Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse Affects the Rest of a Man’s Life….

 I didn’t know I was sexually abused until I found out what it was…

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I found it shocking that 1 in 6 boys under the age of 16 have been sexually assaulted. I thought I was alone. Think about those statistics for a moment… look away from your computer, and think of six men you know personally, and consider one of them was sexually victimized as a child. What an incredible burden for a child to bare.

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.

Adult survivors of child sexual abuse carry the emotional damage caused by assaults that won’t simply go away.

If you are a survivor, you might feel guilty about not having been able to stop the abuse, or even blame yourself if you experienced physical pleasure. It is important for you to understand that it was the person that hurt you that should be held accountable… not you.

You may struggle with low self-esteem, which can be a result of the negative messages you received from your abuser, and from having your personal safety violated or ignored. Low self-esteem can affect many different areas of your life such as your relationships, your career, and even your health.

It’s possible that your first experiences with sex came as a result of sexual abuse. As an adult, intimacy might be a struggle at times. Some survivors experience flashbacks or painful memories while engaging in sexual activity, even though it is consensual and on their own terms. Survivors may also struggle to set boundaries that help them feel safe in relationships.

There’s a myth that boys can’t be sexually used or abused, and if one is, he can never be a “real man.” Everyone absorbs the myth that males aren’t victims, to some extent. It’s central to masculine gender socialization, and boys pick up on it very early in life. This myth implies that a boy or man who has been sexually used or abused will never be a “real man.” Our society expects males to be able to protect themselves. Successful men are depicted as never being vulnerable, either physically or emotionally.

But boys are not men. They are children. They are weaker and more vulnerable than those who sexually abuse or exploit them… who use their greater size, strength and knowledge to manipulate or coerce boys into unwanted sexual experiences and staying silent. This is usually done from a position of authority (e.g., coach, teacher, religious leader) or status (e.g. older cousin, admired athlete, social leader), using whatever means are available to reduce resistance, such as attention, special privileges, money or other gifts, promises or bribes, even outright threats.

What happens to any of us as children does not need to define us as men!

There’s a myth that if a boy experienced sexual arousal during abuse, he wanted and/or enjoyed it, and if he ever did partly want the sexual experiences, then they were his fault. Many boys and men believe this myth and feel lots of guilt and shame because they got physically aroused during the abuse.

It is important to understand that males can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful. That’s just how male bodies and brains work.

Those who sexually use and abuse boys know this. They often attempt to maintain secrecy, and to keep the abuse going, by telling the child that his sexual response shows he was a willing participant and complicit in the abuse. “You wanted it. You liked it,” they say.

But that doesn’t make it true. Boys are not seeking to be sexually abused or exploited. They can, however, be manipulated into experiences they do not like, or even understand, at the time.

There are many situations where a boy, after being gradually manipulated with attention, affection and gifts, feels like he wants such attention and sexual experiences. In an otherwise lonely life, the attention and pleasure of sexual contact from someone the boy admires can feel good.

But in reality, it’s still about a boy who was vulnerable to manipulation. It’s still about a boy who was betrayed by someone who selfishly exploited the boy’s needs for attention and affection to use him sexually.

There is a myth that most sexual abuse of boys is committed by homosexual males. People who sexually abuse or exploit boys are not expressing homosexuality – any more than people who sexually abuse or exploit girls are engaging in heterosexual behavior. They are deeply confused individuals who, for various reasons, desire to sexually use or abuse children, and have acted on that desire.

There’s a myth boys abused by males must be gay or will become gay.

There are different theories about how sexual orientation develops, but experts in human sexuality do not believe that sexual abuse or premature sexual experiences play a significant role. There is no good evidence that someone can “make” another person be homosexual (or heterosexual). Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual.

It is common, however, for boys and men who have been abused to express confusion about their sexual identity and orientation. Some guys fear that, due to their experiences as boys, they must “really” be homosexual or that they can’t be a “real man.” Even men who are clearly heterosexual, and men who others see as very masculine, may fear that others will “find them out” as gay or not real men.

Also, many boys abused by males believe that something about them sexually attracted their abuser and will attract other males. While these are understandable fears, they are not true. One of the great tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is how it robs a person’s natural right to discover his own sexuality in his own time.

