall said.
The Root asked Marshall how he documented the stories of survivors to organize the echoes project and her plans after the book’s release to continue the effort to connect survivors to resources.
Marshall said his next book, echoesaims to give hope to men who still feel trapped by their current or past abuse, via press release. echoes is also an anthology project to humanize the experiences of male survivors and provide a framework to better understand the layers of sexual violence.
“As I started to write my story, I realized it would be very selfish of me to just include my story as I watched a sea of black men, white men, Hispanic men , straight Asian men and trans men – everyone who had been through this they had been through. So what I did was I opened it up and said I wanted to use this opportunity, to create a platform where we can truly shed light on the effects of trauma and its impact on men.
This is where Echoes was born. We’ve had retirement weekends, or currently, Echoes is set to release on April 25th. We are also working on a documentary to be released before the end of the year that will highlight the lived experiences of male survivors of sexual trauma from all walks of life.
I can’t even tell you how many men call me, privately say, “It happened to me, but I can’t say anything.” They literally carry that to their graves, so the shame, the pain, the rejection, all of that builds up inside of them and eats them alive,” Marshall said.
Following the book’s release, Marshall is looking to host a March 11 event called the Survivor Circle in his hometown of Chicago, to celebrate survivors of sexual assault and those who have had the courage to share their stories in echoes.
Marshall’s message for survivors is to remember that what happened to them was not their fault, but what they can control is how they left their experience perform them.
“It is your responsibility to manage your integrity, your health. To do this, you sometimes have to accept excuses that you will never get. You’ll have to find the courage to start the journey to face the things that have bullied you in silence,” Marshall said. “We have to put aside the negative things that we face internally so that we can live and be free. Most men just exist. I believe that every man deserves the right to live.