Silent Sufferers: the Problem of Sexual Abuse Among Men

By Charles Waller
New Man eMagazine
November 19, 2008

Aaron would jump up and get in the face of anyone who looked at him wrong. When mad at someone, he would get so frustrated trying not to hit him or her. He would hit the walls until his hands bled in a rage so he wouldn't hurt someone else. Name calling, like teenagers tend to do, would push him over the edge. Gritting his teeth with veins in his neck flaring out, he would finally run. Not far, but far enough so that no one would see him shake and cry in a primeval anger until he could regain his composure. Everyone knew Aaron was an angry young man with a short fuse.

Rick was withdrawn, shy and rarely engaged in activities where he had to be around big groups. His self-esteem was nothing, so he never volunteered to answer in class or do anything above what was required. He had physical ailments, especially related to eating, but would never let anyone know there was a problem. Rick spent a lot of time alone or with a few girls that he grew up with. Melancholy was the theme of his drawings, and death was the theme of his dreams. Rick was the good kid who was good at masks and covering how he felt.

Aaron and Rick are two examples of opposites in male behavior with the same root problem. Aaron was sexually abused by a family member. Rick was sexually abused by a minister. Boys who are sexually abused will react one of two ways: they will act out or introvert anger. The strong eruptions of rage can range from physically hurting another person to hurting themselves with suicide attempts.

The effects of sexual abuse will follow a child into adulthood. In some cases the emotions are so suppressed that they resurface only in adulthood. When a child cannot comprehend all the emotions he has, the immature mind will repress the memories until the brain is mature enough to process all the feelings and emotions associated with sexual abuse.

An adult with abuse in his past can have the same expressions of anger and emotions as the abused child—acting out and introverted anger. Men often display "acting out" behaviors in the form of addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and pornography. Introverted anger might be expressed in depression, failed relationships and reclusiveness.

Our society has difficulty acknowledging the sexual abuse of boys. Cases are under-reported for many erroneous reasons. A man with abuse in his past must deal with the stigma of not being a "real" man. The stereotype is that real men cannot be victims so they must have really wanted it. This macho mentality keeps many male survivors silent, ashamed and isolated. They might feel like they will never be "just one of the guys."

Statistics on rates of sexual abuse of males vary from source to source and from geographic areas, and they are controversial. The most common numbers are: 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they turn 17. The problem is, most sexual abuse cases are never reported. Many boys carry that emotional baggage with them into adulthood. Emotional baggage can be in the form of: anger and hostility, anxiety, confusion over sexual identity, depression, dissociation, fear, guilt, impaired relationships and intimacy, isolation, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance, and suicidal behaviors.

Men who are looking for healing in their lives need to realize four things: (1) you are not alone; (2) others also deal with the effect of sexual abuse; (3) there are people who understand and can help; and (4) God is there with you on the healing journey. It is hard to explain the benefits and purpose of healing to someone who hasn't been abused. Thus, someone dealing with sexual abuse in their past can really benefit by talking to others on that healing path. Someone looking for healing needs to hear from another person who has been there, and hear that it does get better in time.

The healing journey starts when you bring your hurts and pain to the foot of the cross for cleansing and deliverance. "This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God" (1 John 4:8-10; The Message). It is the cross where we find freedom from the past hurts and fears and find hope for a brighter tomorrow.

My doctor once told me when I got a bad cut to keep the wound clean, but keep it exposed to the light and air. Our emotional wounds heal the same way. Exposing them releases the secret shame and guilt that's hidden away. Victims need to be able to reach out to someone they can trust who will understand their pain and help them on the journey of healing. That involves trust, something an abused person has very little of. Learning to trust again is also part of the journey.

The journey of healing also involves time to grieve. But do not grieve alone. Grieve for a lost childhood, innocence lost and broken relationships. Grieve until there is acceptance that the past is the past.

The journey of healing may also involve dealing with addictions that replaced dealing with the pain of abuse. Accountability and support are imperative here. Addictions have to be replaced with positive behaviors, and very few people are ever successful at doing that alone without accountability.

James tells us that to have a righteous life we must let go of anger. "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (Jas. 1:19-20; NIV).

For an abused person, that is a hard one to swallow. But to be healed of all the pain of the past, letting go of anger is necessary. We do this through forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to forget the past or begin to trust your abuser. It does mean we are following Christ's example and can experience the freedom that only He can give.

This journey goes from being a victim to a survivor to a thriver. God's desire for us is to survive and flourish. "All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel!" (2 Cor. 1:3, The Message). One must always remember that healing takes time. Be patient, for through God's strength healing will happen.


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