Oprah Winfrey dared speak the truth of her sexual abuse many years ago, giving millions of women permission to acknowledge their abuse. Today (Nov. 5) and next Friday (Nov. 12), Oprah has chosen to join forces with Tyler Perry to open doors for another huge group who need understanding and healing for the sexual abuse they've suffered: men. I honor the bravery and genius of Oprah and Tyler, who both dared to dream that they could help men heal by creating a safe enough place to tell their stories.
The sheer numbers of male survivors are staggering; according to most researchers, one in six men has been sexually abused by age 18. The estimates go up to one in four when you add in victims of covert non-contact abuse. Our culture teaches men to keep their abuse secret for many complex reasons. They learn that they aren't supposed to be vulnerable; they learn they should be in control, so it's impossible to be a victim; they might wrongly blame themselves for leading someone on; many mistakenly fear their abuse makes them gay or less masculine.
I hope these blocks are removed when "The Oprah Winfrey Show" gathers 200 male survivors of sexual abuse for a groundbreaking discussion. I was invited the day we taped this show (the second episode airs November 12) and I can tell you that this show was not only historic; it was a miracle only made possible by incredibly strong men. I'm a psychologist who has worked with over 1,000 male survivors in my career, and this was the most powerful, inspiring day I've ever spent.
When we rode to the taping, we felt the anticipation, but also the heaviness. As the cameras rolled, we stood holding a photo of ourselves at the age at which we were first abused. It was an incredibly powerful moment. As we looked at the sea of innocent young faces, the tragedy of our molestation and abuse was blatantly evident: so many dreams shattered, so many young men's lives irrevocably changed. Then, you could literally feel the release in the room as one man after another bared his soul's darkest secrets. Men of all ages and races shared a common bond, and each felt the powerful healing that can only occur in community. Together, we entered a zone where we felt safe enough to tell the world we were abused, we are healing, and we are here to join hands with all of our other abused brothers who deserve to release their shame and heal.
If you are a man who doesn't watch "Oprah," I invite you to make an exception, especially if you're a man holding your secret or you have a son. You'll find a brotherhood and hope when you find the courage to reveal your truth. Gay partners and wives, please watch, too, and discover hope for you too. There are resources available to you, including MaleSurvivor (www.MaleSurvivor.org). Dare to dream you can heal and fully recover.
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