Wounds of sex­ual abuse run deep, psy­chol­o­gist says

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen E. Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @dt­busi­ness on Twit­ter

Many psy­chol­o­gists con­tend there are longterm im­pacts of child­hood sex­ual abuse. Some in­di­vid­u­als are able to over­come them. Some do not.

Dr. Richard B. Gart­ner is a New York psy­chother­a­pist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst who spe­cial­izes in treat­ing men who are child­hood sex­ual abuse sur­vivors. He is the au­thor of sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “Beyond Be­trayal: Tak­ing Charge of Your Life After Boy­hood Sex­ual Abuse.”

He has tes­ti­fied in New York and in New Jer­sey about the need to change the statutes of lim-

ita­tions in sex abuse cases. He’s writ­ten about the pro­longed ef­fects the crime has on men, al­though he ex­plained the va­ri­ety of out­comes is as wide as the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als im­pacted.

Child­hood sex­ual abuse is a world­wide prob­lem that gar­nered much fo­cus here in the United States in 2002 when the Arch­dio­cese of Bos­ton faced na­tional ex­po­sure for the abuse and con­ceal­ment there. The Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia came un­der scru­tiny as the re­sult of two grand jury re­ports, one in 2005 and an­other in 2011, that linked more than 60 priests with abus­ing dozens of mi­nors over decades. Since then, leg­isla­tive ef­forts have emerged to deal with the cri­sis.

Law­mak­ers in Harrisburg are cur­rently de­bat­ing House Bill 1947, which could ex­tend the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for vic­tims to sue their as­sailants and elim­i­nates the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for crim­i­nal charges. Whether those changes should be retroac­tive, or just ap­ply to new cases, is a key el­e­ment in the de­bate.

Gart­ner said the im­pact of sex­ual abuse is pro­found on its vic­tims.

“I think the most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is the real trauma of sex­ual abuse is the be­trayal,” Gart­ner said. “It’s easy to think about the vi­o­lence, the phys­i­cal pain, the pre­ma­ture and ter­ri­ble way of in­tro­duc­ing sex­u­al­ity into a child’s life. Of­ten, the abuse is done by some­one the child knows. The child is be­trayed by some­one he has trusted im­plic­itly.”

That be­trayal can lead to re­la­tion­ship chal­lenges later in life.

Since the adult trusted their abuser as a child “that of­ten re­sults in him or her dis­trust­ing re­la­tion­ships in the fu­ture, espe­cially with au­thor­i­ties and with loved ones,” Gart­ner said.

He ex­plained that dif­fi­cul­ties with in­ti­mate part­ners can arise.

“They al­ways see sex­ual sit­u­a­tions as a power sit­u­a­tion rather than a part­ner­ship,” Gart­ner said.

Mas­cu­line so­cial­iza­tion and its myths – such as men are not vic­tims – can pro­hibit the rev­e­la­tion of abuse un­til well into the adult years, the psy­chol­o­gist ex­plained.

“To ac­knowl­edge vic­tim­iza­tion is to say, ‘I’m not re­ally a man,’” Gart­ner said as a way of ex­plain­ing what is of­ten the per­cep­tion.

He said male vic­tims will jus­tify the abuse to them­selves with such ex­pla­na­tions as, “I was the one who changed; or, it didn’t bother me; or, I’m just mov­ing on; or, noth­ing hap­pened.”

The psy­chol­o­gist said the vic­tim’s logic may seem un­rea­son­able to an out­sider.

“How he was 6 at the time but he should have stopped it, he was the se­ducer,” Gart­ner said.

Yet, in­ter­nally, these rea­son­ings main­tain a char­ac­ter­is­tic that these men think is in­te­gral to their iden­tity.

Com­plete am­ne­sia, he has found, is rel­a­tively rare, al­though he said many men need to re­frain from what ac­tu­ally oc­curred to them.

