The Bristlecone Project

This exhibition is no longer on display at the Museum.

One in six boys will be sexually abused before their 16th birthday. The Bristlecone Project exhibition celebrates the courage, determination and resilience of men from across New Zealand – and the world – who have suffered sexual abuse. These men tell their stories, openly and honestly. They are stories of suffering but also of triumph and hope.

An estimated 300,000 New Zealand men have endured childhood sexual abuse. The Bristlecone Project is an international initiative developed in 2012 by US clinical psychologist David Lisak who was himself abused as a child. David interviews and photographs male survivors of sexual abuse with the aim of introducing men who have been sexually abused to each other, and to their larger communities. He was in New Zealand earlier this year to interview the 24 New Zealand men who feature in the exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

The men whose stories feature in the exhibition are offering a gift. To those who have suffered sexual abuse but are still trapped in silence they are saying, “You can talk to someone, you do not need to suffer alone”. They are showing how talking has helped them to heal. To their community, they are saying, “We are everywhere. In New Zealand alone there are 300,000 of us. Listen to our stories”.

This is the first time that the subject of male sexual abuse has been the subject of an exhibition in New Zealand; the Bristlecone Project has already hosted 12 exhibitions in the United States and one in Cambodia. The exhibition coincides with an international symposium being held in Christchurch and is held in conjunction with Males Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa Trust and ACC. The Bristlecone Project is named after the bristlecone pine tree, which survives and thrives despite harsh conditions, in the high altitudes of the American Rocky Mountains.

The stories in the exhibition may be upsetting to some people. For help and support on this issue go to: and 0800 735 566

David Lisak

Sexually abused at the age of five by a young man who boarded with his family, David kept the abuse hidden for 30 years. The abuse shaped much of his early life. It intruded into his relationships, and fed his isolation and self-doubts. It also fed his desire to be entirely self-sufficient and independent. Only when he began to confront what had been so long hidden did David begin to free himself from its effects.

He turned from farming to psychology, resumed his university studies, and became a clinical psychologist. He transformed his early traumatic experiences into a career of research and clinical work, focused on trauma. David has studied the long term effects of abuse on men’s lives as well as the behaviour and characteristics of rapists.

He works tirelessly to increase public awareness of sexual violence and its impact, and has worked with organisations which focus on helping men who have suffered sexual abuse.

Supported by ACC

List Image: Dugal Armour, David Lisak. All Rights Reserved

This exhibition is no longer on display at the Museum.
6 November 2017 – 2 April 2018
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