MenWeb - Men's Voices Magazine

Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

Book Reviews

Copyright © 1995 by Scott Abraham

This article appeared in the February 1995 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

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Victims No Longer: Men Recovering From Incest And Other Sexual Child Abuse, Mike Lew, Harper and Row, l988 Order on-line

Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims Of Sexual Abuse, Mic Hunter, Fawcett Columbine, l990 Order on-line

Wounded Boys, Heroic Men: A Man's Guide To Recovering From Child Abuse, Daniel Jay Sonkin, Longmeadow Press, l992

Speaking Our Truth: Voices Of Courage And Healing For Male Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Neal King, HarperCollins, l995 Order on-line

Male Survivors: 12-Step Recovery Program For Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Timothy L. Sanders, Crossing Press, l991

Recovery For Male Victims Of Child Sexual Abuse, Hank Estrada, Red Rabbit Press, 1994 Order on-line

Men Surviving Incest, T. Thomas, Launch Press, l989 Order on-line

Come Here, A Man Overcomes The Tragic Aftermath Of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Richard Berendzen, Villard Books, 1993 Order on-line

 

One winter day in l990, I stood frozen in an airport book shop, tears of gratitude flowing hard, weeping with joy. I'd been looking for a junk book, but what I found was a treasure I desperately needed.

On the shelf there was a simple trade paperback, unremarkable in appearance and design. My adoptive father and spiritual mentor came quickly to me, apprehensive, asking what was wrong, and all I could do was point-I could not trust myself to speak.

He knew immediately. He bought the book and guided me from the store to the plane. There was finally a book for me, that addressed my needs and experiences, that helped me realize I was not alone.

My copy is dog-eared and worn today. I wore out two highlighters, and the margins are filled with cryptic notes. I've given away several copies, and at least twenty men have bought the book on my recommendation.

Victims No Longer Order on-line was the first publication designed and targeted to meet the needs of men were sexually abused as children. I'd been trying to make sense of the madness by translating into my experience literature intended for women, but I had a hard time fighting through the implicit male-bashing and the differences in perception and affect. In those books, only men were molested children, and women the only victims: in reality, boys are statistically almost as vulnerable as girls, and women are as likely as men to molest boys. Yet those books were all I had, and I made do. I had to-or kill myself.

Today, a man who is beginning the arduous task of healing from childhood sexual abuse has a much larger range of resources available. There are at least seven books specifically written for the male survivor. Three are either partially or wholly individual stories, idiosyncratic and personalized. Each gives a different view of the recovery process, and are valuable because of their intimate viewpoints: in the end, every man will create his own story.

I've reviewed the three manuals that take a more impersonal overview of the recovery process, three more personal stories of recovery, and a book that tells an individuals story along with being structured as a manual. I issue this warning: my recommendations are entirely subjective, based on what I believe is the best for the male survivor of female perpetrated incest. My criteria include inclusion of significant emphasis on female perpetration, a lack of male-bashing and blaming, diversity of sexual orientation, and utility both in constructing a cognitive understanding of abuse and in helping the survivor access long-buried emotions associated with the abuse.

With that caveat, my winners are: Mike Lew's Victims No Longer Order on-line and Mic Hunter's Abused Boys. Order on-line

The first is still the best, at least for men new to recovery, desperately attempting to make sense of the horrendous memories and flood of feelings. He structured his book along the model used in the ground breaking book for women, The Courage To Heal. Lew covers the gamut of possible abuse, showing a remarkable even-handedness about the gender of the perpetrators. He strives to be as neutral as possible about issues such as sexual orientation. The cognitive sections are interspersed with survivor's accounts of the abuse and their healing journey.

Lew writes in a friendly, facile voice, though at times his therapist's voice can sound saccharin and may seem to have a somewhat condescending tone at times: therapists seem to have a compulsion to repeat the obvious. Each section deal with an aspect of the abuse or of recovery, with frequent asides on various topics. His book is full of healing messages.

Hunter writes in a far more cognitive tone, academically dissecting the scope, nature, and pervasiveness of abuse of male children. His overview is more concise and intellectual than Lew's, and gives a deeper understanding of the societal dynamics of abuse. Hunter is also the author of a two-volume study targeted at therapists on treating survivors, and his academic background is put to good use. His book is better at giving the male survivor of female perpetration a sense of being included in the community of healing, due to his choice of survivor's stories.

The stories fill the second half of the book, in contrast to Lew's practice of breaking up his chapters with survivor tales. The pacing works in both cases-indeed, the more intellectual tone of Hunter's book may serve as a better preparation for the horror stories to come. Both books include extensive resource lists and bibliographies.

The most important aspects of the books are the remarkable absence of male bashing. No matter how well-intentioned, books intended for females tend to be contaminated by an undifferentiated rage that shames all males (along with ignoring female perpetration). The effect is to include all males in the potential population of perpetrators, while ignoring the other half of the population. As recent research indicates, men are as likely to be abused by a female as by a male, and while the data was not available at the time these books were written, both books are even-handed and avoid shaming men for being male.

I wouldn't recommend one over the other-the approaches compliment each other-instead I would recommend to the man new to recovery that he buy both. The combination would give a solid understanding of the dynamics while serving as excellent tools for accessing and dealing with feelings aroused by the reading. Each is worth the money-and more.

As for Sonkin's Wounded Boys, Heroic Men, I wouldn't even recommend it to a perpetrator, much less a survivor, of childhood sexual abuse. It is an incompetent exercise in male bashing, coming from the extreme feminist perspective. Virtually all the abusers portrayed in the book are male, and virtually all the survivors are either physically or sexually abusive themselves. Sonkin assumes that all men who are abused abuse innocent women, if not children, in their adult life, and that the men are always the initiators of abuse. Rather than present a balanced portrait of adult relationships, he hews to the party line: it is always, and only, men who abuse.

