Opening up about being raped as a 12-year-old saved Ken Clearwater from killing himself or somebody else.

Since first publicly sharing his own story nearly 30 years ago, Clearwater has helped countless males all over the world get the support they need to survive their experiences of sexual abuse.

He has now become an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for this work.

Published in Stuff

“Nobody does this work for the recognition and it’s humbling to be acknowledged for it,” Clearwater said.

“I think what I’m most proud of about it is it brings the issue of male sexual abuse to to the fore.”

Clearwater attended his first peer support meeting for male survivors of sexual abuse in 1991, which was run by Iain Bennett.

In 1997, Bennett started the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust in Christchurch and asked Clearwater to be on the board.

He juggled volunteering at the trust with his freezing works butchery job until community grant funding allowed him to become the trust’s full-time manager in 2001.

“I’ve never seen it as a job. I had to do it and I had to do it for me.”

Since then, Clearwater has pushed the Government and ACC for recognition of male survivors of sexual abuse to be eligible for support, initiating the conversation that later resulted in changes to legislation.

Victims had to prove their abuse caused a mental illness to receive ACC compensation, he said.. Because many presented with other issues, such as drug and alcohol addiction, it was hard to prove the condition stemmed from the abuse.

Clearwater said while there had been much change in the way male survivors were treated, there was still a long way to go.

“We need to normalise the discussion around male sexual abuse. If we as adults can’t talk about it freely, than how on earth do we expect children to be able to come forward and report it?”

Clearwater began working with abuse victims in prison in 1999 and the programme he established continues to be used. More training and education at Corrections level was needed, he believed.

“We punish boys and men, we don’t help them. Statistics show around the world that 65 per cent to 68 per cent of men in prison have experienced childhood sexual abuse.”

Clearwater is not sure how he did not end up one of those prison statistics.

He started getting in trouble with the law around the time the abuse started. He appeared in youth court and his most serious offence was assaulting two police officers.

“I was always picking fights and looking for trouble … my temper would just go like a switch. I was always looking at ways to prove I was tough and strong.

“But I hated the person that I was, I hated behaving like that and I can see so much of that in these guys who are behind bars.”

Clearwater has lifted the profile of New Zealand as a leader in supporting male survivors.

He is a national advocate for Male Survivors Aotearoa, which he helped establish in 2013, and also helped establish the South-South Institute on Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys (SSI) in 2013, which is now a recognised international movement to better represent male survivors in countries around the world.


Rape Crisis – 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helplines

Victim Support – 0800 842 846 (24hr service)

The Harbour, online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour

Women’s Refuge (For women and children) – crisis line available on 0800 733 843

Safe to talk – 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat

Male Survivors Aotearoa (For men) – follow link for regional helplines

By Kim Nutbrown
Published in Stuff
3 June 2019