I thought I had posted this before. It is an article I published a few months ago.
Help! I Feel Dead Inside!
Robert D. Wheelock
How can a person live with a murdered spirit? When the body is murdered we can grieve a while, have a ceremony that brings closure, and after the burial, life moves on and healing begins. For the murdered spirit we have no ceremony of closure, there is no burial. Healing would appear impossible. The person seems alive; but they are dead inside. Filled with shame, rage, fear, feeling hopeless, they know loneliness so profound, that they are certain no one else has ever experienced anything like it.
Boys and men who were sexually betrayed and violated know what happens, when a spirit is murdered. We have been stunned at the news that a very small number of priests had become sexual predators. They sought out and then abused boys and teens. Many of us went numb at first, in utter disbelief. When feelings were expressed, they were too often aimed solely at the abusers and those who sheltered them. We are “uncomfortable” when men break the silence and speak out about their ordeal no matter who the abuser was.
Over fifty years ago, I was raped and tortured and made to do, and to allow things to be done to me that are an agony to talk about, even today. For over three years, a young man who an assistant scoutmaster sodomized me repeatedly. I have gone through so many stages of fear and loathing, of depression and rage, of gnawing emptiness. Although I am a Capuchin Franciscan and a Priest, I have lived a life of despair. With one in six boys in America being abused prior to their sixteenth birthday, there are millions of men in our nation experiencing the very same things
Many people find it difficult to see that an abused boy was in fact harmed just as much as a girl would have been. That the boy was just as innocent, and free of blame for what was done to him, as if he had been a girl. Unfortunately, too many people do not realize that boys and girls are on an equal plain as victims. We need to think in terms of a child/youth being sexually abused, whether that be a girl or a boy.
It grieves me to hear people say that sexual molestation “wouldn’t be as bad for a boy.” I hear that repeatedly. I can’t believe my ears. Sexual betrayal is devastating, because it is such an overwhelming betrayal. An adult that the boy thought he could trust, that he thought cared for him, that he thought would protect him, instead harms the unsuspecting child. Whether the perpetrator is a parent or family member, a baby-sitter, a teacher, coach, physician, dentist, scoutmaster or clergyman the first reaction of the child is that this can’t be happening. Even with a sore body and bloody underwear a boy will wonder if it could be possible that his adult could have done this to him. He can, in shock, doubt his own reality. But sooner or later the reality comes to the forefront of his mind and he is forced to admit, at least to himself, that he was viciously betrayed and violated.
Shame, embarrassment and quilt
He feels shame and guilt. It is embarrassing to speak of being sodomized and then, sometimes, having to explain what “sodomy” is! The boy thinks that he must be an awful person for anyone to do this to him. “What did I do to cause him to do this?” echoes in his soul for years. “I must be to blame, I must have made him think I wanted it, I must be a pervert, it must be my fault.” Even men, who were abused at a very young age, will think these thoughts and feel that they are the one who is evil. Such thoughts become a defense against the awful reality of the betrayal. The more the child loved, respected or trusted the adult, the more difficult it is, to have to admit that his adult betrayed and violated him. When a child is five or six years old, a difference of four or five years can be enormous. The older boy or girl seems almost grown up to the smaller boy. The older a boy is who violates a younger boy, the less time span there has to be for it to be a very frightening experience in which the younger child feels so helpless.
I have been asked why I went back to the scouts and to our campouts when I knew I would be molested. The very question implies that I share in the blame for being assaulted. There are many reasons I went back. One, I will not go into much, except to say that I was tortured. Every time I was assaulted, I came within a few seconds of being choked to death. If I had not gone back, I am convinced that I would have been murdered. My perpetrator told me how he would kill me. He said that it would surely appear that I had died in an accidental drowning while skinny-dipping, at night against the rules. It would have worked; people would have believed it. A group of us did go skinny-dipping at that very place throughout the hot, humid Iowa summers. I was, and am, a poor swimmer. He would have been believed. It is also important to remember, that in my case, I was starved for adult attention, and my perpetrator knew all about the alcoholism that was rampant in my home. He used that knowledge to make me feel, that he alone, would be my best hope for some kind of normal life.
