Documentary Gives Voice to Male Victims of Sexual Abuse

Jenine Pilla
Oct. 3, 2012

In Philadelphia, there are 1,600 child sexual abuse cases reported each year, according to the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, the city’s primary intervention organization working with child victims of sexual abuse. And one-third of them are boys.

In an attempt to raise awareness for victims, their loved ones and the community, the PCA and MaleSurvivor—a web-based nonprofit that is committed to preventing, healing and eliminating sexual victimization of boys and men through treatment, research, education, advocacy and activism—are joining together to present a screening at the Free Library of the film Boys and Men Healing, a documentary that follows three men as they tell of their difficulties of growing up with their abuse, reaching out for help and the path to transforming their lives.

PW sat down with a few of the screening’s key players, including Christina Kirchner, PCA’s executive director; Chris Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvior; Jim Struve, a social worker and co-chair of MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery; and Paul Flanagan, 59, a local survivor of child sexual abuse. Here, they discuss providing victims with a safe outlet to begin their healing process, and educating the community on prevention.

What are some of the stereotypes that surround male sexual abuse victims that may make it difficult for them to reach out for help?

Anderson: The biggest one is the notion of masculinity itself. We idealize that Clint Eastwood, that lone, tough guy type who goes out into the world and tries to stand up for what’s right but never lets anybody get too close to him. That kind of warped sense of what makes a man a man has the effect of driving more and more men into shells of isolation and shame.

Kirchner: Power, pride and a sense of fear that society will view them differently. For some boys, there is a little bit of homophobia, especially for those children working around the issues of gender identity.

As we see in the men depicted in Boys and Men Healing, the hardest battle is coming forth. What could make this process easier?

Struve: Because we don’t have as much exposure about male sexual abuse, males tend to be a bit more isolated. Because it’s always been hidden, men never found the way to resources as easily as females. But recent childhood abuse scandals and the Penn State sexual abuse scandals have managed to change all of that. We’re finally getting exposure.

Flanagan: My parents use to say to me, “You were a good kid until you were 12, then we don’t know what happened to you.” I never told, [and] because [of] the internalized shame, I put the blame on myself. I didn’t start dealing with the sexual abuse until I was 50, when I started going to male support groups. They help you realize this is in no way your fault … and the blame belonged elsewhere and not on yourself. When you see the statistic, you know that when you sit in a room with 20 people, you know that it’s more than just you that’s abused.

How do you hope the screening will impact the community?

Anderson: It presents a wonderful opportunity to talk about this issue from a place of lightness, from a place of hope. The documentary itself tells three stories of inspiration and healing that have taken, what for a survivor is the deepest and darkest pain you can imagine somebody being put through, and each of these men have managed to turn their life around. We can tell the people in the Philadelphia area that not only does this happen, it happens in far greater frequencies than anybody wants to believe but there are people and there are resources out there to help.

Struve: It’s very powerful, for what it does is put a human face to the issue. I hope most that it will facilitate conversation about how do we help boys and preventing it. Here in Utah, we had one male survivor group at a local recovery center, but since we’ve shown the film last January, we now have four groups going in the area.

Flanagan: There’s so many people that tell themselves that it was in the past, there’s nothin’ I can do about it, what’s done is done, oh well, move on. A lot of people wanna write this off because they can’t open the door, because opening the door means their experiencing all that hurt. So many people would rather be angry than hurt. I think the individual who is ready to move beyond his anger and find out what’s underneath it would benefit greatly.

Kirchner: It’s for victims who haven’t felt comfortable in speaking out, but it’s also for the community in general. I think we see part of our mission is educating the community about child sexual abuse and why it’s sometimes hard for kids to talk about it. The screening of this video is a perfect opportunity to feature boys and men who have spoken out and gotten support for themselves who then, in turn, are offering support for others.