When Senator Scott Brown came forward on 60 Minutes to reveal his history of boyhood sexual abuse, he joined a group of prominent men who have bravely told the world about their childhood experiences of sexual molestation, assault, and/or abuse. At one time it was virtually unheard of for any man, not to mention a prominent one, to acknowledge having been sexually abused.
But over the years a number of well known men have done so. Who are these men?
Each of these men must have lived in a private hell for many years before disclosing his trauma. Being silent about sexual abuse can be even more devastating than the physical acts themselves. Senator Brown recalls that the camp counselor who molested him said, '"If you tell anybody...I'll kill you. I will make sure that nobody believes you." When impressionable, isolated children and youths are told they will never be believed or that a predator will kill them or a family member, they are frightened into silence. This is a story I have heard far too many times from men whose sad stories will never appear on a television show or a newspaper headline. (When Oprah Winfrey had two programs recently about male sexual abuse, she had in her audience hundreds of men from every walk of life who were given a chance, however briefly, to stand up and say they had been sexually victimized.)
Even without overt threats, many young boys believe that if they disclose their abuse their peers or the adults in their lives will assume they encouraged their abusers, that they are "damaged goods," or that if they were truly manly they would have died rather than succumb to a sexual assault, especially by a man. These are the myths about male sexual victimization that still pervade our society.
The great majority of sexual abusers of children are known to the child, and many are in positions of power and responsibility in relation to him or her. In Senator Brown's case, the predator was a camp counselor, but coaches, teachers, clergy, and a host of others, including family members, have been known to molest those in their charge. So, every time a man who is a role model for boys—a musician, athlete, performer, actor, director, newscaster, or politician—comes forward to tell his story, it has an impact on troubled youths trying to find a way to integrate and move beyond betrayal by a trusted caretaker.
I therefore salute those who have come forward about their boyhood traumas and hope that Senator Brown's disclosure, like those of the others, will empower other men and boys to disclose their own histories.
What they all must understand, however, is that disclosing sexual abuse is only a first step toward healing from it.
For most boys and men, particularly those who have held on to their secret for years or even decades, the battle to overcome the effects of sexual abuse is a long and arduous one. It may involve overcoming a lifetime of habitual secrecy about important matters, since there can be a spread of effect once he stays silent about one crucial part of his life. It may involve learning to give his emotional life a voice and a language, something many men have never learned to do. It may involve facing a myriad of possible addictions and compulsions: alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, eating, pornography, and casual sexual encounters, to name only a few. It may involve mourning a childhood that was prematurely ended when he was hurried into sexual acts for which he was not ready. It may involve learning how to live intimately with another human being, since the distrust that sexual betrayal engenders stops many men from being able to maintain intimate relationships with friends, authorities, lovers, and spouses. It may involve facing and experiencing sadness, isolation, anxiety, depression, and a host of other emotions that have been kept at bay in order to function even minimally, and to find new ways to handle these emotions.
For many boys and men, the first step is to look on the Internet at sites like MaleSurvivor.org, 1in6.org, and RAINN.org. It may involve reading some of the books written for them that may help them understand they are not alone, even as their specific experience is unique. Or it may involve finding a therapist to help find a way to a new life. (Those who do not know how to find a therapist are invited to look on my own website for a guide about what to look for.)
Thank you, Senator Brown, for demonstrating that a man may succeed in establishing a good life despite the trauma of sexual abuse, and for also showing that talking about what happened is not shameful. I hope it leads you to face your own demons, and that others take courage from you and do the same.
About the author:
Richard Gartner, PhD, is Training and Supervising Analyst, faculty and Founding Director of the Sexual Abuse Program at the William Alanson White Institute. He wrote Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men, for professionals, and Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life after Boyhood Sexual Abuse, for the general public. Dr. Gartner was a founder and is a Past President of MaleSurvivor: the National Organization against Male Sexual Victimization (malesurvivor.org). He has been quoted widely about male sexual victimization and was the subject of a full-length interview in the Science Times section of the New York Times. Seewww.richardgartner.com.
© 2011 Richard Gartner, All Rights Reserved