Support Builds for Abuse Victims
More Males Seeking Help in Group Sessions
By Ana M. Alaya
Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
March 8, 2004
Mark Goebel says he was 12 the first time the "monster" raped him. It was 1974.
For two years, the Morris County man said, he was sexually abused by a teacher and forced to have sex with other boys at a boarding school in Princeton. For more than two decades, he kept it secret.
"I didn't even know how to share an experience like that with someone, how to get beyond the fear, the flashbacks, especially when I was hoping to put myself in a loving sexual relationship with another person," Goebel said.
Today, Goebel goes to group therapy.
And so do a lot of other men, venturing into territory that has been familiar for women, but rarely visited by men: group sessions with others who have been raped or abused.
"The recent exposure has begun to break the isolation," said Mark Crawford of Woodbridge, a board member for the national group MaleSurvivor, one of the most respected support groups for male victims of sex abuse.
"Men who always felt ashamed or alone, after hearing all these stories and realizing there are many common threads, they are coming forward and speaking up, and looking for help," Crawford said.
The demand for therapy in New Jersey is so high, Crawford said, that MaleSurvivor is considering holding one of its several annual therapy retreats for victims in this state this year.
In Bergen County, calls from men to the county's YWCA's Rape Crisis Center have doubled in the past two years and a new support group for male victims has attracted more than 30 men.
The Essex County Rape Crisis Center also is launching a program for male victims, said its director, Ursula Liebowitz.
"I firmly believe male victims are forgotten victims," Liebowitz said. "They feel the rape crisis centers are a women's world."
Louise Kindley, a social worker at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital's Crime Victim's Treatment Center in New York, said she added a second group therapy session this year.
"I've had more referrals," Kindley said. "None were abused by clergy but the way these issues are reported in the media, more people feel empowered to come forward.
"A lot of the men I see are coming from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), Debtors Anonymous and other groups," Kindley said. "I think more people are talking about the abuse in the 12-step rooms. It's a very big change, and a good change."
Perhaps the most dramatic indicator of the demand for help is the growth of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a support group that has grown from two chapters in 2002 to 57 today. Of the group's 5,000 members, about 10 percent were not abused by clergy, but SNAP has opened its doors to all victims of childhood sexual abuse.
"Before SNAP it was difficult to even identify a support group like this," said Mark Serrano, a national SNAP board member who started New Jersey's first group in Mendham after going public about the former Rev. James Hanley' abuse of boys at St. Joseph's Church. The group now has more than 30 members.
At a meeting of SNAP in Mendham on a Wednesday evening last month, Bob Deacon of Morris County explained how his life was "disrupted" for 40 years with suicide attempts and failed relationships because a priest abused him when he was young.
"It's been rough," said Deacon, who broke his silence eight months ago. "I need to speak or I would be as guilty as the priest who did that to me. I'm shedding the guilt and the shame."
Mark Goebel also attends SNAP meetings though his abuser wasn't a priest but a teacher at the American Boychoir School in Princeton. He said the abuse nearly ruined his life: He drank his way through college and military service. He was constantly on guard not to let his "combustible anger" interfere with work.
"Every time you get angry about something you have to wonder if this is why," Goebel said.
The man Goebel said was his perpetrator was dismissed in 1982 after two other students reported he had inappropriate sexual contact with them, according to school officials, and he has since been sued by another alumnus.
For centuries, the subject of childhood sexual abuse has been taboo, despite statistics that show one out of four girls and one out of six boys will be a victim of some form of sexual violence before they reach the age of 18, according to a widely used study by David Finkelhor, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire.
Shame and guilt affect men and women alike, but for men, there are added burdens, experts say.
"In our culture, unfortunately, boys are taught that to be male they have to be tough, not to be victimized, to be resilient and to be independent," said Richard Gartner, a psychologist in New York who wrote "Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men."
"To acknowledge yourself as a victim means to many boys that they are not male and that stops them from talking to other men about it," Gartner said. "Intertwined with that can be confusion about sexuality, if the boy is abused by a man."
Rachel Reed, a program director at the Bergen County YWCA Rape Crisis Center, said she had a hard time starting a support group until the clergy scandal broke. Then suddenly she was getting calls.
"Once the men get help, there's such a sense of activism," Reed said. They know what they're going through and they want to help others so that no one has to suffer alone. There's a lot of outreach."
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