We hear a fair amount about sexual abuse of girls. It happens more than most people think, and it does terrible damage. But we don’t hear much about the sexual abuse of boys. Let’s hear a little bit.
First of all, it happens a lot. In fact, it seems to happen to boys almost as often as it happens to girls. And it’s quite possible that even our most up-to-date estimates are underestimates, due to the wall of silence that surrounds this issue.
There are reasons for that wall. Men are supposed to be stoic and silent and take care of their own problems. Also, boys are often blamed for what happens to them. Because boys are often aroused at some point during the abuse, people may mistakenly believe they are cooperating (they themselves are often confused by this and can feel that it’s their own fault). Also, there are forms of abuse that are not acknowledged as abuse. And then, because no one talks about it, men can sometimes think that they are alone and that it hasn’t happened to anyone else. Or, they may think that it happens to everyone, that it’s normal, and that they are just supposed to “deal with it,” to “get over it.” That strengthens the wall.
Another reason for silence about the sexual abuse of boys is that the perpetrators are almost always known to the boys who are violated. They are either trusted members of the community (teachers, coaches, religious leaders) or, very often, relatives. Fathers or mothers (yes, mothers), uncles, aunts, cousins or siblings (of both genders). This means that the abuse is tinged with a sense of betrayal. And there are consequences for telling. Not good ones, usually.
So boys learn to shut up. And when they become men, they stay shut up. They disconnect from their feelings, they disconnect from the reality of what happened to them. This is a protective response. But what helps us survive as children often becomes dysfunctional when we become adults. Even though it’s kept inside, it manifests itself in other ways. When boys act out constantly, run away from home, are always angry, or are depressed, we are seeing some of the ways that it is manifest. These things can continue into adulthood. In addition, it can cause physical problems. It can also cause a lack of trust (of men, or women, or people in general) and a general sense of emptiness. It can cause suicidal thoughts and actions (and men complete attempted suicides at a much higher rate than women do). But still, it may be manageable, for a while.
Shutting up and shutting down and disconnecting works until it doesn’t. This can happen at any time. Sometimes there is a trigger, some highly stressful life situation, or hearing about someone else’s abuse. Sometimes it happens when their own children get to the age they were when it happened.
Letting it out
The first reaction, when the dissociation stops working and things start going badly, is surprise. “Why is this happening now? I thought I put this aside, I thought I was over it. I haven’t thought about it in years. I was OK last year; why am I so depressed (or anxious, or angry) now?” The answer is simple: It’s time for this to come out. Your body, your mind, your nervous system needs to heal from it.
Then it’s time for action. It’s time to tell your story to someone. Someone you trust: a therapist, a spouse, a support group, someone. There are many ways that people recover. Reading a book about others’ experiences, or joining a support group can help—it’s important to know you’re not alone. One support group is called “1 in 6”, and they have a number of resources available.
This is, of course, also a time that therapy can help. Seeing a therapist who uses powerful somatic therapies (such as EMDR) can support you to move forward in your healing process. Childhood trauma, if not addressed, can continue to do damage over one’s lifetime.
There is a lot to say here, far more than I can touch on in this blog. If you live in Colorado Springs, and you’ve survived sexual abuse, please feel free to call me to discuss what options might be available. (719-377-4577) If you live somewhere else, click on the link to 1 in 6 above. You’ve suffered long enough—it’s time to start healing.