By Stephen L. Braveman, LMFT, DST
July 16, 2000
(This article republished by permission from Survivors of Educator Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Emerge)
We know that approximately one out of six of all American boys are molested by the time they reach 18 years of age. We do not know how many of these boys are molested by teachers and others in position of authority. However, we do now know a lot about what happens to these boys as a result of the abuse.
First, is it true? Can boys be molested? Can they be the victims in the hands of not only men, but women too? The answer to these questions is an absolute “Yes!” Yes, it’s true, males are molested too.
Who exactly are those molesting our male children? Yes, it’s true that boys are sometimes molested by perfect strangers. The image of a male driving up to a boy innocently walking home from school, bribing him with candy, luring him into the car and driving off, never to be seen again, is common. Yes, this does occasionally happen. However, the vast majority of children, both girls and boys, who are molested are victimized by someone they know. Perhaps someone they trust very much. Someone in a position of authority. They are molested by fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and grandparents. They are also molested by baby-sitters, scout leaders, priests and nuns, music instructors, sports coaches, dance instructors, principals, camp counselors and school teachers. So, if boys are being molested by all of these kinds of people, why doesn’t the public hear more about this?
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that an estimated 50% of all molests, males and females combined, are never reported. It is also estimated that only 10% of molested boys ever make such reports. Approximately 15 percent of these incidents that are reported involve a female perpetrator. Many of these unreported molestations of boys are suspected to be at the hands of a teacher, educator and/or other person in position of authority.
Why don’t boys report when they are sexually abused? Boys, like girls, are frequently threatened by the perpetrator that speaking up will lead to further violence for themselves and/or others. There are fears of not being believed and that reporting may tear the family apart. In addition to these, and many other reasons boys share with girls, boys face challenges to speaking up unique to their gender. Many believe that if they were molested by another male that they are now, or will become, homosexuals. Society tells boys that they should be “tough” and solve their problems on their own. If the boy has an early sexual experience with an older woman they are told they are “lucky!” How embarrassing for a male to admit he has been molested by his mother, aunt, sister or female baby-sitter! Then there’s the strong “Vampire Syndrome” which falsely holds that most sexually abused males will go on to “bite” other victims.
The unwillingness of boys to report when they’ve been sexually victimized is even greater when the perpetrator is a teacher, educator and/or other person in authority. Bonding with, trusting and learning from our elders is an essential survival mechanism well-developed in modern day humans. We put our faith in the hands of our educators, believing that what they teach us is not only right but also absolute. To fit in, we grasp on to their teachings and become devoted followers of the same. At least until we learn there is a reason to question the facts which we were fed.
When one is victimized by a teacher, or other person in a position of authority, the sense of betrayal is greatly magnified. “But I learned so much from her/him!”, “I had to trust him/her,” or, ” I would never have learned (passed, made it through)” . . . ” “She/he was the last person I would have ever expected to hurt me!” These statements express common feelings victims have. One such feeling is that of being BETRAYED! Betrayed because these are the ones in life that are expected to protect us the most! “How could she/he!” “I even enjoyed it because I thought he/she loved me!” “I thought I was special to her/him!”
Betrayal is a very difficult event to recover from. Betrayal leaves the victim with a sense of guilt. A sense that they “should have known better.” A sense that they are at fault. In fact, these exact messages are frequently fed to the victim by the perpetrator. “You know you wanted it.” “You enjoyed it.” “I don’t do this with others. You’re so special that you made me do it!” These are some of the words used by perpetrators to defend their actions.
On top of all this is the problem of being believed if one did speak up. Who would believe them? Teachers, and others in position of authority, are commonly well-known, well-respected, “trusted” individuals in the community. Who is going to believe a child over a priest? A principal? A Senator? Especially if the child had a history of some kind of acting out; e.g. small time petty theft, running away, drugs. The vow of secrecy not to tell, not to report, is sealed if the child does speak up and is not believed.
So, as the victim of teacher sexual abuse grows up, they learn to hold on to many self-defeating patterns. This may include poor self esteem, lack of assertiveness, inability to stand up for one’s rights, inability to speak in public, drug/alcohol abuse and a deliberate effort to sabotage relationships so as to not allow others to get “too close” to them. Trust is a big issue. Trust was betrayed by a very special person. “If I can’t trust her/him, who can I trust?” “If I couldn’t trust my mother/father to protect me, who could I ever trust?”
The severe lack of trust of those in authority positions leads to major difficulties in therapeutic treatment for the survivor. Therapy typically requires a person to enter a private room with someone who is relatively a stranger. The door is frequently locked. The victim is asked to share “what happened.” To “trust” that they will be believed. Therapy involves opening up and spilling out one’s guts to someone who will analysis, examine and judge them. The therapist may suggest “homework” to try between sessions, changes to make in one’s behavior and relationships and may even offer hypnosis — the ultimate in trust! None of this will necessarily come easy to a victim who has major trust issues!
Under the multitude of conditions addressed above, who would want to speak up? Who would want to admit they have been sexually abused? Especially by a teacher, educator, person in a position of authority?
It quite often takes an incredible amount of pain and failure for males sexually abused in these ways to speak up. Bouts of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual acting out, sexual shutting down, divorces and financial ruin are common. When it gets to be too much some come forward.
How does one get past all these roadblocks and through successful treatment? Many find healing by joining a support group. There they can share their feelings with other men, with similar pain. This can help them break through shame and loneliness which frequently come with the silence of holding such terrible secrets inside. A support group enables them to try out and build new, trusting relationships. They can usually “test” the therapist and other group members and discover they are not abandoned, not betrayed. Some heal by reporting the crime, even though it may now be many years after the fact. With support, many go on to confront their perpetrators with positive outcomes. Some counteract the pain of silence by publicly sharing their healing with others who need the support or by telling their story in such places as this newsletter. Teaching children how to increase their own safety and, if necessary, report abuses when they do occur, can be very empowering.
The journey from victimization by a teacher, educator, or others in position of authority, to survivor and, finally, thriver, often takes men through a familiar pattern. This includes the initial buying into silence and self-destructive patterns. Eventually individual and group therapy may bring great relief. Many finish the process in couple’s and/or family therapy where they, together with their loved ones, finally reach a point of not only inner peace, but also balance and contentment with others. Healing can happen and does all the time. You can help the process by educating others about childhood sexual abuse. Teach children ways to increase their safety. Let them know that if they are abused it’s okay to report it. That they will be believed. That there is help available. Let adults know that it is never too late to heal (men and women in their 70’s have come forward for the first time in their lives and have successfully healed from childhood sexual abuse) and that help is available. One person can make a difference! Together with other “one persons” sexual abuse by educators can be stopped and those who have been victimized can heal!
Stephen L. Braveman, LMFT, DST is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Diplomate of Sex Therapy with a Private Practice in Monterey, California. One of his chief specialties is working with survivors of sexual abuse. He runs Especially For Men: A Group for Adult Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse at the Monterey Rape Crisis Center, Monterey, California. He also co-leads Living with A Survivor: A Couples Group for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Their Loving Partners at the Salinas Women’s Crisis Center, Salinas, California. For more information visit Stephen’s web site at www.bravemantherapy.com. You may also contact him by phone at (831) 375-7553.