Secondly, I needed to be with my friends. I needed to have the opportunity to be mentored into manhood. Most of what happened at scouts was very good. The guys that were most important to me were in the troop, and my unsuspecting scoutmaster, was a father figure to me. I learned how to make the transition from boy to young man in the scouts. I can’t imagine not having been a Boy Scout. I always hoped that Alan, my perpetrator, would not be there this time, or that he would choose someone else. It bothers me to think that I would wish such horror on someone else. But at the time, it was what I felt and actually hoped for.
Why did you go back? Why didn’t you tell?
I feel certain that every man who was molested more than once, and especially by the same predator, is asked these two questions.
Recently, on the Web Site of MaleSurvivor, a thread was started on the subject of why didn’t you tell. There are too many reasons to mention them all. Some are:
• I knew I would not be believed
• I was afraid for my life
• My mother and father assaulted me, who was I to tell
• I did tell and was sent home to receive a severe beating
• I was told not to tell “or else”
• I was told I would be accused of starting it
• I was told it was me, or my little brother would get it
• I was told it was me, or my sister would get it
• I did not know who to tell
• He told me this is the special way guys show they love each other
• I didn’t know it was wrong at first
• I was afraid I would be punished
• I liked it at first, the oral part, then, when I didn’t like it, I was afraid I would be blamed for all of it
• I did not tell because I was certain that no one in the whole world had had that done to them—just dogs do that. It was funny watching the dogs. It was not funny when it was done to me.
• It was the adults who made the rules. What would telling have to do with it?
• I did tell and then was told I was a very bad boy for saying such an awful thing about such a good man
• I was afraid of rejection by my friends
• I was afraid of being teased
• I told, and nothing happened, except older boys started to do the same ”kind of games.”
Why did we go back? Some answers are:
• I had no choice—I lived with them, my family
• My parents went out and had the babysitter stay with me. I told them I did not like him/her but they said I was being a bad boy
• My friends were there and I would have been alone
• I wasn’t permitted to skip school
• I had to go to Sunday School
• The coach would have kicked me off all sports forever
• My parents told me I had to help the person next door
• I wanted to make Eagle Scout
• It was a matter of “do it” or get beaten up badly
It’s All about POWER
To understand how any of this can happen, we need to understand that it is all about an adult who has great power and knows how to use it, and a powerless child who has unquestioned trust of the adult. I was 15 or 16 years old when the assaults ended. I was a rather big kid. Had I told anyone of the assaults they surely would have asked: ”why did you let him do that to you?” The answer is simple. He had power and I did not. Sometimes the power can be as simple as asking ourselves: ”whom would they believe, me or him?” It was clear no one would believe me—“he” would never do that! It is as though I could hear them say, “what is wrong with you to say such a sick thing?” Of course, in fact, I would not have lived to tell anyone.
It is NOT a “guy thing.”
Sometimes I have heard it said, especially when the talk is about violations of a teenage boy, that the teen wanted it and enjoyed it. Some say it is just a “guy” thing, or “they were just "horsing around.” Think about that—can anyone honestly believe that men and boys are regularly sodomizing each other, or giving oral sex to each other? Does anyone truly think they are getting naked and masturbating each other? Does anyone think that their husband, or father, or brother, or son, or nephew is actually doing these things? Of course not!
Teenage Boys “getting lucky with an older woman”
When it comes to teenage boys as victims of an adult woman, the words get particularly offensive. Recently, a prestigious Chicago newspaper, reported on three teen boys sixteen and seventeen years old, and a forty-two year old woman, who had been having sex with the boys. The article insisted that this is not sex abuse. Change the genders and no one would argue that it is not abuse. Boys who are molested did not seek it, want it or ask for it; any more than girls and women ask to be raped. Certainly the boy needs to undress and get into bed, usually, with the older woman. The point is, that she has manipulated him in some way so that the boys he has no choice, or, there is nothing wrong with what he and the older woman are doing because they both want to have sex.
