Amidst a flurry of aggravations last Saturday, my phone rang. The caller surprised me, because we really haven’t had the closeness that could warrant an evening chitchat. Early into the conversation, after I said I was working on a mental-health article, he asked if I knew a psychologist. “I need to get some help, girl,” he said. Piqued, I asked why he thought that necessary, saying quickly that if it was too personal he did not have to tell me. He told me. At the time of his call, I had just written what I thought should be this week’s headline: “When boys are victims of rape, incest, molestations” and remain totally mystified by what followed immediately upon penning that line. Whenever we hear about a father raping a daughter, it is so easy to miss red lights pointing to the root of his misconduct, as we drive into condemnation. I’ve used my creativity to imagine some scenarios for emasculating perpetrators of crimes against minors, but as I educate myself on the issue as it affects mental heath and social survival, I’m driven more to compassion for a community, indeed a world, where we may find an unbelievable ratio of sexually-abused people.
For 28 years, I’ve imagined my jail sentence if I ever found out that someone had harmed my son sexually. In fact, sexual abuse was among the reasons I wanted sons, heightened by my maturing in a village where, in my reading, older man were “interfering” with girls. Then I learned about sexual predators with a preference for boys and that denial by their wives and mothers remains one of the worst enemies of the victims and their families. I keep thinking that on occasion pregnancy exposes the abuser of girls, but who’s to tell if, when, or how our boys suffer, unless they speak out or until they act out? Last week’s contemplation included the decades of the RC Church priests’ crusade of abuse against boys; evangelical bishop Eddie Long’s out-of-court settlement with men who accused him of sexual exploitation; US football coach Jerry Sandusky’s molesting of boys at Penn State University, and then some. Sandusky’s dirty habit caused the collapse of a major football programme, a charity, a star football team, the resignation of the head coach, and has the university facing potential lawsuits for millions of dollars in damages. Nevertheless, Dottie Sandusky said she’s known Jerry for more than 40 years and “he’s not who they say he is”—even as a jury found her husband guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Softened by my knowledge of the cycle of abuse, now, I always ask: What if these abusers are themselves victims of abuse?
As I continued listening, the young man said, “I remember vividly when I was about three-and-a-half years old, my mother would leave me with her sister and my aunt would always ‘nurse’ me. One day she shoved my head down and told me to ‘nurse’ there also, and that was the beginning of a regular exercise once she babysat. “For years as a youth,” he continued, “I’d have sex with women wantonly and I knew I was acting out my anger and shame. I need to see someone to help me with these feelings, girl.” This husband and father of two then said, “I do not know how my wife and I are together for 14 years. It may be because she understands since she too was molested as a child.” As with this young man, often these violations start in the innocent years, before children develop their cognitive, reasoning, and socialisation skills—completely railroading their view of life, love and indeed the world. This is what research links to worsening health in adults who’ve been exposed to childhood trauma and are telling us the problems will only grow in scope and complexity in adulthood.
This unbroken cycle is driving us headlong into becoming a population of psychological derangements. One exception is would be my Saturday caller, who recognises his abuse and its effects and so desperately wants to be emancipated from his hurt, anger, and overall emotional unhealthiness to lead a better life. At this point, you must appreciate that with the Sandusky violations juxtaposed against James “the Joker” Holmes’s shooting spree in a Colorado movie house, my mind stopped at the red light that said Holmes could have a serious mental-health issue, possibly triggered by early childhood trauma. Research has shown that some people who have experienced childhood sexual violations exhibit less coping skills and, turn their anger outward to some grandiose scheme to avenge their hurt. I wonder, could this account for Holmes’s rampage?
Caroline C Ravello