What is wrong with us humans — not only the ongoing reports of sexual harassment of women across the whole social spectrum, but how about the “1 in 6 Statistic?”
The CDC reports that 1 in 6 MEN have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18, and this “is likely an underestimate of the actual prevalence... (and) men are less likely to disclose them than are females.” There’s even a group, 1in6, that offers help to males who’ve had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences.
Then RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one of the largest anti-sexual violence organizations, had an article called “Sexual Assault of Men and Boys” that says, “Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, your sexual orientation, or your gender identity. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.”
The statistic brought to mind a sad, ugly story told by a straight male friend I’ll call Dutch. Years ago, over many drinks, he whispered that he’d been molested by his “uncle.” It had scarred him for years, causing all sorts of acting out. He almost got killed on a motorcycle, losing part of his leg. He had abused drugs and alcohol. Yet he was always a sweet lad at heart. A sweet fuck-up, at heart. Luckily, getting sobriety years later, helped him deal with these other issues and he is so much better. But apart from me, he rarely ever spoke to anyone about it.
Then Tara Gellman, a female friend of mine who’s been published in the New York Law School Journal of Human Rights. posted this heartfelt note on Facebook:
I hope men are not marginalized now in society as far as their experiences with things that have harmed them - abuse of any kind, whether physical, emotional or sexual. There is a difference between becoming more vocal about violations against women, for example, and stifling men and their comfort in discussing their experiences. When we speak on behalf of people, we cannot be exclusionary. I have seen people attacked when they comment on posts about the sexual misconduct and violence towards women, stating that men also have been molested, harassed, etc. As have those in the LQBTQ community. Men have historically kept these things to themselves, and their lives have also been destroyed. I have had several boyfriends/lovers and transgender friends who were raped/molested/harassed/threatened. I have seen them become withdrawn, scared, violent, addicted, etc. I have seen their pain. It runs as deeply as ours. I’ve been in SLAA and OA rooms with men who were there because of the sexual violations against them growing up. Whether or not these acts are more prevalent against women, we cannot make men feel that they will be shamed or attacked if they seek to unburden themselves and try to heal.
I followed up with Gellman, who previously practiced mental health law in New York, representing psychiatric in-patients, and she told me:
I’ve always tried to make people aware of the abuses against men. And it has always upset me that while women want men to be more sensitive and aware, they also stifle them and make them feel marginalized in these ways. It cannot be both ways. Nobody can ask for their rights and issues to be recognized and addressed while suppressing the same for others....When I was living in New York, I had a lover, and although we had little in common, we connected sexually and as friends, and were protective of each other like brother and sister. In one quiet moment, he confessed to me that from his infancy through age 12, he was repeatedly molested by his mother, and a female neighbor she’d bring over to rape him. His life was basically in turmoil and he did end up doing jail time. He was very angry, but with me he was sweet, likely because he knew he was safe with me. The repeated sexual assaults that filled his childhood memories had a devastating effect on him. That sweet boy, the loving, smiling, laughing and passionate one I knew, was killed by the worst kind of violation. And his mother and neighbor? As of the last I knew of him, they were free. Hopefully not doing it to anyone else.
Gellman stresses that whether or not these sexual harassment acts are more prevalently committed against women is no excuse for “minimalizing the experiences of men,” adding, “The way their lives have been detrimentally and destructively affected, and making them again feel unsafe in confiding in people. Women want equal treatment but (some) only want their voices to be heard. One cannot be an equal while oppressing another. Period.”
A brave perception that does widen this much-needed debate because as Gellman, a human rights proponent, wisely suggests, “We must also acknowledge men’s experience and stop attacking those who speak of them.”
As for where to get help, there’s a growing number of resources available: RAINN has a National Helpline for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse or Assault; and, the “1in6” group offers a free and anonymous online support group for male survivors. Additionally, since the world’s attention became focused on the unfolding story of countless allegations of sexual harassment by many powerful men in the entertainment industry, Women In Film has launched its own Sexual Harassment Help Line.
Come on, people, it’s high time to step up!