“If I was in charge of some­thing,” he said they tell them­selves, “it wasn’t abuse and it wasn’t trau­matic and sex­u­ally, I’m in charge.”

He said one out of six men re­port hav­ing had un­wanted di­rect sex­ual con­tact by the time they are 16 years old. That in­creases to one in four men if non-con­tact be­hav­ior such as some­one ex­pos­ing him or her­self is in­cluded.

Gart­ner said men can put their emo­tions into a frozen state or rely on ad­dic­tions to cope.

When faced with their abuse, vic­tims are con­flicted about sex­u­al­ity.

“(Vic­tims are) fa­mil­iar with the idea that boys don’t want to re­veal them­selves as vic­tims,” Gart­ner said. “(Abusers will) say, ‘You’re gay if you say any­thing.’”

Com­pli­cat­ing the mat­ter is that straight men won­der why they were cho­sen as vic­tims and gay men can be rushed into that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or de­cide that the abuse is what caused it, re­sult­ing in dif­fi­cul­ties in de­vel­op­ing pos­i­tive self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“Abusers,” he added, “do of­ten know the laws.”

Due to the myth that those abused as boys will in­evitably grow up to abuse, many who have no thought of be­com­ing a sex­ual preda­tor worry they will, Gart­ner ex­plained.

More than 80 per­cent of sex­u­ally abused boys never be­come adult per­pe­tra­tors, al­though 80 per­cent of per­pe­tra­tors were abused as chil­dren, he said.

Gart­ner pro­vided a list of some com­mon symp­toms in adults sex­u­ally abused as chil­dren such as guilt, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, in­ter­per­sonal iso­la­tion, shame, low self-es­teem, self-de­struc­tive be­hav­ior, post-trau­matic stress reactions, poor body im­agery, sleep dis­tur­bance, night­mares, eat­ing dis­or­ders, re­la­tional and or dys­func­tion and ad­dic­tions like al­co­holism, drug ad­dic­tion, gam­bling and sex­ual ob­ses­sion.

Trust is­sues are mul­ti­plied if the vic­tim re­ports the abuse and that is dis­missed.

“It com­pounds it ter­ri­bly,” Gart­ner said. “The faith and trust of this per­son is fur­ther dam­aged.”

In ad­di­tion, he said women can be preda­tors, too, al­though they are of­ten given lighter sen­tences based on at­trac­tive­ness.

He said a 1990s eval­u­a­tion of a non-clin­i­cal group es­ti­mated that 61 per­cent of those abused were vic­tims of men, 29 per­cent by

“I think the most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is the real trauma of sex­ual abuse is the be­trayal.” — Dr. Richard Gart­ner

women and 11 per­cent by both.

A large so­ci­etal per­cep­tion, Gart­ner said, is if a boy is abused by an adult woman he is lucky.

Yet, the child is con­founded, left ask­ing him­self, “Why am I so anx­ious about this?”

One treat­ment he has found to be par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive for sex­u­ally abused men is male-only sup­port groups.

“They still be­lieve that they were the only one this hap­pened to,” Gart­ner said. “(Then,) they see other men func­tion­ing in life and deal­ing with this. It’s val­i­dat­ing.”

When asked if sur­vivors can heal, the psy­chol­o­gist un­equiv­o­cally an­swered, “Yes.”

How­ever, he ex­plained that dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent def­i­ni­tions of heal­ing and in­di­vid­u­als have vary­ing meth­ods of do­ing so.

“Some,” he said, “wind up in pri­son and have a whole dif­fer­ent jour­ney…”

How­ever, Gart­ner added, “Cer­tainly in my prac­tice, I’ve known many men with time who’ve re­ally got­ten strength­ened by tak­ing a look at how they han­dled what they had han­dled.”

And, as a group, they may have more com­pas­sion.

“Re­search shows that men who have been abused are more em­pathic than ones who are not,” Gart­ner said.

Dr. Richard Gart­ner

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