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Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 9 of 9)

“Some victimized children later initiate sexual abuse,” an article said, “so they can predict when it’s coming.” Those words from a well-known psychologist shocked me.

Some of us may have initiated abuse—after we became victimized. I question the reason was because we’d know what was coming. For me, I see it as habitual, learned behavior. We weren’t mature enough to know the difference between our need for love and the perp’s lust.

We help ourselves by remembering and focusing on our youth and innocence. Someone older groomed us and exploited us. Even if we sensed there was something wrong with what was happening, we had been carefully chosen and were easily convinced of the other’s love for us.

The analogy that comes to mind was my aversion to many vegetables when I was first married. My wife got me to eat a few Brussels sprouts. I didn’t like them. Over a period of weeks, she put one or two on my plate. Over time, I learned to enjoy them as well as cauliflower and other members of the cabbage family. Now they’re among my favorites.

Because we felt wanted and loved in our loneliness, why wouldn’t we sometimes initiate the abuse?

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I started this series by asking if sexual harassment was different for men. My answer: The emotional results are much the same—lack of trust, doubting our self-work, afraid to speak, and the list goes on.

Perhaps we can form our own #MeToo movement to encourage more victimized males to speak up.

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 8 of 9)

“It was my fault.”

That’s one of the most insidious lies of all. Too many of us believed we did something to arouse our perpetrators. Many women live with guilt over that same issue.

Years ago, I was part of a weekly group of adult males who had been sexually assaulted. In one of our early meetings, Al said, “If I hadn’t been so good looking, he wouldn’t have molested me.”

“No! That’s not true,” George yelled out. “He wasn’t looking at your face when he came on to you. You could have been the ugliest kid in town, and he would have done the same thing.”

Hank turned to Al. “I’ll bet your perp said that you were so handsome or cute he couldn’t resist you. Didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“It’s like the bungling bank robber declaring, ‘The money was there, or I wouldn’t have tried to take it.’ That’s an example of the guilty blaming the innocent.”

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men (Part 7 of 9)

Another argument used to silence women who claim to have been sexually harassed is, “She didn’t fight back.”

Yet when people are robbed or mugged, no one asks them, “Why didn’t you resist?” That argument assumes that any person who didn’t want to be fondled would struggle and try to overcome the advances. I smile (ruefully) when I read such arguments. Occasionally, I’ve heard male survivors blame themselves.

“If I were a real man, I wouldn’t have let it happen.” Or they say, “I must have wanted it,” and then blame themselves for the sexual assault. As with women, we were physically overpowered by someone bigger and stronger when we were boys. Most of those women who kept silent did it out of fear—fear of losing their jobs, fear of being laughed at, fear of not being believed.

With us, it means that, as adult males, we look back and assume our younger selves to have been strong enough to fight. What could we have done? Cried out? Screamed? Kicked? Perhaps, but there’s something else with us. Our perps targeted us. They knew we were vulnerable. They waited until they had won our trust.

We were the ignored, unloved, unwanted boys. All anyone had to do was show us love and affection. We were too immature to reason out that they were only satisfying themselves and not truly caring for us.

Research used to refer to the fight-or-flight response to danger. A better way to put it today is to refer to fight, flight, or freeze. Victims become paralyzed as their body's protective response. Too often we punish ourselves, believing we know how we should have reacted.

Instead, we need to be kind and loving to ourselves. We did the best we knew how.

And we survived.

Did you blame yourself for not fighting back?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 6 of 9)

Another cruel argument against the women who claim to have been sexually harassed are these five words: her story doesn’t add up.

Because of a few inconsistencies in reporting, does that make the molestation invalid? It’s normal, especially when we finally speak up. Time has lapsed and the memories have abated, even though the pain lies dormant inside.

For many of us, the agony is too severe to recall every step in the sexual rape we endured. When I reflect on the abuse by a female, I can’t give details. Two things stand out in my memory. First, the smell of the powder she wore, and second, her breath as she put her face next to mine.

What people often don’t understand is that when we tell an experience, we don’t tell it the same way twice. With each telling, we add details or omit something. That’s human nature. One therapist said that when he hears a traumatic story and the person tells it exactly the same way each time, that causes him to doubt them. “If they’ve memorized the details, that often points to false accusation.”

Some truly harassed adults or molested kids don’t get heard properly because of those inconsistencies. It’s easier to disbelieve than to be open to the victimization of the speaker. It takes courage to speak up.

I hope authorities will recognize that, listen, and truly hear our painful tales.

