Don’t Shut Up!
I saw Tyler Perry’s interview on Oprah yesterday. Did you see it? He spoke about how throughout his
childhood he was physically abused by his father and how by the age of 10 he had been sexually abused
by several male and female people in the church and neighborhood. I applaud his bravery in publicly
sharing these deeply personal and painful experiences.
Physical, mental, and sexual abuse of children is not a sign of the times nor is it unique to any particular
culture or socioeconomic stratum. In the last 20 years, many women have stepped up to reveal this
dark and haunting secret. The result has been that countless numbers of other women who have had
the same or similar experiences have been motivated to start the healing process, the first step of which
is to release the feelings of shame, guilt, and defect that come with keeping the “dirty little secret” a
Only recently, when scores of courageous men have spoken out about their boyhood experience in the
Roman Catholic church, have men began to add their voices to this issue. Tyler Perry is the first high
profile and mainstream male celebrity (to my recollection) who has candidly put this out on the table.
Later that evening, when speaking with a group of parents and asking them if they saw the interview, I
found the reactions disturbing. Most of them hadn’t yet seen it but had heard about it. Of those who
gave an opinion, there were only two sentiments expressed – So, is he gay? and Why is he talking about
this again? (referencing an email he sent out last year detailing incidents of his abuse). This seems to be
a very typical response whenever the topic of male sexual abuse is brought up. (The “stop talking about
it” reaction is common when female victims speak out as well.)
First, I’d like to call your attention to a point of which you may already be aware: the occurrence of
sexual abuse of boys is in no way rare. Because sexual abuse is not a crime of passion but rather of
domination and depravity, I would not be a bit surprised if the numbers of male and female child victims
were comparable. However, many men are reluctant to come forward for two reasons. The first is
the misconception that if a male gets an erection it implies consent and the second is the misguided
belief that any male/male sexual contact means that the men (regardless of the circumstances) must be
homosexuals. During his interview, Tyler Perry spoke several times about his ‘body betraying him’ to
describe the confusion he felt about getting an erection even though he was not a willing participant in
these encounters. For many years afterward he struggled with confusion about his own sexuality.
Let’s get real about human sexuality. The sex organs are capable of responding to many types of
stimuli involving one, several, or all of the five senses. Regardless of your gender, each of us is perfectly
capable of being sexually aroused by both male and female. That doesn’t mean you’re a homosexual, it
means you have sex organs – that’s all it means!
The main takeaway here is that we have to stop discouraging victims from coming forward about sexual abuse by
implying that they somehow asked for it or enjoyed it. And particularly with regard to men, we must
stop putting a homosexual label on them because they were molested by another man.
The prevalence of child abuse is only possible because of the secrecy around it. A child is an easy target
to manipulate because (1) they are accustomed to obeying the what, when, and how to do commands
given by adults; (2) when the abuser is a parent or other caretaker who is supposed to protect them,
the child feels they have no one they can tell; and (3) they have few options for food and shelter. The
implicit understanding is that something ‘really bad’ will happen if this secret is revealed, so the child
doesn’t tell. The secrecy enables the abuser to deposit lies (e.g., “You’re nothing”, “This is what you’re
supposed to do”, “Nobody will believe you if you tell”) into the mind that go unchallenged. All of this
breeds shame, guilt, and a feeling of being tainted for the victim and everyone else involved.
So how do we stop this? As uncomfortable as the topic is, we have to talk about it and keep talking
about it! By dragging the secret out into the open and forcing everyone to look at this ugly truth that
is anything but uncommon, we not only begin the healing of so many who have suffered but we also
decrease the numbers of future victims. When we talk about it, children who suffer know that they
are not alone, they didn’t do anything to deserve this, and there is nothing wrong with them because
this happened; this will encourage them to tell someone. When we talk about it, family members who
know about the abuse and do nothing to stop it will know that they are every bit as responsible for it.
They will recognize that their ability to allow the abuse to continue necessitates a fundamental altering
of their psyche that enables them to justify their own inaction. When we talk about it, abusers lose their
ability to wield the power of secrecy over their victims and hide behind the façade of normalcy. To Tyler
Perry and anyone else who has the courage to speak out, I say keep talking about it as long as you need
to – DON’T SHUT UP!!
Perhaps you were fortunate enough to not have the experience of childhood physical, mental, or
sexual abuse. If so, that’s the way it should be. Even so, please don’t make the mistake of thinking
that this doesn’t affect you. In all likelihood, you have been romantically involved with someone who
has experienced such abuse. Make no mistake that the level of intimacy and respect that individual
brings to the relationship is driven by their past experience. On a broader level, many court cases have
set disturbing precedent as a result of a heightened and sometimes manic sensitivity to the threat of
child abuse. Parents are now afraid to discipline their children for fear of abuse accusations, schools
are being required to report young children who interact in normal pre-pubescent behavior as engaging
in sexual harassment, coaches are not allowed to touch students when correcting form or positioning
for fear of defamation. Unfortunately, none of these preventive legal precedents are as effective as
encouraging open dialogue that empowers individuals to seek help if they have been harmed or feel
they are in danger. On some level, this secret impacts all of us!
by : V. Fuller