Sexual assault survivor travels half way around the world to find healing in South Jersey

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 Tristan Iveson (right) traveled from Australia to South Jersey to meet Rhett Hackett and his family. Hackett helped Iveson begin to heal from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Hackett also was molested when he was young. (Anne Hoffman/for NewsWorks)

Tristan Iveson (right) traveled from Australia to South Jersey to meet Rhett Hackett and his family. Hackett helped Iveson begin to heal from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Hackett also was molested when he was young. (Anne Hoffman/for NewsWorks)

The stigma of male sexual assault keeps many survivors from finding the help they need.  But a South Jersey man has come forward and shared his story, inspiring another survivor to reach out — all the way from Australia.

In 2010, Rhett Hackett went on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” along with 200 men who’d also been molested as kids. On social media, he said that he was willing to help anyone who needed it.

Ten thousand miles away, Tristan Iveson had also been sexually abused by an older man. His mother saw Hackett on TV and reached out to him.

“So I spoke to her parent to parent, and then I had the opportunity to speak to Tristan survivor to survivor,” said Hackett.

Iveson was struggling at home. He was socially cautious and tried to immerse himself in relationships with people who needed his help as a distraction, he said, from the healing work he needed to do.

“I just, I got lost. I got really lost in my own town, just in my young adult years. These things here just put on an absolute stigma for me. I couldn’t actually figure out who I was,” said Iveson who lives in the South Australian town of Strathalbyn.

Iveson and Hackett have been talking for several years now. Connecting with someone who gets it has made a huge difference, Iveson said.

“Being able to meet someone like Rhett, I didn’t have to feel different, you know, I was able to work out that it had actually been something that I could express to someone, and that I didn’t have to hide it. I was able to work through those things and be myself.”

Iveson recently brought the man he said molested him to trial, but he wasn’t convicted. It was an outcome that wasn’t easy for Iveson. At a low point, his mother asked Hackett if he could visit him in South Jersey. Hackett said he didn’t have to think about it for even a second before saying yes. While stateside, Iveson will celebrate his 25th birthday with Hackett and his family.

“He is a vision of hope right here, because he will carry this forward,” reflected Hackett. “He’ll parent differently — he’s able to communicate the story.”

Iveson said the trip has been a healing experience, and he’s resolved to be a resource for other survivors, just as Hackett has helped him.

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