Countless men and boys have been victims of childhood abuse at the hands of authority figures. It took almost 20 years to discover and convict an equipment manager of abusing 18 teenage boys at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto’s “Cathedral of Hockey.” Trusted clerics and public schoolteachers have been accused and/or convicted of sexual abuse of thousands of children. And, university leaders have covered up accusations against coaches and physicians.
The known and unknown victims of childhood abuse suffer profound physical and psychological pain,as well as forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In one study of 2,800 men and women in Wisconsin published in Child Abuse & Neglect (2007), the results indicate “childhood physical abuse is associated with an 84% increase in the odds of having more medical diagnoses than 90% of the sample, a 61% increase in the odds of reporting more depression than 90% of the sample, a 102% increase in the odds of reporting more anger than 90% of the sample, and 78% increase in the odds of reporting more anxiety than 90% of the sample.”
The Long Shadow Over Childhood Abuse Victims
The trauma of childhood abuse unleashes a fulminating rush of cellular, muscular and neurological short- and long-term effects. And, some of these changes trigger others related to age and gender, including the impulse to suppress memory and experience.
In many cases, male survivors feel they cannot report sexual abuse because they lack the support mechanism willing to listen and able to respond constructively.
The shame in disclosure feels real, the social environment is hostile and their conscience smothers their openness. Complex sexuality among developing adolescents confuses them making them feel at fault and deserving of the abuse they received.
Male-male sexual abuse multiplies and compounds these issues. Additionally, in many cases it is possible that the victim will experience some arousal during their abuse. Trying to understand these physical sensations in the context of the violence or subjugation creates confusion about the event and sets up a context for negative sexual experiences and relationships in the future.
There’s no evidence that sexual childhood abuse breeds future homosexuality or sexual predators. However, society continues these myths, which forces victims to suppress their memories and experiences even more.
According to Dr. Richard Gartner, “The overwhelming majority of young male victims will not grow up to become sexually abusive men. Still, they are often very afraid they will be, even if they don’t have any fantasies. Or they may think that their flashbacks of their own abuse are proof that they’ll be abusive or are having fantasies.”
Sexually-abused boys and teens may also be victims of emotional and verbal abuse. They may feel shamed by the sexual encounter, and they are also often minimized by charges of being “stupid,” “ugly” or even “fat.” The claims draw limits around their freedom and self-worth. And, the consequent fear of abandonment accelerates and deepens their isolation.
What Can Childhood Abuse Survivors Do?
Regardless of circumstances, life is about choices. Unfortunately, sometimes childhood abuse victims opt to self-medicate with alcohol, hard drugs, opioids or high-risk behaviours with the ironic and unfortunate result that such choices accelerate and compound the pain. However, those who make better choices and seek professional help can survive and lead happy and productive lives in spite of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on them as children. It can be a long journey along a taut high wire maneuvering forward and backward and balancing tilts left and right, but victims can and do make it to the other side.
Survivors begin a long-layered recovery by talking about the abuse. Every case is so unique and complex that it may take years of directed guidance to see some relieving light.
Childhood abuse victims need assurance that they do not have to tackle their problems alone. Help is available. They can make it to a healthy place of understanding and healing with professional guidance and the early acknowledgment of their abusive experiences.