(This link may only work through May 9th) Men learn to cope after sex abuse Men learn to cope after sex abuse
By ROB RYSER
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: May 9, 2005)
SOMERS — Something like a warm spring breeze has drifted into the life of Curtis St. John — something that makes him smile, he says, without knowing why.
Perhaps it is the fresh feeling of being 10 years old again so many springs ago on the south side of Poughkeepsie, before the season changed to summer, and he was sexually abused by his neighbor, who was also his math tutor.
That summer, the same math teacher was arrested for raping an 18-year-old man, dismembering him and eating his body parts.
"If you would have told me five years ago that there was a way that I could ever be normal, a way that I could ever be happy — never," said St. John, a 36-year-old family man who lives in Somers. "There was no way I could believe that."
Yet as certain as he speaks of the spring breeze, without knowing where it comes from or where it goes, St. John is that believer.
The springtime of St. John's adulthood does have something to do with the fact that his abuser, Albert Fentress, deemed insane, has been in a state psychiatric institution since confessing to the cannibalization murder in 1979. It's a confinement St. John played a pivotal role in extending by deciding to testify against his abuser in 2002. Fentress' history as a pedophile was unknown up to that point, and St. John was hailed as hero by prosecutors for coming forward.
Far more important to St. John than the confrontation with his childhood tormentor and the satisfaction that justice was done, he said, is that he now connects the innocence that was so brutally taken from him with his alcoholism and unhappiness.
Perhaps of highest importance, as a newly appointed member of Male Survivor[Board of Directors], a young but growing national group, St. John is now also helping other men who suffer in silence with their secret.
"One out of four men have been sexually abused as boys," said St. John during an interview last week at his office in the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, SUNY. The group cites two studies, one of which used sample of 595 college students.
"Men don't tell because they think they aren't men if they have been sexually assaulted," said St. John, the director of operations at the Conservatory. "It is so painful to watch these guys. I am at the point where I can pick them out."
It is a point in St. John's recovery at which the group Male Survivor also finds itself, as an organization that is only 10 years old but growing, with more than 300 dues-paying members.
It helps, according to Manhattan therapist and former Male Survivor President Richard Gartner, that the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002 has opened the door for some men to admit they were sexually victimized as children.
"Hopefully, the scandal in the Catholic church has made it easier for men to speak out," said Gartner, author of three books, including the recently published "Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse." "Men don't have the language readily available to articulate their experiences, much less heal from them."
The origins of the movement dates to the late 1980s, the same period when the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, was formed in Chicago. But the foundation was laid even earlier by the women's movement.
"In the mid-1970s, no one believed that women were really abused either," Gartner said.
If experts outside the emerging field disagree, it is only with certain statistics that suggest one out of four adult males have suffered sexual abuse by age 16, and that one out of six men have suffered unwanted direct sexual contact with an older person.
"That seems high to me," said Dr. Flemming Graae, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. "I see adults and certainly a population of kids who unquestionably have a very high incident of physical or sexual abuse, but that is not a general population. If it was true, it would be shocking."
Male Survivor is trying to establish that there is a deep problem with male sexual victimization by correcting myths that boys are not abused if they are aroused, or that they are somehow less traumatized than girls.
It is an identification, ultimately, that must start with the man himself, however.
"So many men will say to themselves 'This happened but I'm fine,' and I was one of those people for years," said St. John, who has two children and who has been sober for six years. "It is easier to make it go away than to face it."
The paradox, of course, is that there is nothing easy about suppressing sexual abuse, experts say. Denial may only seem easier for a man whose suffering is the only way he knows.
"You can see the dead effect in men — the lack of emotion," said St. John, who monitors an electronic message board on the Male Survivor Web site. "Men are so stuck inside that they don't love themselves. And you need to love yourself in order to break free and understand you are worth taking care of."
The first step after making a connection between the unhappiness of adulthood and the pain of sexual abuse is finding a therapist.
"When you are talking about one in four, you are talking about everybody," St. John says. "You will run into 20 of them today. It is everywhere, and that is what people need to realize."For more info
Male Survivor is a national organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual abuse of boys and the support of men who were sexually victimized as children.
For more information, visit http://www.malesurvivor.org.
An information line is also available, 800-738-4181.