Robert Marshall, founder of I Am Man Inc., is not only an advocate for sexual assault victims who are men, 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 upcoming book, Echoes, explores more intimately the stories of survivors and ways to overcome the effects of the trauma.
Marshall, public speaker, author male empowerment coach, had come forward to his family and community to share his experience. In contrast to the negativity he expected, he was overwhelmed by the response from men of all backgrounds who had shared his trauma.
The Root found Marshall’s experience with sexual abuse devastating. That it began so early in his childhood made us wonder, how did it effect him throughout his years?
“I have had nine sexual abusers over my lifetime. I started getting sexually groomed from the age of four years old up until I was almost 19 years of age. For a long time, I thought it was my fault. I thought something was wrong with me. It never really dawned on me that I never had the chance to choose who I desired to be what I wanted to be. It was chosen for me.
I started sharing my story about sexual abuse and I was really nervous at first, but really felt like I needed 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. Everybody from different races, different cultures, sexual orientation, it was just, it, it just started coming out of the floodgates,” said Marshall.
We asked Marshall why he was hesitant at first to share his story publicly and why other survivors may be reluctant to coming forward about their experiences.
“I didn’t feel like it would fit. I didn’t feel like it was fit in the faith community. I didn’t feel like it would fit in an urban hip-hop community because it doesn’t speak to the unrealistic and unhealthy toxic definitions of masculinity and manhood.
I was fearful of, you know, embarrassing my wife and her family. I was fearful of what my kids would kind of encounter as well, because once I put information out here, it is what it is. You can’t decide who does what with that information and how they can flip it, or what would be said. I wanted to protect my family, and I was really encouraged by my wife. She was my biggest fan. She was the one in the corner saying, you know, ‘You need to do this,’” said Marshall.
Aside from his journey toward sharing his story, Marshall noted most people in communities of color tend not to speak up about their traumas partially because it is difficult to get someone convicted for sexual assault. Men are especially hesitant to speak up or even speak to someone about their experience due to shame, Marshall found.
“Not everybody was sexual abuse by a man. Some of them were abused by babysitters or cousins, family friends, female friends, and it’s impacted them. Often men are afraid to speak up because they’re either afraid they’re going to be looked at as gay,” said Marshall.
This fear to speak up is what inspired him to start I Am Man Inc. As the #MeToo movement put a spotlight on resources women sexual assault survivors can use, Marshall noticed there was almost nowhere for men survivors to turn.
I Am Man Inc. is a non-profit organization aimed toward building a safe space for men sexual assault survivors by advocating, educating and empowering men to take back the power of choosing who they want to be, per the Echoes press release. Marshall’s first event for men sexual assault survivors had an attendance of 92 men. Marshall said he realized then there was a real problem.
We wanted Marshall to describe his work with the organization; what they do to support survivors and the demographic of men who seek support from I Am Man Inc.
“My role specifically and what we do, because we’re not therapists, is to inspire and encourage and empower men to begin their journeys to wholeness. When a man experiences sexual trauma, um, scientifically it changes them. It literally changes different elements about person in general. What we do is we create safe spaces for them to give them the opportunity to begin to realize, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve been through.’ Most men don’t say anything because they don’t realize what they’ve experienced is sexual abuse or sexual trauma.
We really do some deep work through programs or resources through books and curriculums, helping them deep dive into that question. We can provide frameworks, forums, conversations to give men of power to choose who they desire to be and not live by unhealthy toxic definitions [of masculinity] that don’t serve them,” said Marshall.
Statistics found 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual assault. About 14 percent of those men had experienced sexual assault before the age of 18, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Through outreach and surveys, Marshall found most survivors he encountered were heterosexual Black men between the ages of 40 and 60. He also noted men are less likely to report their incidents to the police, but even more so men of color because of the ongoing battle against police brutality and mass incarceration. Additionally, their experiences translate to who they are in relationships.
“There are a lot of men who have trust issues, who have relationship issues and they confided that a lot of times they have these issues because they’ve experienced sexual abuse and have never told anybody. Or they have commitment issues because they’re afraid. Even performing some sexual acts with their partners, they have a problem with it because they experienced sexual abuse or a sexual traumatic experience and never said anything,” said Marshall.
The Root asked Marshall about how he documented survivors’ stories to curate the Echoes project and his plans following the book’s release to continue the effort to connect survivors with resources.
Marshall said his upcoming book, Echoes, is intended to instill hope in men who still feel trapped by their present or past abuse, per press release. Echoes is also an anthology project to humanize the experiences of men survivors and provide a framework to better understand the layers to sexual violence.
“As I started writing my story, I realized it would be very selfish of me to just include my story when was looking at a sea of Black men, white men, Hispanic men, Asian men straight and trans men - everyone who had experienced what they had gone through. So what I did was I opened it up and said I want to use this opportunity, create a platform where we can really shed light on the effects of trauma and how it impacts men.
That’s where Echoes was birthed. We’ve had retreat weekends, or currently, Echoes is set to release April 25. We’re also working on a documentary that will be released before the end of the year that sheds light on the lived experiences of men survivors of sexual trauma from all walks of life.
I can’t even tell you how many men call me, inbox me privately saying, ‘This happened to me, but I can’t say anything.’ They carry this literally to their grave, so that shame, the hurt that rejection, all that stuff is built up on the inside of them and eating them alive,” said Marshall.
Following the book release, Marshall is looking to put together an event March 11 called the Survivor Circle in his hometown of Chicago, to celebrate survivors of sexual assault and those who were courageous enough to share their stories in Echoes.
“It is your responsibility to manage your wholeness, your health. In order to do that, sometimes you have to accept the apologies that you’ll never get. You’ll have to find the courage to begin the journey to dealing with the things that have been silently bullying you,” Marshall said. “We have to put away the negative things that we contend with internally so that we can live and be free. Most men are just existing. I believe that every man deserves the right to live.”