From the New York Times’ recent article on sexual abuse at New York’s prestigious Horace Mann school (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/magazine/the-horace-mann-schools-secret-history-of-sexual-abuse.html?_r=1)
What I read makes me want to scream and weep. It makes me furious, and sad, and proud of the man who wrote the article, and of the boys who survived:
“The whole goal of the grooming process is to wrap the child close… The affection and trust is to make the kid complicit in the act. Make them feel like it was their fault, so it won’t even occur to them to talk.”
“I spent decades feeling unlovable… I drank and drugged for many years, because I just couldn’t face all the anger it brought up.”
“You spend a lot of your life feeling like an outsider — it shatters you. These people who were supposed to be the good guys were actually the bad guys, and nobody would talk about it.”
“It’s counterintuitive, but sexual abuse emotionally binds the child closer to the person who has harmed him, setting him up for a life plagued by suspicion and confusion, because he will never be sure who he can really trust. And in my experience, this is by far the worst consequence of sexual abuse.” That’s one reason, he said, why those few victims who ever speak out at all tend to do so only after the abuser is dead or dying: telling the truth while the other person is still strong enough to deny it, or to blame the accuser, is just too terrifying.”
The author goes on to point out that the boys who carry the least scars are the ones who spoke up early: the ones for whom the ‘grooming’ wasn’t successful. Maybe the kid was more secure, less isolated. Maybe they had a strong relationship to their parents which enabled them to talk freely. Maybe they never felt the implicit threat of the abuser’s power. Whatever the reason, the boys who talked were able to retain their sense of self, of trust and worth, and move on.
For others of us the act of speaking up was as real an option as was the option of changing our skin to scales and simply scaring the nasty buggerer away. Telling anyone at all is too dangerous. Not just for us, but for those around us. What would the fallout be for our families? For our abuser and his family? For our school? Our friends? No – better to keep calm and carry on. Man up. Shoulder the burden. Buggery was one of those unpleasant facts of my existence that I simply never questioned. It was What Was Expected. And doing What Was Expected was something I was very good at.
Every camel’s back, however, can only carry so much weight. El Pedo put the last straw on this particular dromedary when he attempted to fellate me while I was recovering from hernia surgery, with my mother chatting away to us from the very next room. I was twenty. When I picture his face today, I see it in that moment. He was flashing what I am sure he thought was a mischievous grin, trying to be cute and maybe even sexy, but he had gone too far – the risk of us being exposed was so great, my panic so complete, that I yearned with every cell in my body to just push deep into that face with my fists, over and over again until it oozed and foamed crimson like a sponge heavy with paint. From that moment on, my hatred of what he was dong to me slowly began to overwhelm my fear.
Six months later I was down south in Dunedin on a rescue mission, trying to stop my mate B. from drinking himself to death. And I can remember in infinite detail the back steps to his flat, the grey skies, the brown homespun wool jumper he was wearing, the angles of exhalation of cigarette smoke when he confessed that the cause of his depression and anxiety was his terror of telling his friends he was gay and I blurted Oh, god man! We all have secret shit like that. I mean – I was sexually abused all my life…
And I swear there was a GONG… Everything stopped. My stomach floor dropped past my knees and then attempted to climb out my throat. My hands went instantly numb.
B. was looking at me with this huh?!? expression that was rather comical…
And I said yeah man we’re friends and we love you and I don’t give a fuck who you shag, and neither does anyone else… and we walked inside and had a great fucking night on cigarettes and cask wine and I did my best to be all flippant and cool about what I had just revealed. BUT inside me was a whole new roiling stew of crazy like I had never experienced, because for the first time ever I had Named It. It may be hard to believe, but I had never in my life thought about what was happening to me in those terms. Sexual abuse was real, but it happened in 60 Minutes documentaries. I knew what it was. I had just never linked “Sexual Abuse” to “Me”. Ever. And here I was, just blurting it out over a crate of Speights Ale and a pack of Dunhills.
I was sexually abused (in my mind’s eye I see that flash of smile on his face)
I was sexually abused (a fist slams into the face)
I was sexually abused (the face is a crimson spongy mess)
For the next few days I was crippled. The sudden, vast storm of emotion felt like having a second person who had just woken, trapped inside my chest cavity and I had to walk around carrying them, fighting a vicious territorial battle in the closest quarters, as if my body was the Stalingrad tractor factory. After a week or so struggling, I was dragging myself past the student health center at University when I turned, limped to the front desk, and said do you have mental health counsellors because I think I would like to see one. When the receptionist said sure let’s make an appointment and started leafing through her book I tried to wrestle the invader down inside my ribcage. I was ready to collapse or vomit but instead a voice blurted out I think I need someone now because I was sexually abused and I think I need to see someone right now…
And some guy in his sixties with white hair who looked like he’d been working on the docks all his life just locked one arm around me, like a lifeguard grabs someone as they’re going under for the last time, and towed me into his room where I spoke, awkwardly, embarrassed, chuckling, about what had happened to me. I Named it, I shone light on all the darkest and nastiest corners of my life, from my very earliest memories of waking up with my dick in El Pedo’s mouth – right through to that grin with my mother in the next room and the fantasy of blood that was the beginning of the end.
The guy, Geoff Skar, just sat there and listened. He was the most unlikely therapist I have ever met – as I said, more like a truck driver or a bricklayer than a measured and reserved ‘shrink’. He was a bloke. And I was talking to him about buggery. He didn’t explode, or hide his face in shock, or shame, he didn’t call me a faggot or a sicko, or call my parents or girlfriend and tell them I was disgusting. He didn’t pity me and say I was the victim of a horrible crime and I should cry and was I okay and I’m a brave little boy and haven’t I done well. He didn’t nod sagely and go ‘u-huh… u-huh…’ It was all quite a surprise, really. It was a surprise to realise that my life of secret pain was just another case of a sick fuck screwing little kids. And if you look at it in those terms, it becomes something that can be dealt with.
The moment I spoke up changed my life forever. Best thing I ever did.
silence = death movement actually began at least by the mid 1970’s with the telling about sex abuse. Early death in adults long thought to have ‘survived’ is clearly documented in the ACE study – look it up – we are dying 20 years before our peers, on average and every generation needs to re-embrace speaking out regardless of how difficult a process it will always be to do so. Resiliency (survival despite odds) depends on such speaking out and continually finding pathways through the maze of the after-effects of abuse. Thank you for your bravery and resposibility. j
I’m going to look up the study. I just get so bored, depressed, and anxious when I read studies and surveys about it all… I feel like my own private battle is winnable, but if I stop to look at the war raging around me I’ll just throw my arms down in despair. Instead, I’ll keep yelling about it in my little corner and try to get a few people easier with the topic. God bless, bro.
I appreciate this Jonno.
This may be the next best thing. You articulate what many can’t, and it will resonate with them. May they get the courage from you to speak up too.