Adolescent boys, who have sex with a woman who is five, ten or more years older than they, do not always see themselves as abused, or traumatized. However, they have been betrayed and exploited and it causes a great deal of harm later in life. Such boys, when they are adults, speak of feeling like they are raping their wife when they have sex. A number of married survivors report that, they simply can’t be comfortable with any physical intimacy with their wives, even though they love their wives so much. Many are not able to have a relationship with a girl until much later in life. Most all will not know how to trust others. They will have a poor self-image of themselves as men and a long list of problems, all traced back to his being sexualized by an older woman. The older woman uses the boy for her sexual gratification, and then tells the boy, how good he is, or even how lucky his girl friends will be. There is, it seems, a growing number of female teachers having sex with adolescent boys in the past few years. However, sexual betrayal by family members and close friends of the family still remains number one among those who molest boys.
Prevalence of sexual betrayal and violation of boys
Statistics today report that, one in six boys, in America, are molested by the age of 16. If we count times when the boy was not physically touched, such as if he was made to take his clothes off, perform a sex act on himself, allow himself to be videotaped or photographed in the nude but not touched by the perpetrator, the percentage then rises to one in four boys before the age of 16 years.
(Richard Gartner, PHD, in Betrayed as Boys)..
What happens to these boys? If they keep the secret and do not get help what is life like for them as they grow into adulthood? It is an ugly picture. One in five of these boys will become an abuser himself
The boy molested by another male will worry that he has been made a homosexual. If the boy was tending toward a homosexual orientation, he will feel that he was violated, because the perpetrator could tell he was homosexual, and that is why he was assaulted. A seemingly natural conclusion would be, that he will be assaulted often, simply because of his sexual orientation. The truth is that a boy does not become gay for having been molested by a man, any more than being sexualized by a woman will make a gay boy heterosexual.
Survivors have an array of sexual problems, ranging from confusing sex and love, to sexual addictions, use of pornography, and the inability to relate comfortably to their girl friends and wives. Relationship problems plague them throughout their lives. They often loathe their own bodies and see sex as dirty and/or violent, something to be avoided.
There is a wound to the spirit of the victim that seems beyond the touch of any form of healing. I would tell my spiritual directors and therapists that I felt ruined, damaged at the core of my being. They tried, heroically, to get me to be kinder to myself, to not judge myself so harshly. For the most part I just could not accept their healing words. Keeping silent out of fear of what would happen if we told, leads to a crushing loneliness.
We feel ashamed, weak, and worthless. Even when it is pointed out that we were just kids when we were attacked, still, we feel that as males we should not have allowed it, that in some strange way, we are, at least partially, to blame. Male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, will rush to tell a young teen, who comes to tell us of his abuse, that he is not guilty at all. But our own souls seem impervious to that truth.
A conversation with a survivor brought home to me how bizarre this thinking is. This man was assaulted by an older boy scout on his camp outs. As he was cleaning the attic of his mother’s home prior to selling the house, he found a box of things from his childhood. It contained his Boy Scout shirt, among other things. As he held the shirt up to look at it, he was overwhelmed with sadness as he realized how small that shirt was, how small he was when he was assaulted sexually.
For long, emotionally draining years, we feel that we better keep silent. If we tell, we either will not be believed, or, we fear that we will be shunned by our loved ones. Perhaps we will be considered a pervert who is not safe to be around. Even though eighty percent of us never become abusers. We just fear that we will be treated as some kind of a freak, because that is often how we feel about ourselves. Some survivors have told of having their own sisters and brothers, be overly protective, when he, the survivor, is around his nieces and nephews. Is it any wonder, that many men, just decide to keep it secret?