It is very important to remember that abuse arises from the abuser’s failure to develop and maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and his or her willingness to sexually use and abuse kids. It has nothing to do with the preferences or desires of the child who is abused, and cannot determine a person’s natural sexual identity.

There is a myth that if a female used or abused a boy, he was “lucky,” and if he doesn’t feel that way there’s something wrong with him.

This myth, like several of the others, comes from the image of masculinity that boys learn from very early. It says not only that males can’t be sexually abused, but that any sexual experience with girls and women, especially older ones, is evidence that he’s a “real man.” Again, the confusion comes from focusing on the sexual aspect rather than the abusive one – the exploitation and betrayal by a more powerful, trusted or admired person (who can be a child or adult).

Being sexually used or abused, whether by males or females, can cause a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. However, boys and men often don’t recognize the connections between what happened and their later problems.

As adults male survivors of sexual abuse can’t grasp the concept of intimacy. Believing sexual closeness is the way to feel loved but experiencing love as abuse, some of these men solve their dilemma by engaging in frequent, indiscriminate, and compulsive sexual encounters. These are not free, joyous expressions of erotic passion. Sex is pursued incessantly, but with little chance for intimacy. Although strongly desiring love, these men have no sense of feeling loved once the sex act is concluded.

They’re left feeling empty and lonely, while the idea of fully pursuing relationships fills them with dread. Many believe sexually abused boys almost inevitably become sexually abusive men. But, while a significant proportion of male abusers were victims themselves, there’s evidence that relatively few sexually abused boys actually become abusers. Because of the myth, however, many men fear they’ll become abusive or worry that if they disclose their history, others will consider them predators.

Finally, when the abuser is male (and even sometimes when she is female), many boys – whether straight or gay – develop fears and concerns about sexual orientation.

Conventional wisdom says sexual abuse turns boys gay, although there’s no persuasive evidence that premature sexual activity fundamentally changes sexual orientation. Nevertheless, a heterosexual boy is likely to doubt himself, wondering why he was chosen by a man for sex. A homosexual boy may feel rushed into considering himself gay, or may hate his homosexuality because he believes it was caused by his abuse. Whether boys are gay or straight, these manipulative introductions to sexuality can set lifetime patterns of exploitation and self-destructive behavior.

These aftereffects are ugly. Boys who grow up without coming to terms with their childhood abuse often struggle as men with addictions, anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide as well as the inability to develop or maintain relationships.

The good news: healing is possible.

A first step is acknowledging that abuse occurred and articulating what has been silenced. Putting the experience into words is freeing for many men, whether they tell a loved one, a professional, a confidant, or simply write in a journal. Beyond that, there are several options. Knowledgeable professionals can help, some 12-Step programs, and men’s groups focused on victimization and masculinity. The Internet offers several options, including web sites for sexually abused men such as, where men can find one another and talk, anonymously if necessary, about their common dilemmas, or, where additional information is available.

There is no reason to hide what you didn’t cause… get help.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

How will I survive these senseless killings?

How am I supposed to live without you…when all that I’ve been livin’ for is gone?Micheal Bolton


I was numb yesterday when I heard a gunman opened fire at an Oregon community college. As a parent, it brought back a chilling day in 2012 when my son’s Spanish teacher left the classroom with a guitar case and proceeded to the principal’s office. Moments later an MK-47 changed lives forever. Gone were the teacher and principal… gone was the false assumption that life meets no sudden interruptions. Hours after the shooting I contacted the teacher’s parents in another state. The sound of their voices chills me to this day. They began that day as parents and by afternoon were homicide survivors. What were they feeling? How could they face the reality that in the twinkling of an eye nothing would ever be as it was during breakfast?

The parent-child bond is one of the most meaningful relationships a person will experience. Parents who have lost a child can often feel that a part of them has died. The despair and pain that follow a child’s death is thought by many to exceed all other experiences. Parents are simply not supposed to outlive their children and no parent is prepared for a child’s death.

The length of a child’s life does not determine the size of the loss. Parents are intimately involved in the daily lives of young children, and their child’s death changes every aspect of family life, often leaving an enormous emptiness. Parents may be less involved in the everyday lives of older children and adolescents, but death at this age occurs just when children are beginning to reach their potential and become independent individuals. When an adult child dies, parents not only lose a child, but often a close friend, a link to grandchildren, and an irreplaceable source of emotional and practical support. Parents who lose an only child also lose their identity as parents, and perhaps the possibility of grandchildren.

