SPEAKING MORE OPENLY
Hidden Cases, Including Mine
By Mark Elliot
Being a victim of sexual abuse makes for good conversation these days, but I cannot say I enjoy the topic. Sexual abuse is a very familiar topic for those of us involved in alcohol and drug recovery. I have heard estimates that 60 percent to 80 per cent of us have been sexually abused. When I first began discussing it publicly in 1991 a secretary asked me if such talk was "some new fad for young men". I think the look she got from me told her what she needed to know.
It is no fad. I would prefer to have my nails pulled out with a pair of pliers - slowly and with agony if it would mean never having to discuss my sexual abuse again. It is a subject thatís caused me no end of pain, confusion, alcoholism, and addiction since I was six years old. Other victims are suing the church, the parochial schools, the government, and others for their suffering. I have no one to sue and no desire to do it even if I could.
I have to laugh out loud at much of the ludicrous posturing by columnists this past week who should know better than to comment on a subject they know next to nothing about. One columnist compared the Catholic Church to the Boy Scouts and claimed the groupís policy of expelling Gay people has prevented any such scandal from occurring in its ranks.
Obviously, she was not a member of my troop. The Boy Scouts might not have sanctioned sexual experimentation, but it happened. I know because I was there.
Problem was that adults did not cause the abuse in my case. Other kids did - kids who likely had been abused by other kids, who had been abused by an adult somewhere along the way.
I still remember in the midst of my period of addiction telling my mother about what had happened when I was six, a hurtful thing to do in retrospect. How she cried over it! I was 30 when I told her and like most sexual abuse victims, I thought I knew how to handle it: when in fact I could not have handled it worse! The guy who abused me said he would kill me and hurt my family if I told anyone what happened. Six year olds scare easily and I held it in for 24 years. So, here was mom telling me she had always watched out for older men who might have an eye on me but she never thought of the twelve-year-old down the road from our home. Would you? Likely not.
Nor would you likely know that persons well known to the child cause the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse. The myth of the stranger offering candy to a kid in the park is just that: largely a myth.
A surprising fact about survivors of sexual abuse is that a lot of us feel we are better people for what we went through. Not that we would wish it on anyone else, but somehow we became better people therefore.
How can that be? Someone who has never been there has difficulty understanding how sexual abuse affects the victim. Textbooks have been written on the psychological damage that goes beyond the physical assault. To survive when so many others linger in depression or die from suicide means you have developed an incredible resiliency.
Confusion about sexual orientation is a common side effect that lingers into adolescence and adulthood for the victim. A feeling of unworthiness and ugliness is also common, although undeserved. It took years for me to find out the abuser look for the pretty ones - a fact that came from conversations with sexual offenders in a drug rehab. Most offenders also consider themselves "straight" or heterosexual, despite their involvement with young boys. Most also feel protected by the stigma a boy feels about revealing abuse by another man. At least they felt comfortable about it until recently.
My abuse took place in 1960, a time when sexual assaults on young boys were virtually unheard of. The sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies first made it easier for women to talk about sexual assault and abuse. Yet when telephone hotlines for abuse victims first began, workers were surprised when they received calls from abused men. At that time, outside of the Gay community there were no resources for counseling male abuse victims. Male sexual abuse was never discussed, except as it concerned the abuse of females by males.
Not so long ago I was working, as a counselor dealing with the case of a boy who was conned into making a porn video when he was drunk and stoned. When I called the police, the detective I spoke to almost yawned aloud. I was told: "One day he'll look at it as something he did for sport".
This was blatant "kiddy porn", involving this boy and a couple of men. When I told the detective that part of it, his response was "OhÖ" That kind of indifference sends a message to an abused boy that his problems are insignificant and only serves to reinforce the low self-esteem he already feels from having been sexually violated.
My local newspaper today reported a similar abuse incident. Apparently, the police took it very seriously.
"Anytime anyone feels someone has touched them in an unwanted sexual manner, we take it seriously," according to the officer involved. "There is no double standard under the law."
Really? Then perhaps all this painful talk is actually paying off.
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