The Journal Gazette
Sunday, April 22, 2018 1:00 am

Male abuse victims seek place

Coming forward a different kind of challenge for men

DAVID CRARY | Associated Press

For some male victims of sexual assault and abuse, #MeToo can feel more like #WhatAboutMe?

They admire the women speaking out about traumatic experiences as assault and harassment victims, while wondering whether men with similar scars will ever receive a comparable level of public empathy and understanding.

Chris Brown, a University of Minnesota music professor, was among several men who in December accused renowned conductor James Levine of abusing them as teens several decades ago, leading to Levine's recent firing by the Metropolitan Opera Company.

“Men are historically considered the bad guys,” suggested Brown . “If some men abuse women, then we all are abusers ourselves ... so therefore when it comes to our being abused, we deserve it.”

Brown's sense of distance from the #MeToo movement is shared by other abused men – some of whom have been using a #MenToo hashtag on Twitter.

“We're never necessarily welcome to the parade,” said Andrew Schmutzer, a professor of biblical studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago who has written about being abused as a teen.

Schmutzer is among a group of survivors and therapists forming the leadership of MaleSurvivor, which since its incorporation in 1995 has sought to provide support and resources to men who suffered sexual abuse as children or adults. It says its website has been visited by hundreds of thousands of men worldwide.

The psychologists and therapists who work with MaleSurvivor endorse the findings of multiple studies concluding that about 1 in 6 men in the U.S. experienced childhood sexual abuse, compared with 1 in 4 women.

Joan Cook, a psychiatry professor at Yale School of Medicine, has been treating sexually abused men for more than 20 years.

“Many of them still espouse this John Wayne mentality,” she said. “If something bad happens to you, just wall it off and don't acknowledge it to yourself or others.”

Some of her patients fear they'll be perceived as weak if they go public about their abuse, she said, while others worry that people will view them as more likely to be abusers themselves because of what they suffered as children.

According to MaleSurvivor, a significant portion of abuse perpetrators report having been victimized by abuse, but most victims do not go on to commit sexual abuse against others.

New York-based psychoanalyst Richard Gartner, a co-founder of MaleSurvivor, says it's helpful when prominent men, including actors, music stars and pro athletes, do make that decision.

“They are models for others to come forward, to tell their families, to find help,” Gartner said. “It becomes a less shameful thing when somebody famous says it happened to them.”

Among the celebrities who have taken that step: former pro hockey star Theo Fleury, Cy Young-award-winning baseball pitcher R.A. Dickey; film director Tyler Perry; actors Tom Arnold and Anthony Edwards; and Chester Bennington, lead singer for the rock band Linkin Park, who hanged himself last year.

Dickey and Perry, in accounts of their youth, say they were abused by females as well as males – in Dickey's case a teenage baby sitter, in Perry's case the mother of a friend.

The Catholic Church and Penn State scandals reinforced a pervasive perception that the child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, but Gartner said female-on-male abuse “is not as rare as people think.”

Perry, in an interview with The Associated Press, expressed hope that the momentum of the #MeToo movement might ease the path for other survivors.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage and it's very, very scary and you don't know how people are going to react to it,” he said. “So being in this moment, you know I'm hoping that there is change.”

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