Reality and reason dictate that many men who were abused by women will mate with abusive women in a compulsive repetition of the past. Not in Sonkin's warped world. He holds women virtually innocent of any child abuse or abuse in adult relationships and focuses solely on shaming men. He virtually ignores gay men, though his book purports to address the needs of all men. One telling point: the promotional blurbs from other authors include no men-probably because none of the recognized male authorities in the field would recommend this dangerous book.

His tone is patronizing without apology, his theories on healing dangerously slanted, his writing stiff and turgid. He does a lousy job of explaining abuse in societal or political terms.

The book sucks. Thumbs down. Don't waste the money, even out of curiosity. Male survivors of female abuse have suffered enough shame, and they need no more reminders of how the extreme feminist left has ostracized them from the mainstream of recovery because the reality of women who abuse does not fit the political need to maintain a system of dogma.

Speaking Our Truth Order on-line is the newest book in the rudimentary bibliography and in some ways the most effective, because editor Neal King was wise enough to allow the survivor voices to show the dynamic from the personal viewpoint, rather than explaining in therapeutic terms the pain, shame, and terror survivors feel. The anthology of writings by males can be excruciatingly painful to read at times, but in the end, not only holds out the promise of healing, but shows how some men have found peace and wholeness.

Tim Sanders' book, Male Survivors, holds a middle ground, telling his personal story of recovery while serving as a workbook and manual. It is light on the exposition of the dynamics of abuse, stressing exercises and meditations rather than cognitive knowledge. Though not all male survivors end up in 12-Step programs, the vast majority utilize the recovery community to one degree or another (especially considering the high rate of addiction and relationship problems among survivors). The book outlines a recovery program based on the Twelve Steps, heavy on affirmations and spirituality-an area given a somewhat short shrift by Lew and Hunter.

A survivor himself, Sanders refers to his own recovery throughout the book; a mixed blessing, as what worked for him might not work for someone else. Though he attempts to be inclusive in his recommendations of various prayers, he writes from a Christian perspective, which doesn't help those who are not of the majority religion, or who can't approach their deity within that framework.

Sanders has his own system of recovery, and while I didn't find it particularly useful, there were nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. It would be especially useful to men with little or no familiarity with the twelve-step process, or for those looking for a workbook, as he includes many well-designed exercises. The twelve-steps are a powerful tool for recovery, if properly applied, and Sanders is on solid ground in his interpretations of the steps.

In a field that is replete with autobiographical books by survivors of male-on-female incest, including highly publicized role models, Richard Berendzen's book, Come Here, Order on-line is the first written by a highly functional, successful male who was abused by a female, and despite its flaws, is a desperately needed addition to the literature. Survivors of female abuse, both women and men, have often been discounted by the mental health establishment, and little literature has been published detailing the prevalence of female abuse, much less frank and painful personal stories that offer the survivor a sense of acknowledgment and identification.

Like a double edged sword, Berendzen's story cuts two ways: though his message about female perpetrated abuse is desperately needed, his very functionality tends to minimize the difficulty of healing. He was the president of a major university when his repressed memories surfaced, so when Berendzen's world fell apart, he had far more support than most. Career and financial security, loving and supportive relationships, and access to the best available therapy is a luxury most survivors do not have and must cope without.

Hank Estrada and T. Thomas both tell their own stories in a fashion designed to give a personalized overview of the recovery process. Estrada's (Recovery for Male Victims of Child Abuse) Order on-line is formatted as an interview session, and covers a wide range of topics. He traces his path from victim to survivor to advocate, and offers useful opinions and personal theories. As the book was recently updated, the bibliography and resource directory are perhaps the most timely and useful of any the books, as organizations tend to wither and disappear as their founders heal and move on to less painful lives.

Thomas' book Men Surviving Incest : A Male Survivor Shares the Process of Recovery Order on-line is idiosyncratic and highly personal, both telling his own story and that of other men. While he makes no claim to inclusiveness, he does cover much ground and offers his opinion on various modes and techniques of healing.

Sanders', Estrada's and Thomas' individual stories combined with King's compilation provide important validation for the survivor, along with rare views of the process of recovery: so few men have trod the path that each voice is still quite unique. As more men find their healing and add their voices to the swelling chorus, more resources will be created for those that follow.

Scott Abraham is a survivor of both male and female perpetrated abuse, an author of several articles on recovery from sexual abuse, and is studying to be a therapist. His writing was included in the anthology Speaking Our Truth.

More Books for Male Survivors

 

Check out the MenWeb on-line bookstore for other books for male survivors, and for more information about the books Scott talks about. Scott's review is pretty comprehensive, but he is in the process of updating it, and there are a couple of books he doesn't mention, that other men have found valuable. For the books Scott does talk about, Amazon.com has provided us with more detailed information.

 

Related stories:

 

Take Care of Your Mother - Or Else, by Scott Abraham.

Revenge: A Dish Best Served Cold, by Scott Abraham.

Be Gone!, by Scott Abraham.

Climbing Out From Hell, by Jeffrey Miller.

Wounded Boys, Courageous Men, a photo-essay about male survivors of institutional child abuse in a Canadian institution, by E. Jane Mundy.

Survival and Living, by Scott Abraham

Yes, Women Do Abuse, by Scott Abraham

"False" Memories, Repressed Memories, by Scott Abraham.

John Lee on Anger, an interview with John Lee


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