Do you struggle/have you struggled with trying to remember every detail?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 5 of 9)

Here is one of the irrational arguments used about women who are now speaking up after years of silence: “She didn’t come forward immediately.”

Isn’t this also typical of us male survivors of sexual assault? We were kids. Perhaps it didn’t occur to us to tell anyone. I wouldn’t have known whom to tell. I didn’t think anyone cared enough. In fact, if I had been shown the love and attention I needed, I probably wouldn’t have been victimized. My perps chose me because I was lonely, felt unloved, and craved attention.

This argument about not speaking up immediately after the incident is just another backhanded way at blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator. Instead of authority figures accepting the information and investigating, they slam the door in the face of the already hurting survivor.

One of my male survivor friends said, “It’s like being abused twice—first by the perp and then by those who should be able to help but don’t.”

Have you felt blamed for the abuse?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 4 of 9)

One of the charges leveled against the women who claimed to be groped or raped is that they stayed friendly with their abuser. Their critics can’t seem to realize that those victims were afraid of losing their jobs or not being believed. They wanted to put the trauma behind them, so they played the role of being friendly.

And they silently suffered.

Many of us know that feeling well, but our reasons for silence may be different. Although I knew it was wrong when an older man groomed me and assaulted me, I felt a deep love for him. As strange as that may seem to my adult self, I truly thought he loved me. No one else listened to me or seemed to care about my feelings. Even though it was deception on his part, it was real to me.

Recently, I spoke with a man in his sixties who was assaulted in his early teens and stayed in a relationship with an older man until he was 20 years old. “I thought he loved me,” the survivor said, “until he said I was too old for him.”

Did any of you stay friendly or loving toward your perpetrator?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 3 of 9)

Too often, law enforcers and others assume they need a response of crying to believe the victims. Again, it’s the stereotypical acceptance as one standard of behavior. Reports of the celebrity abuses say that some of those women reacted by self-medicating—drugs, alcohol, engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, or withdrawing from friends.

I can’t say this often enough: there is no such thing as one response to being molested. We survivors behave in a wide variety of ways. When we talk about it, some of us appear calm, even detached. Others become angry or shout. Some go mute. Some of us cry.

One of the things I’ve read too often that’s taken to be true for all of us childhood survivors bothers me. They say their kids were doing well in school, never troubled, and then their grades began to fall. After that, they had trouble getting along with others and became belligerent. That’s one response—and it may be common—but it certainly doesn’t fit all of us.

For me, it was the opposite. In school, I did extremely well. Once I was inside the building, my mood shifted. I focused on learning and mixed well with other students. Until ninth grade, I wasn’t absent for a single day. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, school became my emotional sanctuary.

How did you respond to the molestation when you were a child?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 2 of 9)

For their 2017 “Person of the Year,” Time magazine chose “The Silence Breakers”—women who triggered a #MeToo national outcry over sexual harassment. They showed photographs of four famous women and the intentionally obscured face of a fifth. She represented those who hadn’t yet gone public.

I applaud that—and wish there were more males speaking up, such as actor Anthony Rapp, who rang the bell on Kevin Spacey.

The public still seems stuck on the idea that sexual attacks are committed by strangers in dark alleys. Despite being told repeatedly through the media, most of us males (and the recent influx of females claiming sexual harassment) knew our perpetrators.

Our abuse came from people we trusted (or should have been able to trust). People can lie and make up things, and some individuals get caught in the false-memory syndrome of believing abuse when there was none. But, again, those are rare.

Think of what the victim must endure to go public. And many have horror stories to relate. Why would any of us want to subject ourselves to such painful scrutiny and unbelief? Why would we expect to be believed?

When you first spoke out, were you believed?

Is Sexual Harassment Different for Men? (Part 1 of 9)

Most of us have been inundated with information about sexual misconduct in Hollywood, New York, and the political realm. As I’ve listened to TV news and read reports about the allegations and especially the responses, I’ve thought, That sounds like what many of us male survivors of childhood sexual abuse have gone through.

The July 26, 2017, issue of The New York Times included an article written by Shaila Dewan about the misguided reasons people doubt the report of victims. As I read the piece, so much of it hit home.

One psychologist who conducts law-enforcement training on sexual assault said, “There’s something . . . unique about sexual assault in the way we think about it, which is . . . upside down from the way it actually operates.”

She went on say that we tend to doubt the victims because of widespread misconceptions. “The public and the police vastly overestimate the evidence of false reports. The most solid, case-by-case examinations say that only 5 to 7 percent of sexual assault reports are false.”

