Op-Ed: Impact of Incest Lingers for Male Victims As Well

By B. Lee Coyne
July 3, 2006

This column is written in the heat of summer about a hot-button topic that has for far too long been hidden in society's closet. It is time that it sees the light of day. That topic is incest's impact on male victims, which is at times trivialized.

(SALEM) - I am by no means an expert on sexual abuse, quite the opposite, having grown up in a hugely Victorian family on the East Coast. But over the last decade, as a Clinical Social Worker in Oregon, I have had nearly a dozen adult male clients who retain the trauma left by childhood incest and abuse.

In one case, the victim was actually transferred from the home of an alcoholic mother to foster care with a church elder. Reportedly the elder had a dying wife, and chose to molest his young teenage ward as a substitute for his perverted hormones. In another case, both parents allegedly molested their little boy to the extent that he required surgery.

Manuel Vega (right), who as an altar boy was sexually abused by a priest who has since fled to Mexico, holding a bread and water fast outside the new cathedral in Los Angeles in 2003. He is joined here by California State Sen. Joseph Dunn (center) and lawyer Larry Drivon
Photo by The National Catholic Reporter

Such sick scenarios may be far more extensive than we wish to acknowledge. The recent public scandal involving pedophile priests may merely be the proverbial "tip of the iceberg". Why the male reticence to step forward? Probably because we males are socially conditioned not to appear weak and helpless. If a grown man admits to victimization, that shatters our public image of self-sufficiency. You will find far more women in therapy than men, based on the premise above.

When my latest client disclosed his trauma, I began resource hunting. I called our local Women's Crisis Center in Salem to find a parallel service for men, but they knew of none. Then I called the local crisis hotline. They too had no equivalent agency that would handle male victims. Several community mental health contacts brought forth the same negative results. There is evidently a vast gap that fails to recognize that male victims have special needs and, unfortunately, are largely unaddressed.

Finally, I called Marilyn Callahan, LCSW, Oregon chapter's recent awardee for her work in rehabilitation of sexual offenders. She confirmed my worst fears: that the state and county governments provide no funding for this neglected area.

Never one to retreat from a social justice fight, I'm trying to work for a future plan to require that within two years, every county mental health agency will have trained at least one MSW or professional counselor in male sex abuse issues. To ensure quality control, I would ask that our State Clinical Social Work Board be granted oversight to set up standards for such training. Anyone have a better plan?

The late Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, "It is better to light a candle than to simply curse the darkness". I empathically agree. Let the Dark Ages of hiding sex abuse committed against vulnerable boys be lifted. Enlightenment is long overdue.

NOTE: The writer has been married for 25 years and is not himself a sexual abuse victim, but was emotionally abused in his youth. Thus, his empathy for all victims—of both genders--is deeply etched. You can e-mail Lee Coyne at:


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