Twelve-year-old Sam asked his neighbor for assistance on a school project and while working together, the man inappropriately touched him. The abuse didn't stop at just touching, but included violent rapes and other crimes and continued for five long years. The man manipulated and threatened little Sam so he kept quiet, but the abuse affected him deeply.
His grades slipped, people noticed his withdrawn and depressed state, but no one came forward to inquire how an enthusiastic child became so depressed. He tried to get help but to no avail and it was twenty years later that he found help on the internet where Sam found a community of survivors.
Like thousands of other survivors, Sam's healing process began with the support and acknowledgment of the community.
At least one in six boys has experienced sexual abuse before turning 18. Shocking, isn't it? Research shows that men are less likely to tell anyone when they are victims of rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault or domestic violence.
Although men in our society still occupy the highest and powerful platforms, they rarely use it to stand against the criminalization of our society. This toxic culture of silence is conditioned into us from birth; boys don't cry, be a man, take it like a man.
On this International Day in support of Victims of Torture, we stand and pray with all the victims and urge them to come out to seek help and give help.
"Unwanted sexual contact involving force, threats, or a large age difference," it is estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys in the U.S. (these figures might be underestimated) have been victims of sexual abuse. The similar disgusting figures might also hold true for the rest of the world.
Support groups dedicated to sexual abuse survivors are a key way to find healing for survivors but they are difficult to find – even in major metropolitan areas. While there may be tens of support groups for female survivors, there might be four to five for men in a densely populated area and the number drastically reduces as we move into less-populated areas.
Source: The Development Set
Male survivors find it a lot more difficult to find a therapist or a trained clinician who are knowledgeable in the specific issues. An uninformed therapist may not know that victims may experience erection or might even ejaculate during the abuse. They need to reassure the survivor that it happens and is not the same as giving consent for sexual abuse. The therapist also needs to understand the fact that even by asking whether the experience was consensual may intensify the survivor's shame, pushing him more towards silence.
For a sexual abuse survivor, disclosing their abuse story is challenging enough and if not handled sensitively it would make the experience more painful.
Men find it difficult to open up about their abuse, also because they have struggled to find role models who speak up about it. The 2010 Oprah Winfrey Show featuring actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry opened up a new door for hundreds of survivors when Perry spoke about the abuse he endured when he was a child. Winfrey also hosted a show where 200 men who had survived sexual abuse came forward. This show helped men who had been abused as it normalised the faces and reality, but such shows are few.
Undoubtedly, sex abuse has a deep effect on the victim and male survivors have a much higher risk of depression, PTSD, alcohol & drug abuse and suicide. The effect endured by most male survivors according to the Canadian Department of Justice report, "most were distrustful of others and were extremely ashamed of what had happened, feeling guilty as if it were their fault and feeling unworthy of anyone's love."
Considering one in every six boys is sexually abused and endures deep mental and physical issues for life, why is it that not much is said or done about this injustice.
The reason for such secrecy has roots in our upbringing where we tell our boys to be tough and not cry. We as parents, grandparents, siblings tell our boys to push down their feelings in order to appear strong from outside and tease them and even punish them for being sensitive and teary.
The myth that boys who have been victims of sexual abuse must be gay or "turned" gay by the abuse is another reason why men do not come out against their abuse. Sexual abuse happens to people of any sexual orientation. Being a male sex abuse survivor in a culture where anti-gay sentiments and laws exist make it all the more difficult.
Many victims feel they are less of a man as they couldn't defend themselves and this type of shame becomes all the more harmful for those who often need more support and compassion.
"I was overwhelmed, isolated and frustrated," he recalled. "I live in a decent sized metropolitan area. There is a wealth of support and information for female survivors. But if you are a male survivor there is zip, zero, nada."
When Robert reached out to a rape resource support agent to find a local support group, he was referred to two support groups for male sex offenders. It's shocking how can someone think a sex abuse survivor could heal along with convicted sex criminals.
Healing is possible and many are coming forward, no matter the age, and are finding help and support from online communities where hearing from other men who have been going through the same suffering brought comfort there is someone who understands their pain.
Also, finding the right resource like a list of trained therapist or a support group within their vicinity also lend hope to the survivors who otherwise are dependent on the trial-and-error method.
Organisations such as 1in6.org, Male Survivor, The Bristlecone Project are a big step towards helping male survivors and their family find holistic healing. Facts and myths about male sex abuse, information on the stages of recovery, critical resources for survivors and their partner in recovery, individual chat lines staffed by trained people, anonymous online support forums, resource directory of therapists, support groups, facilitating personal interaction, sharing the stories of male survivors from all around the world, telling one and all that they are not alone and the issue they are facing is universal.
There are other creative forms of recovery helping the survivors find hope and closure. Artist and illustrator Dean Trippe created an awe-inspiring comic where the boy in Trippe's autobiographical story, 'Something Terrible' is abused and then threatened that his family will be killed if he tells anyone. The comic bursts the so-called "The Vampire Myth" that the abused might grow up and be an abuser.
Trippe, being a survivor knows how dangerous the myth can be and wanted to let other survivors know most abused boys do not grow up to be abusers, setting them free from a lifetime of shame and terror.
"I've met young kids whose ongoing recovery was helped by reading my story, which is probably the best result of taking this subject on," says Trippe, "We're not the danger. We're the ones who know how terrible the danger is."
The Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State became a turning point of sorts for male sex abuse survivors. After the details of the story were released many male survivors who hadn't found support went ahead to look for it. Traffic and engagement at online support organisations increased drastically.
The media is also playing its important part in slowly yet steadily turning the big issue of male sexual abuse to a conversation topic within families. 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' paved the way and other television shows like 'Law & Order SVU' also produced episodes featuring stories of male survivors. The shows feature a public service announcement directing survivors to support sources whenever they are re-broadcast.
For male survivors, online support has been a lifesaver but the dream that someday offline support groups and trauma-informed therapist with specific knowledge will be easily available will change the way male survivors feel about themselves. The end goal for organisations doing the good work is to offer a support system where men who have been sexually abused do not feel afraid or shame to walk into rooms where they are understood and not questioned, where they are supported in person and do not need to hide behind a computer.
If the offline support is readily available, many believe that many more men and boys can be helped to come to terms with their abuse at a younger age. The earlier they find support, the faster their healing process can begin.
Christopher Anderson is one such man who for years tried to ignore the effect abuse had upon his life but now is thankful to find support online. "For the first time in my life I received affirmations that I wasn't alone, that I was worthy of support, and that it was truly possible to heal."
Nothing is more valuable to survivors than the hope to find closure and being accepted.