Because we were sexualized in a traumatic betrayal, we have more problems than the ordinary person, in understanding sexuality as a gift of God, as something beautiful, as something that binds people together in healthy ways. We fall in love—but in that very act we feel we are in danger; that, in some vague manner we cannot understand, the person we love, represents a danger to us, or we to her. We may marry and even have children. But in so many marriages, the survivor lives in a state of denial, or terror, and wants so badly to tell his spouse of his abuse but fears losing her if he does. For some survivors, telling a spouse has brought on problems leading to the break-up of their marriage. Gay survivors have reported, that even when they meet a partner they love, they will often have flashbacks when having sex, and will need to stop.
The feeling that we are not normal, that we are inferior men, that we are an aberration, haunts us. Even after years of treatment it will still own at least a small part of our heart. Our murdered spirit causes us to wonder if we are real men, are we loveable, are we capable of loving another person, to ask if we can ever be well. For too many men, the pressure of self-hatred and self-blame, leads them to depression, anxiety, mental illness, and suicide.
Fortunately, today, more of us are getting the strength to speak out, to break the silence. More than 1100 men have banded together in an organization called MaleSurvivor. Here, sexually violated men, can find understanding, support, and encouragement, to continue the journey to healing, in hope. A surprising number of men do use the chat room and discussion boards at MaleSurvivor where they can break the silence and maintain a safe anonymity.
It was shocking to me, at first, to hear of the number of boys who are violated by a female, whether she be a family member, a baby sitter, a teacher, or a friend of the family. The consequences to the boy betrayed by a female are different in some respects from the male on male violation. But the difference does not mean less or easier, it simply means different in some aspects. As an example, boys abused by women do not fear that they are gay. They fear, that they are not true males, since they have “allowed themselves” to be someone’s sex toy.
How can we assist the boys who are now being betrayed and violated, and the men, young and old, who live with the effects of these horrible assaults, on the dignity of the person? We need to be just as outraged, by the sexual violation of a boy by a family member, a youth worker, a clergyperson, a physician, coach, teacher, or older boys and girls, as we are when we hear of little girls being harmed. We do not look at these two realities as of equal horror and we need to do so. It is betrayal, violation, fear, abuse—gender does not matter
We need to believe children, and adults, when they speak of having been harmed, whether by a trusted and known perpetrator or by a stranger. No one has “rights” over the body of any other person.
We need to hold vigils and, “take back the night” for all victims of violence. Boys are hardly ever even mentioned in materials of groups working against sexual violence. This needs to stop now!
We need to ask boys and men to forgive us for having been so ignorant, and at times calloused, about the very real pain they have experienced.
Society in general needs to understand that men who were harmed as boys, are ordinarily safe to be around children—in fact, they are probably MORE concerned for child safety, than people who believe, that these “awful” things only happen to other people in some other place. I repeat: eighty percent of boys who were sexually betrayed and violated do NOT become offenders.
Families, churches, organizations, school districts, and professional groups whose members have betrayed and violated the trust of a child need to admit, that one of their own, committed a terrible crime against the child, they need to beg for forgiveness, and they certainly must show the steps they will take, to try to prevent future harm from their members.
Every adult needs to understand, that the harm done to these children, truly ranks as an atrocity; that these children have shown extraordinary strength, and courage, in having survived these devastating betrayals. It would be very much appreciated, if they would simply ask the survivor, if there is anything they can do to help him heal from sexual abuse. The last thing we need, is to be treated as modern day Lepers, or to be patronized. We are good men! Simply accept us as such.
Survivors, or the family and friends of survivors, can go directly to the web site of MaleSurvivor to find help, a therapist, or simply acceptance and understanding at http://www/malesurvivor.org.
Men will not come forward. Teens will not come forward, until society shows it has compassion for them, and is willing to try to understand their pain and embarrassment. We, who have survived childhood sexual abuse, are not less a man, we are stronger men. A weaker man would not have survived.
I printed this here because someone asked about why we went back to be abused again. I listed a few of the reasons we had given here, in the article.