Warning: This article is about sexual abuse and suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

When Ken Clearwater was admitted to a psychiatric emergency ward after threatening to kill a man over a game of pool, he knew he needed help to deal with a secret he'd been carrying for decades.

He had been raped as a child.

Clearwater, 38 years old at the time of the outburst, had spiralled into a deep depression fuelled by drugs, alcohol, gangs and a whole lot of violence.


"Drugs and alcohol is a survival mechanism, it helps to numb the brain so we don't have to deal with stuff going round and round in our heads," he says.

"As males, we're supposed to be staunch and tough. We're not allowed to talk about things, share our feelings or else it's seen as weak."

His two daughters broke him free of suicidal thoughts and he mustered up the courage to speak out about being raped at the age of 12.

Targeted, groomed and sexually abused by a neighbourhood paedophile - it was his mother who noticed a change in his demeanour and called the Christchurch Police.

He says throughout his childhood, he was sexually abused by both male and female perpetrators, something he says people often find hard to take in.

Nearly three decades later, and Clearwater is now one of New Zealand's most prominent advocates for male sexual abuse survivors.

He's been involved in Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse New Zealand since 1996.

The group's peer support model, for male survivors to help male survivors, has garnered international interest, with Clearwater himself speaking at the United Nations.

"Even now in 2017, we start working with a man he asks 'am I the only one', and we're able to say 'no'."

He believes at least one in six boys are abused by the time they are 16 and says more than half the men coming to him for help have been abused by women.

He says research reveals it takes anywhere from 23 to 30 years for a man to disclose what's happened to him - and 74 per cent of men never tell anyone.

However, he says there are very limited resources male sexual abuse victims can turn to for help.

"There are just not enough specialists in this country... it's an untouched area in a lot of ways."

Clearwater says the experience never goes away.

Ken Clearwater as a student at Bishopdale School. Photo / Supplied
Ken Clearwater as a student at Bishopdale School. Photo / Supplied

"I still get triggered on a regular basis. Fortunately, I have support services around me."

He says research shows up to 65 per cent of men in prison for violence have been sexually abused in childhood and believes there's a direct connection between those who are abused and those who go on to commit family violence in their adult life.

Clearwater also says research shows 62 per cent of men who have been through the mental health system have got histories of sexual abuse.

"We've got the figures and the facts, but no one's interested in hearing them."


In the organisation's 20th year of helping victims, they're bringing a Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Conference to Christchurch.

It's the third gathering of the South-South Institute - an international partnership involving the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust Aotearoa and the Refugee Law Project, Men of Peace and Men of Hope organisations in Uganda; and the First Step organisation in Cambodia.

Clearwater says his main goal bringing the conference to Christchurch is to take the lid off the can of worms that is male sexual abuse, and throw that lid away.

"We've got this can of worms in our country, now how are we going to solve that? Have we got the services available to help these men? There's no putting the lid back on and now it's up to the country now to accept there's a massive issue."

A retired FBI profiler and writer for hit US TV show Criminal Minds will be one of the conference's keynote speakers.

Jim Clemente, a globally recognised expert in sex crimes, child sexual victimisation and child abduction/homicide, is one of about 30 speakers from New Zealand and around the world who will talk at a conference.

Clemente was a child victim of sexual abuse and worked with the FBI to catch his abuser.

The conference runs from November 5-10.

Ken Clearwater, a prominent male survivor of sexual abuse, photographed for the Bristlecone Project. Photo / Dr David Lisak
Ken Clearwater, a prominent male survivor of sexual abuse, photographed for the Bristlecone Project. Photo / Dr David Lisak


Bristlecone pine trees survive and thrive in the harsh conditions of the western Rocky Mountains, a mountain range in North America.

The Bristlecone Project: Portraits of Male Survivors was developed in 2012 by 1in6 founding board member Dr David Lisak.

Sexually abused by the age of 5 by a young man who boarded with his family, Lisak now works tirelessly to increase public awareness of sexual violence and its impact.

A US clinical psychologist and avid photographer, he began photographing and interviewing male survivors.

Ken Clearwater was the first New Zealander to be photographed for the project.

"They're stories of trauma, but also stories of hope," He says.

Now, The Bristlecone Project has photographed and interviewed 24 Kiwis who are survivors of sexual abuse.

"It's going to be in people's faces. They're going to see faces to stories and understand what these men have been through," says Clearwater.

"We're talking about men who have been sexually violated by their mothers, aunties, uncles, fathers, priests, scout masters. Every form of survivor and perpetrator is shown through these photos."

The exhibition will be shown at the Canterbury Museum until April 2018.

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.