Meet Edward. He has a message for men – and there are more than you may think – who have spent far too long lost in a secret like the one that once almost destroyed him.

“Just ask for help,” Edward said in a telephone interview last week. “You got to ask for help. You’ve got to get it out there or it’s going to kill you.”

The recently concluded trial of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky will long be remembered for a lot of things – from Penn State University’s astounding attempts to cover up the crimes of its once-revered football coach to Sandusky’s stupefying claims, even as he awaits sentencing, that he did nothing wrong.

But for all the lurid details that surfaced day after excruciating day in that courthouse in Pennsylvania over the last several weeks, one good thing also emerged: Eight young men took the stand and confronted the monster who beguiled them with his power and charms only to leave them scarred for life.

That’s courage. And it has not gone unnoticed.

“A couple years ago, one out of 10 calls to our hotline would be a male caller,” said Amy Thomas, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (www.sarsonline.org).

“Now it’s one of out five – and we’re expecting it to even increase from there.”

The uptick in calls has prompted Thomas and Paul Matteson, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Portland, to organize a weekly support group for male victims of sexual abuse. To join, or even just to talk about it, call the hotline at 1-800-313-9900.

Just like Edward once did.

He’s 45, lives in Maine and agreed to share his story on the condition that only his first name be used.

He first called the hotline 15 years ago – it was either that or go ahead with his second attempt to kill himself.

“I was very depressed, just in excruciating pain,” Edward said. “I had stopped drinking and all this stuff started bubbling back up to the surface. I really didn’t know what to do with it – I was just overwhelmed.”

It all started when he was 8. And unlike the typical sexual-abuse case involving young boys, his perpetrator was not a man.

“It was incest,” Edward said. “With an aunt.”

She was the self-appointed baby sitter for Edward’s large, extended family. But whenever his parents left Edward and his older brother and sister in her care, their otherwise normal world suddenly would be turned upside down.

“Something would always go wrong – and it was always our fault,” Edward said. “And because we had done something wrong, we needed to be punished. And (the sexual abuse) was always part of the punishment.”

Being molested by the aunt was, for an 8-year-old boy, traumatizing enough. But then it got worse.

After a few years, Edward’s brother and sister began acting out sexually even when the aunt was not around. Their inevitable target: their little brother.

It went on for five long years, a pre-pubescent boy-turned-sexual plaything behind the facade of a close-knit, loving family. Edward would complain occasionally to his parents, but they’d either ignore him or tell him to stop saying such terrible things about his aunt and siblings.

“I had a lot of guilt,” Edward said. “It was just shame compounded upon shame.”

At 13, he finally made them all stop. And suddenly, it was like nothing had ever happened.

“So I just shut myself off. I became isolated,” Edward said. “We just wouldn’t even talk about it. When it got to that point, we all just sort of avoided each other.”

Edward started drinking – by his late 20s, he was an alcoholic. That’s when some of his cousins began speaking up about the ever-helpful aunt who, even then, continued to prey on her own family.

As a show of support for his younger cousins, Edward got sober, stepped forward and told his entire family what had happened to him.

“Some of them were supportive, and some were not,” he said. “I was causing trouble, blowing the lid off the big family secret.”

His family’s ambivalence left Edward feeling, all over again, like he’d done something wrong. Like it was his fault. Like he was the one with the problem.

His first suicide attempt came at age 27. Three years later, as he thought about trying again, he instead picked up the phone and called the 800 number he’d seen in a newspaper ad.

The hotline volunteer directed him to Matteson, the counselor who at the time had just begun to explore the idea of support groups for male victims of sex abuse.

“There’s something about humans that when they talk about things and share them, there tend to be good results,” Matteson said last week. “It tends to be helpful. It breaks the secrets. You’re not alone anymore.”

Matteson has organized more than a dozen support groups over the last 14 years. They average between six and eight members, meet weekly for an hour or two over 12 weeks and, from what he’s witnessed, play a critical role in helping now-grown men finally come to terms with horrors that most experienced as children.

Some were abused by clergy, others by a coach, a relative or a trusted family friend. Most were targeted by men, although it’s not uncommon, as in Edward’s case, to hear of a female perpetrator.

All of them, Matteson said, arrive in a state of crisis – be it a failed marriage, an addiction, a meltdown triggered by, say, 24/7 coverage of a guy like Jerry Sandusky.

“When they first sit in that room with other guys, they’re actually stunned,” Matteson said. “They say, ‘This happened to you too? And you? And you?’”

Edward still remembers his first group – he has since participated in three more over the years.

“It took awhile for everybody to kind of trust each other, to share anything,” he said. “It was the elephant in the room – everyone knew what we were there for.”

But over time, he said, the stories come out. And as they do, the years of guilt and shame give way to the realization that what happened was not their fault. That their adult lives need not be defined by what happened to them as children.

“I’ve been married 11 years,” said Edward. “We have a house, a dog, a yard, cars. I have a normal life – and I’m just stunned that I have that. I’m honestly surprised that I’m still here.”

Back in 2005, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in six American men are sexually abused in one way or another by the time they’re 18. (The figure for women is closer to one in four.)

“A lot of people would never believe that,” noted Matteson.

Or they might. Just last week, Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, told The New York Times that the country is “at a watershed moment” when it comes to believing victims of child sexual abuse – even those who take decades to finally tell their story.

Good news indeed. Still, the way Edward sees it, it’s not about what the world thinks. It’s about male victims of sex abuse, much like female victims, finding the courage to shed their shame, absolve themselves of their guilt and, at long last, free themselves from their abusers.

What would Edward say to a guy who’s reading this and, even as he stares at the phone, worries that no one will believe him?

He’d say go ahead and make the call. It just might save your life.

“It doesn’t matter who believes you or not,” Edward said. “Just tell your truth.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:
[email protected]