When any child dies, parents grieve the loss of possibilities and all of the hopes and dreams they had for their child. They grieve the potential that will never be realized and the experiences they will never share. When a child dies, a part of the future dies along with them.

Those who have lost a loved one to murder or homicide are referred to as homicide survivors. Survivors are family members and friends who have close emotional, personal, and/or intimate ties with the homicide victim. Homicide survivors are also victims of crime because they have been indirectly harmed by the commission of a murder. This harm takes the form of the loss they experience because of the murder, and the difficulties resulting from that loss.

Although dealing with a death is always difficult, when the death is the result of a deliberate and often violent act committed by another human being, the pain of loss is intensified, making a survivor’s grief is often more complicated. Thus, homicide survivors are known to experience unique emotions and need different types of support when coping with the death of their loved one. If someone close to you has been murdered, you are a homicide survivor and this guide can help you to understand your grief.

The grief experienced by parents is very unique and intense. Parents often find that coping with their grief is much more difficult because, in the natural order of life, they should not outlive their children. Living with the reality that their child has died before them is very difficult to accept, and can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt. Both parents may also feel guilty because they have failed in their role as protector; they did not save their child from being murdered even if there was nothing they could have done to stop it.

For fathers, they may have additional difficulty with their grief because men have been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, and not to be overly emotional, as expressing emotions is a sign of weakness. Furthermore, men are more likely to be restoration-oriented. They want things to be repaired and to return to normal as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this reaction can be misinterpreted by their partner as not caring about their child who has died and lead to resentment.

2feb43b301a1b200a37a2e1f8adf7de1 (1)For mothers, grief is often expected to be visible and intense. Women naturally tend to be loss-oriented and are often more concerned with their feelings. They focus on their loss and the emotions they are experiencing. They frequently need to recall, be reminded of and share memories of the child who has died. It is important to know that both parents of homicide victims will experience grief and that both should be allowed to grieve openly and without judgment by others.

The unexpectedness of murder is one of the reasons that your grief is different. You do not have to prepare for death or to anticipate the grief you will experience. One morning you may go through the normal breakfast routine with your child or spouse for example, without ever knowing that they will not return home at the end of the day. There is no prognosis for homicide like there is for terminal illness, or general timeline like there is for a natural death.

Dealing with the violent nature of your loved one’s death, which was intentionally caused by another person is a difficult task and intensifies the emotions that you may feel while grieving. Survivors are sometimes needed to identify their loved ones either through photos or by physically looking at their body, or may be required to view crime scene photos. If this is the case, you may actually need to view the violence that was inflicted on your family member or friend. Furthermore, you may sometimes find yourself reflecting or imagining the pain that your loved one must have gone through prior to their death. All of these things cause additional emotional trauma, and extend and intensify the grieving process beyond that which others dealing with the death of a loved one would feel.

Some people expect that grief should be resolved over a specific time, such as a year, but this is not true. The initial severe reactions are not experienced continuously with such intensity; rather periods of intense grief come and go over a period of 18 months or more. Over time, waves of grief gradually become less intense and less frequent, but feelings of sadness and loss will likely always remain. Developmental milestones in the lives of other children can trigger emotions of grief even years after a child’s death. Significant days such as graduations, weddings, or the first day of a new school year are common grief triggers. Parents frequently find themselves thinking about how old their child would be or what he or she would look like or be doing if he or she were still alive.

Murder is unquestionably the worst thing that one person can do to another. 6233e49004a06b4ad578cd8842a03dffFor its survivors, murder is a terrible tragedy. It shatters much of what was joyous and valuable in their lives. There is no cure for the aftermath of a murder, but survivors can find help, can find understanding, and can construct a new life with a renewed sense of purpose. They can survive.

My conversation with the Spanish teacher’s parents haunts me still. As we ended the call I wanted to remind them their son had a positive influence on my son for which I was grateful and his final act was not greater than the good he shared throughout his 27 years on earth. The mother quietly spoke up and said “No one will ever remember his goodness… life doesn’t work that way”.

I hope the Oregon parents remember the goodness of their children and find the tools to survive such an unimaginable loss.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

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