Nine years ago, I was asked to research the under-reporting of boys being sexually abused in the Coachella Valley. I took on that challenge and brought the proposal to Prevent Child Abuse, Riverside County. A vote was taken and the decision was made to take on this subject as a project, the rest is history.
It Happens to Boys is dedicated to helping men and teen boys find their voice, tell their stories and begin healing.
I am often questioned why, being a woman, I would take on a project like this. The answer is clear. I have been a licensed therapist since 1985 and all these years I’ve heard story after story of women being sexually abused by men. Then, the tide turned and I was hearing from men who were abused. However, what I learned over the years is that men have been indoctrinated into the Good Old Boy Club by good old men who have taught each other the mantra: “Real men don’t cry, share vulnerabilities, need help, or appear weak.” A real man bucks up doesn’t act like a girl or a sissy, he protects himself and everyone around him. So, if he was abused as a boy, he cannot tell anyone or everyone will find out he failed the test. Shame builds up in abused boys and they suppress those feelings over and over again until they rage. Hurt people, hurt people. That’s why I took on this project. I feel if we don’t help men to heal they will continue to go on hurting women and children.
Road rage, domestic violence, child abuse, and drug and alcohol dependence costs our society billions of dollars each year. Now we know this issue exists, but how far have we come? Society’s refusal to address this issue causes great damage to our families.
Nine years ago, recovery centers didn’t want to know us, even though statistics showed that 86% of male patients were abuse survivors. Because few tell anyone, we were told it would be too much for men to deal with while they were in recovery. One milestone is that many recovery centers now include a trauma track to their treatment. Physicians and hospitals are starting to include a sentence, “Are you safe at home?” to their intake sheets. The biggest milestone is that we are being invited to speak at recovery centers, conferences, schools and professional organizations. Each time we speak, men and women talk to us and say, “that’s my story as well.” What we were able to tell recovery centers is that if men do not deal with their core issue of trauma they will leave the recovery center, get triggered and relapse. We had been watching that happen over and over again and a huge milestone is having trauma work be available while men are on a safe place in a recovery center.
Milestones for the men in our group are too many to number. Some have written books, some go out and speak with me at recovery centers and conferences, they are thrilled to be of service to other men who are hurting, and most are living much better lives, for some reconnecting with a higher power after they had given up on ever trusting anyone again. Most children ask God for help during their abuse, only to feel rejected again, even by God, finding a new spiritual connection is life changing.
Talking about milestones, we just completed our Ninth Annual It Happens to Boys conference in Austin. Texas. The reception was wonderful, people were listening attentively and asking questions. Men came up to us afterword to say, “me too.”
A year ago, Lady Ga Ga performed a song at the Academy Awards called, You Never Know How it Feels till it Happens to You. She encouraged us to use our voices and to listen to survivors, but not say “I know how you feel.” No one knows how another person feels no matter how close you are. Nothing shuts down a survivor faster than someone asking them why they feel the way they do, or saying you understand, and invalidating their story.
Survivor’s need compassionate listeners, they need guides to assist their journey to healing. Our tenth anniversary conference will bring some surprises. Stay tuned to future articles to find out what we will be doing. We are extremely grateful to be a part of the healing process for so many survivors and their families. If you have questions or would like our group to speak at your organization contact me at 760-346-4606.