In Depth: Breaking the silence
Too often we report stories about adults sexually abusing children. While most of these cases involve girls who are abused, boys are not immune. It’s estimated one in six men will be abused before their 18th birthday and that figure is thought to be low because societal pressures make it more difficult for men than women to disclose the abuse.
Experts in the prevention field say it’s important for men to talk about the abuse to help stop it. That’s what our colleague, NewsChannel 13 Meteorologist Jason Gough is doing.
"I want to let everybody know that this is not your fault. This has to come out. If you tell one person or if you broadcast it," explained Jason.
You know him as an accomplished meteorologist on NewsChannel 13. However, when he was 8 years old, his aunt, now deceased, began abusing him.
"Predators have a finely tuned radar for vulnerable kids," noted Mike Lew, a psychotherapist and author.
In Jason’s case, his parents’ marriage was fraying and the abuser lavished attention on him.
As experts like Lew explain, Jason was targeted and groomed for the sexual abuse.
"I didn’t remember it the next day and this went on for a couple of years," recalled Jason.
The ability to push the abuse to the deepest corners of his mind is both common and protective.
Lew explains society pressures boys and men not to share emotions that may brand them as weak, so they’re less likely than female victims to disclose the abuse.
"It’s not unusual for men to disclose, if they disclose at all, to wait until they’re in their 40s, 50s or later," pointed out Lew.
However, abused boys pay a price for their silence or when signs of their distress are missed.
"[I] pulled out all of my eyelashes," remembered Jason.
"Self destructive behaviors are often a hallmark," explained Chrys Ballerano with the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
She says signs a child maybe abused include acting out, bed wetting, inappropriate knowledge about sexuality. They may turn to substance abuse, become depressed, excessively angry.
"After that, my temper was horrible," admitted Jason.
However, none of the adults in his life recognized his turmoil.
He eventually channeled his fury and shame into running on his school team and it worked for a while.
Lew explains a major life change often shakes loose the painful memories. For Jason, that happened 12 years ago. He was preparing to return to Albany, his hometown, from Texas where he had been living with his wife, Jennifer.
"Jennifer said I turned like an ashen color and started to rock. She didn’t know what to do and I just kind of blanked out and then it was just like I came out of it and I said, ‘Oh, I was abused when I was a kid. I know who did it.’ I mean it was just like that," recalled Jason.
Shortly after that epiphany, Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer and her care became Jason’s focus. She recovered, but Jason’s confrontation with his past was stalled by seven years.
Emotions and recollections would spill over, blindsiding him with such intensity he became severely depressed.
"There were times when I was considering some pretty hideous things," he admitted. When NewsChannel 13’s Benita Zahn asked, "Suicidal?" Jason replied, "Mm-hmm," and nodded his head.
His family rallied around him, encouraging him to get help. He had already shared details of the sexual abuse with them. Fortunately, they believed him and didn’t pass judgement. Those are all critical components to recovery say the experts, who add peer support is another integral part of healing.
"To know that they’re not the only one. Because abuse happens in isolation," explained Lew.
In that isolation, shame, the stigma of being targeted and guilt for not resisting their abuser festers. With others, they learn the true nature of the abuse.
"It’s about power, it’s about control," noted Ballerano.
Sadly, after an abused male child discloses, they’re often stigmatized by the falsehood they’re more likely to abuse others. Research shows that’s not true.
"This robs the kids, this robs the society of a lot of potentially great dads," noted Lew.
"I did not want to hug my nieces or nephews and have anybody in my family wonder why," admitted Jason.
Therapy has helped Jason get beyond that. While he and Jen are close, their marriage didn’t survive his journey. Not uncommon, studies show for these adult survivors.
"People get to a point where they can make life decisions that aren’t based on having been abused," noted Lew.
"Take all of the details and everything and it’s part of it, but it’s not part of you and that’s what’s taken me a long time to figure out," admitted Jason.
Jason knew he had to speak out after watching an interview with Actor Tyler Perry, who shared his story of abuse. It helped Jason to heal and now he hopes his story will help others.