Not Just a Victim: NBA Legend’s Son Provides New Face for Young Men of Color Harmed by Abuse

NBA Legend Isiah Thomas's Son Recently Revealed He is a Survivor of Sexual Assault.
NBA Legend Isiah Thomas's Son Recently Revealed He is a Survivor of Sexual Assault.

An important voice often left out of the conversation on sexual assault has emerged. And it must be heard.

Josh “Zeke” Thomas, the 28-year-old musician and son of NBA legend Isiah Thomas, was raped in his own apartment by a man he met on the gay-dating app Grindr. At 12 years old, he was also sexually abused by a group of older boys who forced him to engage in sex acts, about which he says “ wasn’t something I wanted.”

Zeke, who is an openly gay African-American man, shines a light on a group of survivors whose stories are so frequently muted in the conversation around sexual violence: young boys and men of color.

In an exclusive with Good Morning America, Zeke bares the raw truth of the complexities of being gay, black, and a victim. “Being gay, being African-American, [being sexual assaulted] is definitely something that I never imagined would happen to me,” he says. He didn’t press charges, because he “just wasn’t ready” and didn’t want to be known as a “victim.”

Men are so often socialized to believe that being a victim is weak.

“Boys are taught that to be a man is to be dominant and to be strong. Any hint of vulnerability is viewed as unmanly. So you fight through the pain, you ‘suck it up.’ These are the toxic messages around masculinity that so many men hear and receive when they’re young,” says Paul Barrett, project coordinator of Safe Horizon’s efforts to enhance services to young boys and men of color.

Available research indicates that young boys and men of color, although more likely than other groups to be victims of violence, are not accessing, or being offered, the support needed to heal from these events at the same rate as other crime victims. As a result, Safe Horizon - the nation’s largest victims’ services organization - is taking a focused look at strengthening our services for boys and young men of color.

Young boys and men of color face barriers to healing such as fear of law enforcement, feeling “weak” in seeking help or not seeing themselves reflected in social services organizations. For gay men, they may fear being outed or encountering homophobic attitudes.

Because the results of trauma can manifest immediately after an incident of abuse, it’s essential that young boys and men of color have access to the expert services they deserve and need. No one should have to deal with trauma alone.

For Zeke, he “went a little bit crazy: not wanting to be alone, feeling manic,” all common reactions to traumatic events that can be addressed if we can connect young boys and men to expert support. But if left unaddressed, trauma can have dire consequences such as depression, self-harm, or engaging in risky behaviors.

Zeke’s story reveals another important truth: survivors of sexual abuse come forward when they are ready. In New York, as an example, most survivors only have until age 23 to come forward and file charges against those who have abused them. After that, the opportunity is lost forever due to statute of limitations. Stories like Zeke’s, who is 28, show why legislation like New York’s Child Victims Act need to be passed and passed now! And in Illinois, where Zeke’s most recent assault took place, there are efforts to end the statute of limitations there as well.

In all the conversation around sexual assault and abuse, it’s important that we remember that there are so many other survivors like Zeke. Young boys and men of color who deserve to have their stories told, validated, and heard. They deserve our support and an appropriate response to help them heal.

Safe Horizon is the nation’s largest victim services agency. In 2015, they launched the Young Men of Color Working Group which brings together experts from other organizations that actively serve young men of color to identify and explore effective outreach methods and provide culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services to address the needs of these young men.