ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The numbers are sobering: One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVR). One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped.
One local organization responds to St. Louis area hospital emergency departments and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital 24/7 to help alleged rape and sexual assault victims. The YWCA‘s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) volunteers provided that 24-hour response to 645 victims in 2015.
“Whether they’re going to get medical treatment or evidence collection, whatever they decide to have done at the hospital, we’ll be an advocate there to provide emotional support, but also to give them information and follow-up resources, as well,” says Cindy Malott, YWCA Crisis Intervention Supervisor.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, first as a volunteer. It’s always surprised me how many people are at the hospital alone.”
The YWCA currently has 39 trained SART volunteers. There are four staff members who provide professional response required at law enforcement locations.
Survivors can also get counseling from the YWCA. The Self Care Group is open to any female who has experienced sexual violence. The organization says she needs to call first to say she plans to attend the group session.
Malott says while some survivors report their assaults right away, many keep the pain and shame to themselves for years. Certain events like holiday gatherings can prompt them to finally speak up.
“It may be a family member, or close family friend. So it’s not uncommon for the survivor to come into contact with the individual over the holidays when they normally wouldn’t even see them,” Malott explains. “I’m amazed at how many (who finally speak up) say I just couldn’t take it anymore. I just had to talk to someone.”
She says some survivors decide to speak up because they believe their perpetrator is going to harm someone else, or they learn the person has access to children.
Of the 654 victims seen through the YWCA’s crisis intervention last year, 23 were male, and of the 161 survivors seen for counseling about 10 were male.
“Men may carry the extra burden of believing that because they are men, they should have been strong enough to fight off their attacker, even if the abuse occurred when they were children,” Malott says. “Other male victims worry about being perceived as being homosexual.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, rape is the most under-reported crime.
A male victim’s story
For one St. Louis-area man, the abuse began early in his life. (We are not identifying him at his request.)
“I’m 55 now, so the first one happened when I was 7. I never spoke a word about that to anybody until 4 years ago.”
He says that attacker was his babysitter, a 25-year-old college student who was going to be a teacher.
“Then at age of 10, I was raped by a bully in the neighborhood. I guess he was showing a show of force to other kids.”
And when he was in the 8th grade, the trauma came at the hands of a teacher at his Catholic school.
“He did some things, he basically abused us. He was a real disciplinarian. He beat us. And I guess you’d say he tricked myself and another boy into taking pictures of each other for him. He gave us marijuana and alcohol.”
The man says he carried those events with him all his life.
That Catholic school teacher would later abuse students at a high school and get arrested.
The man did talk about his abuse when the teacher’s case hit the news, but it was news of the Penn State sex abuse scandal and Jerry Sandusky that prompted him to finally speak of the earlier years of abuse he suffered.
“I never thought it really effected me I guess. I just kept it to myself. But a lot happened in my life, failed marriages, relationships. I just didn’t feel comfortable with myself. There was crippling anxiety.”
He said he just didn’t feel like everyone else and had low self-esteem. He shared one memory saying, “I can remember never dressing out for gym class. It was always overbearing.” Even going to the men’s room at sporting events. “You don’t feel threatened by men. You just feel different like you don’t fit in.” The man says he had to have two or three or four beers to relax, and then he felt like he fit in.
He doesn’t feel any of that any more.
“There are moments of self-doubt, but it’s nothing like it used to be.”
The man tells KMOX he never told anyone earlier because he didn’t know how to tell. But after the Sandusky story became national news, he decided to Google the sentence, “boys who are abused and the men they become.” That led him to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and eventually to the YWCA of Metro St. Louis where he spent a year in counseling in a men’s group.
One thing he has learned is that although men and women may feel differently about their sexual assault or rape, he believes the effects are the same, including the anxiety and the feelings of shame.
He has been able to talk to other male survivors, and says his message to them (and women) is, “You’re actually doing yourself a disservice. When you put things behind you and ignore them, you’re admitting there’s something wrong with you. That’s what keeps you down.”
The counseling and his faith have helped the man overcome the anxiety, forgive his attackers and himself. He says the more he talks about all that happened to him, the better he feels.
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