Male Sex Abuse Is Finally in Spotlight

By Ruben Rosario
Pioneer Press [Minnesota]
September 18, 2003

As he was being raped in the basement of a church rectory in Hastings, Tom Mahowald heard his attacker whisper into his ear: "I need this and God wants you to do this for me."

The year was 1961. Things like this didn't happen to altar boys and it was blasphemous to think such a horrendous crime could be perpetrated by those revered as God's earthly messengers. This happened only to effeminate prisoners in showers or gay men.

But the 11-year-old victim overcame the fear and the shame to tell his parents and church officials a week later. A church board heard his story. Then they heard the priest's story. It concluded Mahowald had made the whole thing up.

"To me, that was more traumatic than the rape itself because I placed my trust in them," recalls Mahowald, an electric plating print shop technician who will take part today in the 10th annual international conference on male sexual abuse, hosted by the University of Minnesota's School of Social Work. The four-day conference runs through Sunday.

Mahowald said a public high school teacher also sexually assaulted him years later. His alleged assailant died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the same week school officials were interviewing other alleged victims.

What followed for Mahowald were decades of alcoholism, drug dependency, depression and pent-up feelings while juggling a marriage, a child and a string of jobs.

His church assailant had died in 1964, never prosecuted, investigated or charged with the alleged crime. There seemed no place to find relief, release or healing.

"I sought help in 1994 (the year a Minnesota priest scandal made headlines), but all I found was a men's center that dealt mostly with issues involving gay men," he said. "The Web was early in its infancy and I just couldn't find anything I felt comfortable with."

That frustration was common, says Mic Hunter, a St. Paul-based family and marriage therapist who also treats male sex abuse victims.

Until recently "these things rarely came up for discussion, reported or prosecuted," adds Hunter, a conference keynote speaker and author of "Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims in Sexual Abuse."

"There were few articles or research on the issue," added Hunter, "and if I hung a shingle years ago that said 'therapist for male sex abuse survivors,' I would have starved to death."

Times have changed. We now know childhood victims come from all walks of life, as well as perpetrators. We also know that fathers, uncles and other family members are three times more likely to be the abuser than priests, baseball coaches or Boy Scout leaders.

"When it comes to this crime, the safest place is often not home," says Hunter.

Women who have sex with boys an offense once absent from crime codes and still considered a pubescent fantasy or quest are arrested and prosecuted.

The acknowledgment of one of the most taboo of crimes has become official: Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak have declared Friday "Male Survivor Day."

The three-day conference is an affirmation of that change as well as a reminder that "there's still a lot of work because reporting or coming forward is still a rare phenomenon," says Peter Dimock, a conference organizer and social worker. Panel sessions include a dialogue between victims and recovering sex offenders, and a discussion on whether civil litigation helps in the healing process.

The best thing that happened to Mahowald was the most recent spate of pedophile priest scandals that spread throughout the nation like a swarm of locusts.

Early last year, a co-worker, a devout Catholic, was crudely criticizing the men suing the church as mere gold diggers when Mahowald turned away in anger and broke down crying. He confided his experience to the co-worker and later his wife of 21 years.

A few months later, Mahowald, no longer a practicing Catholic, approached the most unlikely of venues for help the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He shared his story. He says, this time, church officials believed his story, though they could not corroborate it.

Still, they held a "time for healing" town hall meeting in Hastings in which the allegations were bared to the gasps and moans from longtime parishioners who remembered the priest.

In the audience, Mahowald recalls, were former altar boys, some he suspected had also been victimized. He watched some of them pick up literature on the issue on their way out of the meeting.

"That's my mission, to help others come forward and find healing," Mahowald says. "The effects of this last a lifetime."

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