You Belong to Me
The lasting trauma of male survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Posted Mar 05, 2019
Watching the new documentary, "Leaving Neverland," about Wade Robson and James Safechuck revealing their childhood sexual abuse (CSA) at the hands of pop singer Michael Jackson is disturbing and sad. The men in the documentary are brave.
One in six boys are sexually abused.
Males can be—and are—sexually used or abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are. If a boy liked the attention he was getting, or became sexually aroused during the abuse, or even sometimes wanted the attention or sexual contact, this does not mean he wanted or liked being manipulated or abused, or that any part of what happened, in any way, was his responsibility or fault.
And yet men worry they will be blamed—and sometimes are—for the CSA that happened to them.
Perpetrators Know Their Victims
This post’s title reflects the perpetrator’s belief that the victim now belongs to him/her, to do with as he/she desires; that the perpetrator's sexual needs, wants, and sexuality overrules those of the victim’s. The victim will spend a lifetime working on healing and removing the ill effects of the perpetrator’s abuse. For sexual abuse survivors, the nightmare is that they are forced to keep a sexual secret. Their tormentor threatens to harm them or someone they love if they ever tell. So they don’t—giving the perpetrator even more power.
By not going through the healing process, the victim does belong to their perpetrator.
Childhood sexual abuse can color an adult’s sexual interests and behaviors. More important, CSA can lead to considerable trouble and grief. As a therapist I work to reduce the trouble and the grief and help my clients lead happier, more functional lives.
Sexual Abuse Will Disorient You, Not Orient You
I have had straight clients worry they might become gay from sexual abuse as well as gay and bisexual male clients who tell me they think they are gay and bisexual because they were sexually abused.
Childhood sexual abuse complicates and confuses an individual’s developing awareness of sexuality. It does not make a person gay, straight, or bisexual or force sexual or romantic orientation in any direction. However, it can confuse and imprint unwanted behaviors or absence of behaviors and desires—and herein lies the problem—leaving a person’s real sexual desires hidden, even to him/herself.
Males who are gay, bisexual, straight or somewhere in between, can make the mistake of connecting sexual abuse with homosexuality when the perpetrator is male. Their main rationale is that those who are LGBTQ must have been sexually abused: This derives from the old psychoanalytic theory that one’s sexual orientation is created in the first few years of development, and that if any trauma or negative influences “impair” it, then adolescence offers a second chance at "correcting" one’s heterosexuality gone wrong. Sexual abuse was assumed to be one of the primary reasons that one could get “confused” and turn away from innate heterosexuality.
A Definition of Sexual Abuse
Whenever one person dominates and exploits another person through sexual activity or suggestion, using sexual feelings and behavior to degrade, humiliate, control, injure or misuse, this qualifies as sexual abuse. In the book, The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, author and educator Wendy Maltz equates sexual abuse with a violation of a position of trust, power, and protection, “an act on a child who lacks emotional and intellectual maturation.” It promotes sexual secrecy among its victims so that even their own sexual drives, libido, orientation and desires become secrets to themselves.
Overt sexual abuse involves direct touching, fondling, and intercourse against a person’s will. When men abuse they generally do so in overt ways. A few examples include French kissing, fellatio, sodomy, penetration with objects, genitals and fingers, and masturbation. Use of force is typically involved—often physical, but more often psychological or emotional, such as difference in status or experience, as in employee/employer, adult/child, older boy/younger boy.
Covert sexual abuse is more subtle and indirect. When women abuse they generally do so in covert ways. Examples of this include prolonged hugs, sexual stares, inappropriate comments about body parts such as buttocks or genitals, shaming someone for the kind of man they are (or more frequently, homophobic name-calling), or treating a child as an adult or even a partner for emotional support.
Trauma is defined as having something emotionally charged happen to you and not being able to express it.
Trauma is the psychological difficulties that can result from abuse. The trauma is the result of the abuse, the “damage.” Typically, it manifests in compulsive behaviors, addictions, and many other states of unhappiness such as chronic depression and anxiety disorders.
Males Disclosing Sexual Abuse
Male survivors of sexual abuse often worry that in seeking help, they’ll be perceived as “less of a man.” They worry they will be seen as less masculine. Of course the male survivor of sexual abuse fears what others will think of him because males are stigmatized around their sexual and erotic expressions.
It is shame that keeps males quiet about CSA. The shame of identifying as a victim as a male, and the fear that others will think they are not straight if the perpetrator is male, experiencing loss of control that males are taught they should always be in.
Many people already believe the old stereotype that gay and bisexual men are “more like women.” Even gay men themselves will discriminate against effeminate men, saying, “If I wanted women, I’d have been straight,” and many gay male personal ads specify, “No fems.” This all creates the mindset that being gay—or at least, not a macho man—makes you less than masculine. So for gay men to tell others about their abuse would only add to the insult that they are less of a man. Imagine the profound double bind of being gay and having been sexually abused.
On the other hand, women are more inclined to go to therapy. They are more willing to deal with it head-on than their male counterparts. Lesbians are concerned that their therapist will try to insist that this abuse is what “turned them into” lesbians and/or might worry that this is, in fact, the case. Gay men also get this type of feedback and can worry about this. It’s important to arm yourself with as much information about sexual abuse as you can. Learn for yourself where you stand as a sexual abuse survivor.
Do not accept how your perpetrator, therapists, family or anyone else want to define you. CSA can change your life but it doesn't have to define your life.
People will read about Michael Jackson and say he isn't here to defend himself, and he is not. But the victims of his abuse are still here and they have a right to speak out and unburden themselves with this longstanding secret.
You need to belong to yourself, as you really have all along.
Fradkin, Howard 2012. Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive. London, Hay House UK Ltd
Gartner, Richard B. 2017. Healing Sexually Betrayed Men and Boys: Treatment for Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Trauma. NewYork: Routledge Press
Gartner, Richard B 2017. Understanding the Sexual Betrayal of Boys and Men: The Trauma of Sexual Abuse. New York: Routledge Press.
Maltz, W. (2001). Sexual healing journey: A guide for survivors of sexual abuse (Rev. ed.). New York: HarperCollins.
Male Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse. https://www.malesurvivor.org