I was encouraged this week by the National Football League’s appointment of an expert panel to help”lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.” The move came in response to a series of domestic-violence and abuse incidents involving NFL players Ray Rice, Ray McDonald, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.
Understandably, the focus has been on confronting the visible, egregious actions of those players and the people they hurt. The resulting discussion also provides a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of how the complex, life-long impacts of sexual abuse, assault and interpersonal violence affect both men and women. I was reminded of the reality that many more players on professional teams may be survivors of childhood trauma as well – including sexual and physical abuse and domestic violence.
I applaud the inclusion of NO MORE co-founder Jane Randel to the panel along with Rita Smith, the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Lisa Friel, who headed the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office for more than a decade; and Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s new vice president of social responsibility.
As the head of an organization devoted to supporting men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood to live healthier, happier lives, I was particularly encouraged by Randel’s commitment in a letter to NO MORE partners to “be as inclusive as possible and practical throughout this process.” One of the unique strengths of the NO MORE campaign has been its conscious inclusion of men and boys when speaking about those who have experienced the impact of sexual abuse, assault and intimate partner violence.
Obviously, no trauma history justifies abusive or violent behavior. But I am hopeful that other professionals in the field will share my belief that looking at how traumatic experiences might impact adult behaviors is a critical step toward changing cultural norms. Indeed, trauma-informed practices and policies have allowed for a historically positive shift in how mental-health professionals, educators, and law enforcement treat and respond to survivors of abuse, with increased effectiveness.
It occurred to me while reading reports about the suspended NFL players over the weekend that, of the 1,700 male players in the NFL, nearly 300 of them will have experienced sexual abuse when they were boys growing up. The ACE study predicts that nearly 1,100 of them experienced at least one of 10 traumatic experiences in childhood – and that’s in addition to any neighborhood violence, racism, peer violence or losses, or adult traumas they experienced.
Each of them was raised in a culture that discourages males from showing vulnerability, fear or sadness. Each has chosen a profession that asserts his power, his prowess at fulfilling expectations of manhood, and his invulnerability as a man.
While some men engage in violent and abusive actions, many more men are survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse than become perpetrators of violence.
Media coverage of the charges of abusive behavior by the NFL players has raised the profile of the discussion.
If we confront just the dominance and fail to explore the vulnerability of those who act like the suspended NFL players, we risk missing a critical dynamic of sexual and interpersonal violence. We can keep punishing. We can keep voicing disdain and disgust. We can expose those who commit such acts in hopes of discouraging others. But when we look at Rice’s and the others’ behavior and think, “that makes no sense,” it’s time to start exploring other explanations.
I can’t help but think that to get to the heart of abusive and violent behavior, we need to understand why violence makes sense to the NFL players and to the millions of other men and women who behave abusively toward the very people they love and depend on for their sense of well-being. What past experience, or fear, or trauma, might trigger such an overwhelming reminder of powerlessness, that they opt for violence, when to all outside appearances they are already in control?
And then collectively, we have to develop strategies to help them address their vulnerability in ways that helps them accept accountability for the harm they’ve caused, that heals them and poses no threat to others.
We’re honored to be a part of that effort through our involvement with NO MORE.
- Steve LePore. Steve LePore is the Founder and Executive Director of 1in6.
The following study has been reviewed and approved by the Committee for Ethics in Human Research:
Project title: An exploration into the psychotherapeutic needs of males who have been sexually abused by their mothers.
Project number: (10-137) Principal researcher: Lucetta Thomas
1. As a participant or potential participant in research, you will have received written information about the research project. If you have questions or problems which are not answered in the information you have been given, you should consult the researcher or (if the researcher is a student) the research supervisor. For this project, the appropriate person is:
Name: Dr Catherine Hungerford, University of Canberra Faculty of Education
Contact details: Catherine.firstname.lastname@example.org
2.If you wish to discuss with an independent person a complaint relating to
conduct of the project, or
your rights as a participant, or
University policy on research involving human participants,
you should contact the Research Ethics & Compliance Officer
Telephone (02) 6201 5220, University of Canberra, ACT 2601.
