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Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Former Cardinal Could Encourage Victims To Seek Help

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The impending civil sex abuse lawsuit of defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick could lead to more men speaking up about their past sexual trauma.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Next month, a former Catholic Cardinal will face criminal charges in Massachusetts for alleged sexual molestation. Theodore McCarrick is the highest ranking member of the U S Catholic clergy to be criminally charged with sex abuse and remarkably the charges stem from an alleged incident involving a teenage boy that happened more than 45 years ago. Many of the sex abuse cases we hear about involving boys and young men are not reported until the victims are adults. And in the past many such reports have been disbelieved. Does it still take male sex abuse victims many years to come forward? And is there trauma being properly treated? Joining me is Alan rule a psychotherapist in San Diego who works with male survivors of sexual abuse and Alan, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:50 Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Speaker 1: 00:52 The reports about boys being sexually molested by members of the clergy have made headlines over the years. I'm wondering, have they been an important part in bringing male sex abuse out of the shadows?

Speaker 2: 01:04 Absolutely. Most of the men with whom I work wait decades before they speak up. And what I'm noticing is that over the past several years, since particularly the Catholic church abuse scandal broke several years ago and the boy Scouts sex abuse scandal has broken. Men are coming into treatment for the trauma. They've encountered much earlier, but it's still at least typically 10 20, sometimes 30, 40 years.

Speaker 1: 01:36 Do we have any statistics on how many boys and young men are

Speaker 2: 01:41 The prevailing statistic right now that has been replicated in several different studies is one out of six boys. By the time they're 16 years old have been the victim of inappropriate sexual contact by someone else. So what that means is in our county, if you extrapolate that across the male population, we have roughly 280,000 men in this county that have been victims of childhood sexual abuse are

Speaker 1: 02:09 The people who commit the abuse or where it occurs different for boys than for girls. When

Speaker 2: 02:15 I was growing up, my parents warned me about the creepy guy, stranger candy, the guy in the, um, what's the word I'm looking for? The guy in the trench coat, that's hanging out by the playground stranger danger. What we know now is that's typically not who perpetrates sexual abuse of boys, of all the men I've worked with over the years, only one was assaulted or abused by someone who did not know. Typically it's someone that the boys trust, someone that they know well most frequently, someone that they really love and feel very close to that's statistically it's tends to be outside the nuclear family, but it's in that first ring of intimate engagement outside the nuclear family, you know, extended family members, clergy, coaches, babysitters, neighbors, family, friends, again, almost always someone that the boys know and trust. So the issue that that raises is one of betrayal and difficulty trusting people because they've learned early on that the people that they are told that they can trust. Sometimes they can't. Now the charges

Speaker 1: 03:40 I referred against. McCarrick go back to incidents 45 years ago. And you were saying it takes men longer to reveal the fact that they were molested. Why does it take longer for men?

Speaker 2: 03:53 There are many myths that are out there in the public mind about men who have been sexually abused. And these things really conspired to keep men quiet. For example, if a boy is sexually abused by an older man, which most perpetrators of sexual abuse against boys are male, then people will tend to question his sexual orientation, the child's sexual orientation. They will tend to question the child's masculinity as boys. We are trained to, we're supposed to be able to always protect ourselves. We're not supposed to be victims. And so there's a question. There are questions around masculinity. There are questions around sexual orientation. There's also a very pervasive myth that men who have been sexually abused grow up to go to become sexual abusers themselves. Again, these are not born out by the statistics, but they're still out there. And these boys have grown up hearing this.

Speaker 2: 05:04 And so that conspires those things, conspire it among others to keep them quiet. They're afraid of saying anything. I have had clients tell me that they will not tell their adult children, that they have been victims of sexual abuse, because they're concerned that the adult children would not allow them to be alone with the grandchildren after that. And that's heartbreaking because again, these things are myths. They are not statistically supported. Um, men who have been sexually abused are not that much more likely than men who have not to be engaged in any kind of inappropriate sexual relationship or contact or abuse with anybody else.

Speaker 1: 05:49 And is it getting any easier for men to reveal their childhood sexual abuse? I

Speaker 2: 05:55 Believe it is in my experience again, I'm seeing clients come in younger and younger. I am seeing more people, more men talking about it. So every time something like this story with Cardinal McCarrick comes out, it pushes men to talk a little more. Um, when particularly when the public reaction is one of anger and, and disgust towards the perpetrator and empathy for the victims, that makes it a little safer for these men to come forward. So yes, short answer, absolutely. The Catholic church scandal, the boy scout scandal, the, um, uh, again, this latest revelation about Cardinal McCarrick all, every time it's in the media, it does become a little bit easier in my opinion, for men to speak out.

Speaker 1: 06:54 I've been speaking with San Diego psychotherapist, Alan rule, Alan. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.