The article stated that the reports are often viewed as unreliable because of the victims’ emotional paralysis or inability to recall timelines. To her credit, the author points out that such inability is common.

Yes, I thought, we males have the same issues.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the sexual and physical abuse took place in my life, but I know it did. When I’ve been pressed for details, I blank out. I’ve tried to force myself to remember, but nothing productive jumps out. I’ve accepted that I’ll always have gaps in my memory.

Instead of being able to relate every detail, severe trauma works the other way. The more powerfully and painfully we’re affected, the less we remember. Others might not believe us—we can’t help that.

But we know.

Yes, we know.

Loss of a Secret

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

In January 1995, I received a 2:30 a.m. phone call from my hysterical sister. “Dad shot Mother while she was sleeping. Then he shot himself in the front yard.”

Because she thought Mother to be alive, my wife and I got to the hospital as fast as we could. I was such a mess, all I could say was, “No, no, no.”

The rest of the month was a blur, and the next two or three years a roller coaster. Eventually, I settled into a working funk that slowly faded. Yet, at this time every year, I have an ache that won’t go away. I miss Mom and probably always will. I left so many things unsaid.

More than that, I grieve the loss of my secret. I kept it as a good boy should, but I cherished the fantasy I had made of it. In my mind I romanticized it as something other than abuse. It was a secret that was just for Dad and me and no one else. If I couldn’t have the healthy relationship I needed and wanted from a father, at least I could console myself that I had the secret of our “special times.”

After that January night, I had nothing but the truth. I wasn’t special—I was just more convenient. It wasn’t love—it was selfish, abusive, and damaging.

Along with my mother, Dad’s bullet took away everything I thought I had. I suspect I’ve been afraid to mourn Mom because I’d have to mourn all the rest. So, every January I just ache until I can push it back and move on to what the new year brings.

Some losses stick with us a long time.

Be Kind

At the end of emails to good friends, I sometimes add these words: "Be kind to [their name] today." Occasionally I'll add, "[Their name] is someone I like very much and deserves your kindness."

Not everyone responds, and I don't write it to hear from them. I write the words because I mean them. I also write them because I've had to say them to myself many, many times to remind me. When I've messed up, said or done the wrong thing, feel low or lonely, that's when I decide to be kind to myself.

How do I show myself compassion?

My words go like this: "I like Cec; he needs me to support him and he deserves all the love and respect I can give him."

Be kind to yourself.

Say only positive, loving thoughts to yourself. If I occasionally hear myself bordering on negative and self-condemning words, here's what I say: "Cec, I'm sorry I felt that way. You don't deserve the harsh things I've said about you. I promise you that I'll be nicer."

Loving God, today help me be kind to myself.
And tomorrow. And the days after that.

This post is excerpted from Cec's book More Than Surviving: Courageous Meditations for Men Hurting from Childhood Abuse (Kregel, 2018).

Abuse and Compartmentalization

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

I talked to a friend who was in and out of same-sex relationships because of his abuse. We discussed that other victims speak of the emptiness of same-sex relationships, which leave them depressed and feeling miserable. But neither of us felt that way, and it caused us to wonder.

One thing we have in common is that riding off into the sunset with another male has never been a possibility. It’s not that we haven’t met anyone who’d be willing, but it’s because of the way we responded to our abusers.

Because of who they were, we never considered that what we had between us was anything more than a physical action. (For him, it was an older brother; for me, it was my dad.) It was a “thing” that involved connection and fondness, but also an understanding that it would eventually end. While I might have loved my dad, and my friend his older brother—and the closeness we each felt was great—life continued, and we grew up and moved on.

Part of our experience became a fixed pattern that repeated itself in similar types of sexual relationships. Because of preconditioned attitudes cemented in our impressionable years, our ability to commit intimately to anyone else was almost impossible.

We both knew men who wanted a more permanent situation with us, and while we felt genuine affection for them, a commitment was out of the question. Our idea of fidelity still included our wives.

The abuse rerouted our wiring and compartmentalized that area of our brains. I honestly believe my dad ruined any possibility of my having true fidelity with anyone. I can either love someone or have sex with them. For my wife, love and sex are a package deal—no compartmentalization. I struggle with that, and it’s hurt her.

Now that I’m older, it’s easier to be more faithful, but I fear it’s because of age rather than morality. With God’s help, and as revelation and understanding increase, I’m doing better.