This is what all the fuss is about. Our letter to 8th grade guys, the finished product
Charlie is 14 almost 15, and Kevin is 16. We have been asked to write this letter 'cause we're close to you in age. It's about a scary topic, child sexual abuse and yeah, it's embarrassing – tell us about it! It's never easy to talk about this – but it happens to guys like us everywhere, all the time.
You may think that sexual abuse only happens to girls, it doesn't have anything to do with you or your friends. Maybe you're thinking "I could never get hurt like that". That's what a lot of guys think. But if you could look at us you would just see a couple of ordinary guys like you. Kevin loves football and plays the guitar and Charlie's into skateboarding and writing. We joke and mess around like anybody else. Sexual abuse doesn't show on the outside, but it happened to us and that's why we're talking to you in this letter. A lot of guys have a hard time believing they can be a victim of something but sexual abuse is a crime and GUYS ARE VICTIMS TOO.
Look at the guy to your left. Now look at the guy on your right. You may think this is just a game, but do it okay? Look at the guys sitting in front of you. Just for a second. There's a real good chance one of these guys has been hurt. Maybe once, maybe lots of times, maybe he thinks it didn't matter; maybe he's too scared to talk about it. Imagine that you're hanging out with five of your friends. Statistics say that one of you could get hurt by the age of 16. That's a lot of us! So if this has happened to you, remember: YOU'RE NOT ALONE.
If a friend of yours is getting hurt and you figure out what's going on, don't blow him off. It's not his fault and he didn't ask for it. He's probably feeling scared and alone right now, so if he's your friend stick with him. Never say "I don't believe you" or "Get over it". Tell him "It wasn't your fault and I'm here for you if you want to talk about it". It's never the kid's fault when someone older forces or tricks us into doing stuff. And we're not just talking about the abuse. All the bad feelings about yourself and the other problems that come with abuse – that's not your fault either. Sometimes that's hard to believe and both of us still have trouble believing it, but this is important: IT'S NEVER YOUR FAULT.
We know a lot of you guys are gonna be giggling and whispering while this is being read to you. But check this out. Sexual abuse isn't about love or "doing it". If we're talking and I suddenly beat the shit out of you, is that a chat? If we're in the kitchen and I smack you across the face with a frying pan, was I teaching you to cook? Of course not. Sexual abuse is about power, violence and control. It's like saying to a kid "You don't have the right to be a kid anymore; you're just a body. You can't stop me so I'm just going to help myself." ABUSE IS ABOUT POWER.
What's the worst thing about abuse? For me, Charlie, it's the feeling of loneliness, it's like you're looking at the world from the outside. Feeling different and thinking that you're labelled in some way. Missing out on being a kid and having to deal with grownup stuff and make grownup decisions. When you're being abused nothing feels safe or private. I thought my body belonged to other people. I felt trapped and scared 'cause if you don't feel safe in your own body where do you go? For me, Kevin, it's the emotions of the whole thing. I don't feel safe in my own room and I'm scared of the dark. I hate it if someone touches me and if I don't see it coming I feel like I'm going to be sick. No way I will go into a room and be alone with a grownup. I cry or start trembling for no reason, even in class. I don't like myself much and even if something cool happens, like getting an A+ in English or scoring a safety that wins us the game, I still look at other kids and wish I was one of them. What we mean by this is that part of dealing with abuse is feeling like your whole life is a wreck and you're totally messed up. You're not. YOU'RE GONNA BE OKAY.
It's the abuser and all his/her lies and tricks – that's what's messed up. Feeling guilty or bad is another one. You keep looking back, thinking I could have done this or that. "I'm a guy and I should have said no". But we can both tell you most times it's not that simple. It happens too fast. You can't believe it's happening to you. You just get mixed up and scared, you freeze up and panic and feel like you don't have a choice. Maybe it's been happening for so long that it's become "normal", you don't know any different. Abusers have a million lies to trick and confuse you. You believe them because somehow it explains why this is happening: "This is our secret time", "Other guys do it", "Dads do this with their sons all the time", "You are special to me". Or you get threatened: "If you tell you will get thrown out of the house", "If people find out you'll get the blame". It's all lies and remember: YOU'RE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABUSE, THE ABUSER IS.
So if you're being abused what can you do? First thing, guys, you have to know it doesn't stop until you do something. Most abuse is done by people the kid knows, a member of your family or someone you see a lot. It's not easy when you have to face that person over and over again. A lot of times a guy being hurt gets desperate bit by bit. You don't see how everything is falling apart and you try all kinds of stuff to cope. Like drugs, cutting (self harm) or running away for example. None of that helps – we know, okay? Drugs just get you into a different kind of hurt and running away isn't cool like it looks in the movies. We've both been there. Ask yourself: if I do this, is there any way things will be better afterwards? If the answer is no, forget it. YOUR SAFETY AND HEALTH IS IMPORTANT.
Every kid knows that dealing with grownups isn't easy. For a kid who's being hurt it's even harder trusting grownups. You feel like you have nobody to talk to. But sometimes you have to be brave and ask for help. Tell your best friend or a grownup you trust. If the abuser is a family member you can talk to a teacher, school nurse or call a child abuse hotline. They'll help you get safe. Telling someone might be the scariest thing you'll ever do, but you can make it stop. For me, Kevin, the problem was feeling scared. I didn't tell anybody 'til I got hurt so bad I thought I was going to die. I finally told my dad by waking him up in the middle of the night with a letter telling him everything. I, Charlie, tried to let grownups know by acting bad and getting in trouble. I felt like grownups didn't want to see or believe what was going on. People around me didn't find out about the abuse 'til I had to go to hospital for emergency surgery. There are different ways of telling. A letter is a good idea if you can't make yourself say the words. If you tell someone you trust then that person is on your side and they will help you. Grownups will believe you: a kid who's being abused always thinks he won't be believed but that's just another lie that abusers tell us. If you find yourself not being listened to, keep trying 'til you find someone who will. Don't risk your life. IT'S YOUR BODY! YOU CAN MAKE IT STOP!
It isn't easy writing this letter. Both of us have been hurt and dealing with abuse is hard. It's not easy to start over, learn to live and act like a normal kid, trust grownups again. We have so many questions but there are no easy answers. We feel confused and mixed up a lot of the time. What happened to us doesn't make any sense to us – we're just kids, it's not fair. How can we stop this from happening to other guys? Speaking up is one way. Abusers try to make us feel embarrassed, dirty, alone and scared but they can't win if we start talking to each other about it. Knowing the facts makes us stronger and it gets easier to speak up and say "No! My body belongs to me!". Then if something happens to us or a friend we will be brave and tell someone and not let it go on for years and years, like we did. We all need each other. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS AND STAND UP FOR EACH OTHER.
Thanks for listening.
Kevin and Charlie
3 June 2005
How Long Does It Hurt : A Guide to Recovering from Incest and Sexual Abuse for Teenagers, Their Friends, and Their Families
When Something Feels Wrong: A Survival Guide About Abuse for Young People
We Are Not Alone: A Teenager Boy's Personal Account of Child Sexual Abuse from Disclosure Through Prosecution and Treatment
Abuse Hotlines/Local Police
Websites: http://www.childhelpusa.org http://www.malesurvivor.org http://www.safechild.org http://www.safeteens.org