Providing research participants with this information is a requirement of the National Health and Medical Research Council National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans, which applies to all research with human participants conducted in Australia. Further information on University of Canberra research policy is available in University of Canberra Guidelines for Responsible Practice in Research and Dealing with Problems of Research Misconduct and the Committee for Ethics in Human Research Human Ethics Manual. These documents are available from the Research Office at the above address or on the University’s web site at
http://www.canberra.edu.au/secretariat/respprac.html (Research Guidelines)
http://www.canberra.edu.au/secretariat/ethics/human_ethics/manual.html (Human Ethics Manual)
With 1BlueString, our goal is to build a community of support and hope for men and their loved ones by raising awareness about the 1 in 6 statistic, inspiring creativity and solidarity with male survivors, and encouraging people to begin their healing journey. While art can stir our emotions and soothe our spirits, it can also communicate difficult social realities, and it motivates us to hear of works that are shedding light on the challenges and victories of men overcoming their unwanted experiences.
1in6 has proudly served as a resource during the creation of Stalking the Bogeyman, a new play that begins its run at the New World Stages in New York City this Friday, September 12th. Based on the true story originally aired on NPR’s This American Life, Stalking the Bogeyman follows journalist David Holthouse’s secret pursuit of revenge for an experience of sexual abuse he endured in childhood. As described on the production’s website, “this new play explores the dangers of vengeance, the power of forgiveness, and the strength of family.” This is sure to be a gripping performance, and 1in6 literature and information will be on hand for attendees looking to further educate themselves about the facts of abuse, healing, and recovery. To purchase your tickets for one of the New York performances, visit www.stalkingthebogeyman.com.
While awareness is the crucial first step, it’s also important to know what healing options are available to men who are survivors. Living Well: A Guide for Men is a convenient and digestible resource created by Living Well (Australia) and recently adapted for the American public by 1in6. You can view and download each version of the pocket-sized book from the organizations’ websites: LivingWell.org.au and 1in6.org.
A week ago, I received the most amazing gift. I was offered the chance to travel back in time, by participating in a week-long camp for young boys that have experienced abuse. The camp, sponsored by Sparks of Hope, was their first boys camp.* Ten boys had the opportunity to be unconditionally loved, understood and had the pleasure of choosing their own activities and food. They were in a safe place and were encouraged and empowered to be themselves.
It’s one thing to look back to re-create our past as survivors in our healing process, it’s entirely different to see a parallel to your own life in real time! We were each matched with one “Little Buddy.” My guy is just starting his path of recovery. He hasn’t spent a lot of time examining broken trust or having been betrayed. He just knows someone he loves hurt him and then he had to go live with strangers and learn to call them mom and dad. And he makes it clear that he still loves his family and misses them.
“Caveman” (his camp name) and all the other boys LOVED being able to play all day long at games, swimming, fishing, obstacle courses, arts and horseback riding and even learning to cook. They only stopped to eat meals and s’mores and then fall into bed.
I saw a ten-year-olds’ thin shell of protection against the hurts and pain inflicted by others. Even the smallest slight brought out instant anger in response, to cover the hurt, which only served to isolate them with their pain. But what was so obvious was the underlying beauty and fragility.
I saw how vulnerable I must have been as a child. “Gosh, I just want to fit in and feel loved.” It drove home the truth that we all know, which is, “It is never the fault of the child.” Not possible. Not in any way, shape or form. This is such an important message. Validate a survivor’s reality. It is what we all need to begin to heal.
Another truth I found was that the sooner you start your recovery the better. I lived a lifetime carrying my secret and finding ways to hide from it. These young boys have the opportunity to have what happened to them, strengthen them and to learn to thrive in life as a result of overcoming their trauma. I need to add that I firmly believe this is available to all of us no matter what age we start.
I witnessed first-hand the impact of making a human connection at a point of vulnerability in trauma recovery. That early detection and connection builds bridges instead of walls. Just being there and holding space with their pain was all it took.
It turned out my “Little Buddy” had lost his grandfather last year. The first words he said to me were that I reminded him of his grandfather. A day later he caught himself calling me grandpa by accident. When I chipped a tooth biting a lead weight onto his fishing line, he was instantly concerned that I not do that ever again, because he didn’t want me to get hurt. Yup, that’s right, he didn’t want me to get hurt.
Two days later, when we were talking about all of my different names, I said, “grandpa,” and he says, “yeah, but only I get to call you that!” How beautiful are those human souls we so rarely get to touch. Well he touched mine and I believe I touched his, and now my life is changed forever. I received more love and blessings in those few days than I ever thought possible.
I want to thank my friend and fellow survivor Lee Ann Mead and Sparks of Hope for making it possible to heal a few of the cracks in our world. Together we make the change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Meade
* Sparks of Hope offers two girls camps and now two boys camps a year, one summer and one winter. They hope to begin expanding into states other than Oregon in the near future with the hope of someday being in all 50 states. Start small, dream big!
- By Randy Ellison
Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child sexual abuse victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He is a founding member and former board president of OAASIS, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service