In our supposedly enlightened era about sex crimes against children, there continues to be one glaring blind spot.
Yes, there is more discussion now than ever before about the types of predators who target our children, the cyclical nature of these crimes and how to keep our children safe. And, yes, society does a pretty good job of gathering around to help the little girls who have fallen prey to pedophiles. Not so with little boys.
Discussion about the plight of sexually victimized boys and young male teens has been virtually absent from the national conversation. We all understand the horror and lifelong scars a rape can cause to, say, a 12-year-old female. But there remains this idea that if it happens to a 12-year-old boy, they are somehow more able to handle it, less psychologically damaged by the victimization. Some of the ill-informed even believe the boy is "lucky” to have been introduced to the joys of sex so early. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The unsettling reality is that, for a variety of reasons, young males who have been sexually assaulted don't readily report what has happened to them. It is tremendously difficult for them to admit that someone has taken advantage of them in that way. Why?
Well, no matter how evolved we may think we are, our society continues to instill in even the youngest boys the need to be brave, strong, confident and to act tough — to never appear helpless, fragile or fearful. Of course, feeling afraid and ashamed are exactly the emotions a sex victim experiences. So frequently, boys don’t tell for fear of disappointing the adults in their life.
Boys often stay silent because they believe they will be seen as being gay if their abuser was — as most often happens — also male. Let’s bust the myth right now that this type of sex abuse automatically turns the child into a homosexual. Completely untrue.
Also, when they experience the normal physical response to stimulation — even if it is forced stimulation — it often confuses the boy. His body is reacting one way while his mind is telling him the act is wrong. It’s this confusion that contributes to the child going back to the predator time and time again. Though, usually the stream of gifts and flattering attention a pedophile offers is lure enough.
Dr. Scott Easton of Boston College conducted one of the largest research studies of male survivors of childhood sex abuse. He questioned nearly 500 men and discovered nearly 50 percent were abused for three years or longer. Imagine, boys who endured three years (or more) of sexual assaults before either escaping the clutches of their attacker or becoming too old to be desirable.
Parents reading this might think their son would always come and tell them if something like this was happening to them — but statistics prove that is wishful thinking.
Christopher Anderson kept his molestation secret for 25 years. Today, he is executive director of MaleSurvivor.org, a support group for male victims of childhood sex abuse. Anderson, 38, says male children’s failure to report sex crimes has created a terrible cycle. Since law enforcement, social workers and courts hear so few complaints from young boys, there is a shocking lack of services targeted for male victims.
That’s unconscionable when you take into account last year’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which revealed 38 percent of sexual violence victims are men. Left untreated and unsupported, many victims become depressed, anxious, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and often think about or commit suicide.
I bring up the dynamics behind young men who wait years to report their abuse because there are a couple of cases in the news lately involving young men who stepped forward with accusations from long ago. James Safechuck, now 36, was 10 years old when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial opposite the late singer Michael Jackson. Safechuck’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Jackson estate, alleges Jackson repeatedly molested him for about four years. A Jackson lawyer has called the claim “false and scurrilous.”
Once aspiring actor Michael Eagan, 31, filed the second headline-making lawsuit. He says that beginning when he was 15 years old, several men — who are now accomplished Hollywood veterans — lured him in with promises of lucrative acting jobs but then plied him (and other underage boys) with drugs and booze and groomed them for sexual victimization. Eagan claims the abuse continued for two years. All the named defendants have denied any wrongdoing.
Internet wags made immediate and ugly judgments about the two young accusers.
“This is just a ridiculous money grab,” one commenter wrote.
“So he waits over two decades and for Michael (Jackson) to die to come out with this?”
“It’s amazing that (these) accusers have the same strange quality of voluntarily going to visit their abuser over and over for years.”
Before making snap judgments about someone who claims they were sexually molested as a child, could we all just take a deep breath and understand the dynamics at play? From my experience reporting on these types of cases, it is gut-wrenchingly hard for a bona fide victim to go public. It often makes them physically sick. They take their time revealing until they believe it is safe and they realize it is a step they have to take so they can begin to heal their soul.
Recriminations about why they, as a child, repeatedly returned to their abusers are meaningless. Questions about why they didn’t tell their mothers are ignorant. Criticizing them for asking the court for monetary compensation seems needlessly cruel. Any idea how much a course of intense therapy costs?
Are there false accusations of sexual abuse leveled for money or revenge? Yes, you bet. And that’s why we have a court system to weed out the real from the unreal. Here’s a suggestion: Let’s at least wait to hear these accusers’ evidence before automatically condemning them as undeserving to seek justice.
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.