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Wednesday, April 25,2012

Abuse survivors tell of long road back from shame

By Jim Phillips
Photo Credits: Photo by Joel Bissell.
Photo Caption: Simon Weinberg who co-produced “Boys and Men Healing,” introduces the film at Scripps Hall Tuesday night.

An audience in Ohio University's Scripps Hall was given a few gut-twisting moments Tuesday evening, as male survivors of child sexual abuse shared their stories during a panel discussion on he topic.

And if a 1990 survey published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect is to be believed, these men aren't exceptional cases; the survey estimated that in the United States, a staggering one in six men has suffered sexual abuse. High-profile survivors who have told their stories publicly include film producer Tyler Perry and New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey.

Though the stories the men told at OU Tuesday were different, they had common themes.

All spoke of the pain, anger, self-loathing and shame that boys carry into manhood after being sexually molested.

They told about repression of horrible childhood memories, and emotional deadness. They described their inability as grown men to trust, or become lovingly intimate with, another person. And finally, they held out the prospect of healing that can come when a survivor admits the truth, speaks it in public, and talks about it with other survivors.

"The overwhelming shame… just almost kept me like a mute and catatonic person," recalled Grant, an adult sexual abuse survivor who took part in a panel discussion at OU's Scripps Hall. Sexually abused by his mother, Grant said he grew up so dissociated from his own body and feelings, his existence was "like sitting on a couch watching a real-time movie of my life."

Panelist Dan likewise recalled his compulsive need to "shield myself from everybody, to make sure they couldn't hurt me."

Grant, Dan and Lou were the three adult survivors who took part in the panel; their last names will not be used in this story.

The event, sponsored by WOUB Public Media, OU's Scripps College of Communication, and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, showcased a screening of a documentary on male sexual abuse, "Boys and Men Healing."

The hour-long film, produced by Big Voice Pictures, is built around the stories of three adult sex-abuse survivors who have begun to come to grips with what was done to them as kids.

Also joining in the discussion after the film were Simon Weinberg, co-producer of the movie, and psychologist Howard Fradkin, co-founder of the support group Male Survivor.

Lou called the film "definitely a very real depiction of dealing with the pain, and the hurt; the embarrassment." Dan called it "very realistic."

As the men on the panel shared their stories, members of the 100 or so people packed into a small auditorium in Scripps joined in the discussion.

Some were professionals in the helping fields, asking for advice on how to address the male sexual abuse problem. Some were budding journalists, interested in how to cover the issue accurately and sensitively. And a couple of them identified themselves as survivors. (Counselors and private talking space were made available, as events like these sometimes prompt spontaneous admissions from audience members that they've been abused.)

The audience members seemed almost to collectively gasp as one young OU student announced that when he was 8 years old, he was gang-raped by three teen males. But, the student added, one big reason for his speaking up was to help get the word out about his efforts to form a survivor group at OU.

The panelists applauded his efforts, all suggesting that group support is crucial for survivors who want to come back to life.

Finding a support group, Lou said, "was absolutely a lifeline, because you have to speak it. Literally, the words have to come out of your mouth."

Grant said his finding a group was "like a miracle, almost."

One man whose story was featured in the movie, and who is now a therapist helping other survivors, reported that at the first meeting of a support group, "routinely, you see men starting to weep," just from seeing a roomful of other men who have suffered what they have.

Those wishing to help stop sexual abuse, Fradkin said, should be on the alert for its signs, and constantly make clear to children that they don't have to keep shameful secrets.

"If you're in any kind of responsible role with children… always keep telling those kids that you want to know any time they're feeling uncomfortable," he said.

He also argued passionately that it's long past time to confront the institutional responsibility for sexual abuse, whether that's in the Catholic Church or at Penn State University.

"Think about what happened at Penn State," he said. "It's hard to hear that shit… They knew about it, and they did nothing."

He urged journalists who deal with the issue to go beyond the scandal and try to report the impacts in human terms.

"Be bold – tell the story of survivors," he said.

Weinberg said making the movie with his wife was a labor of love. He noted that after Oprah Winfrey did a show featuring 200 male sexual abuse survivors, Big Voice Pictures saw a massive increase in online interest, and that he's now getting inquiries from all over the planet.

"I'm pretty much getting emails from every country in the world right now," he reported. He added that he's even been hired for consulting work by the U.S. Department of Defense.

"They are totally, totally open to this subject, big-time," he said. He recalled standing in a room with camo-fatigued top military officers, some of whom admitted for the first time to having been sexually abused.

Fradkin urged those in attendance to keep the issue in the forefront at OU.

"My hope would be that this is one of many events that happen on campus," he said.

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To Jim and the Athens News:  I applaud this very important article to bring the subject of male sexual victimization to the awareness of all of your readers.  You accurately portrayed the struggles male survivors can have and also helped your readers know there is hope.  As I said at the event, healing from sexual abuse and assault is absolutely possible and achievable.  I do want to challenge your statement about "IF" a survey published in Child Abuse and Neglect "is to be believed."  I refer your readers to to learn about all the research done to help estimate the staggering numbers of survivors.  Even the 1 in 6 number is highly likely to be an underestimate due to the immense shame men feel about abuse, and to cast doubt on these statistics does your readers and male survivors a gross injustice.  Howard Fradkin, Ph.D., Co-Founder, MaleSurvivor: The National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization



I agree with Dr. Fradkin...the numbers I have researched have shown as high as 1 in 4 men have had some form of sexual abuse the 1 in 6 number is easily justified by the research.  It is not in doubt...