Jayne B. Stearns
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#HimToo: One Man's Struggle with Sexual Assault
Published in Live Past 100 Well
How one man's struggle to lose weight, forced him to deal with his own sexual abuse during the #MeToo era..
Peter D’Olimpio was born into a large Italian family so huge they had to rent a hall big enough to accommodate his 40+ first cousins, their parents, their spouses, and all their children each year for Christmas. I know this because I attended one of their very merry D’Olimpio family Christmas gatherings and found myself wishing I was a D’Olimpio, and if not one of them, then at least an Italian. Their warmth, their shot-from-the-belly explosive laughter, and their authenticity, were a breath of fresh air to my staid and stern English upbringing. And the food? I think I gained 20 pounds just looking at the sea of tables piled with pasta, salads, meats, and desserts before I even put a bite of anything in my mouth. There, I discovered what “mangia” truly means. It’s the fullness of the eating experience, all of it: the preparation, the nourishment, the family, the laughter, the warmth, and the…um…the desserts. It’s permission to partake of bounty, beginning with your stomach. And it will pack on the pounds quicker than you can say, “Pass the pasta, please”.
After living the majority of his life this way, you can see why Peter found himself wanting to shed a few pounds as he approached 62. Those extra pounds were beginning to affect his health and he didn’t want to leave his family widowed and orphaned like he had been. You see, Peter’s father had died from heart disease when Peter was 15, leaving him as the head of the household at an early age. He knew grief intimately and didn’t want his family to suffer as he had. So, he joined Weight Watchers but discovered he was losing more than just physical weight. He was losing almost a lifetime of unresolved pain, shame, and guilt, the wretched result of sexual trauma.
Sharing his the story of his father’s death as well as his sexual abuse on Weight Watcher’s social media network, “Connect” the first time, garnered almost 5000 followers with 600 likes in just two days. It also attracted the attention of the Weight Watchers’ big wigs who contacted Peter and asked him if he’d be in their annual feature story during Sexual Awareness Month in April. Peter said, “Hell, yeah!” He was ready, but not without some fearful reservations.
According the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in every 6 men in the United States is or has been the victim of a sexual predator, with ages 12-34 being the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault for both sexes. Peter was 15 years old at the time of his assaults; it happened the same year his father died, making him even more vulnerable.
“Men are wired to be ‘fixers’,” Peter said. “They fix things. You can’t fix this. You have to feel every emotion under the sun.”
These statistics are based upon what are probably underreported incidents, largely because of the social stigma attached to it. This is the reason Weight Watchers couldn’t find a man to come forward with his story until they saw Peter’s anonymous posts on Connect.
This collective lack of understanding just compounds the unresolved trauma and did for Peter as well. It’s experienced by the victim as condemnation, as if they did something to cause it. And along with the condemnation comes guilt, shame, and an unrelenting emotional pain that lives just below the surface. Always. It never goes away.
Men who have had such experiences are also at a greater risk than those who have not experienced this trauma, for serious mental health issues such as:
• Substance abuse
• Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
• Underachievement/overachievement (they have to prove themselves)
• Post-traumatic Stress disorder symptoms
More male sexual assault victims than men with prostate cancer and heart disease
To keep the incidents of male sexual assault in perspective, let’s look at it compared to other health issues.
• There are just as many men who experience sexual assault while still children as there are to men who develop prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men.
• 21 million men who experienced sexual abuse as children are more than FOUR times the number of men who suffer from heart disease, the leading cause of death among men.
A graduate of Bentley College and successful, Peter couldn’t be considered an underachiever. But still, clinical depression and PTSD had haunted him all his life to the degree the depression required multiple hospitalizations. The aftermath of sexual assault pervaded every area of his life.
Considering the numbers, why are we almost bombarded with information about heart disease and prostate cancer while an issue with the same rate of occurrence or worse, such as male sexual assault, is shoved into the darker recesses of our collective minds?
Because we’re treating it as if it didn’t exist. And we’re thinking it will simply go away.
It won’t go away any more than the shame, the guilt, the depression, the PTSD, and the suicide attempts the assault victims experience will simply go away; or prostate cancer will simply go away; or heart disease will simply go away. “It doesn’t work that way” according to Peter. One must deal, feel, and then heal. And society must adopt a more accepting attitude for this to occur, through education and people, like Peter, telling their stories. Instead, we’ve developed a false narrative that says only women are sexually abused, but men aren’t. And if a man is sexually abused, then he must be gay/less of a man.
The #MeToo movement has created greater awareness of the issue for women with multitudes telling their stories. It’s been a type of autocorrect of the pendulum of secrecy. What has been hidden for decades must come forth to balance the scales.
“I will NEVER EVER let the reason for my pain be an excuse to
stay where I am for the rest of my life.”
The first time he shared his story was with his wife and a few cousins, back in 1987, 25 years after the assault. The birth of his first child triggered everything and it was excruciatingly painful. His wife wasn’t sure how to handle it at first but has since become his lifeline.” I couldn’t have done it without her” said Peter. He said it got easier over the years, but never had gone public before like on Connect. There, Peter’s posts were anonymous.
In going public, everyone would know – all the United States, Canada. He had only shared his story with a few selected family members and credits his wife with being his greatest source of support, but his children didn’t know. What would they say? And his male family and friends? His co-workers? Then he remembered he’d be retiring soon, so why should be care about work?” I did nothing wrong. It was scary but went for it. More importantly, he wanted other men out there who had suffered the same consequences of sexual abuse to know they are not alone. While in a depression some years ago, he promised God that if God cured what the doctors and Peter couldn’t, then he would find a purpose for this pain and use it for good. He has.
He was surprised by the love and acceptance he was met with by family, friends, and strangers once his story was told. I asked him what the consequences of going public were and what he learned from the experience.
Question: What are some of things you learned about life and yourself after you publicly revealed your abuse?
Answer: According to the CDC, 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused. It is the root cause of many addictions. And we know the societal problems associated with addictions.
• My family and friends have been SO LOVING AND FANTASTIC. But there is still ignorance out there. One friend upon hearing asked me if I was gay? People still do not know the difference between abusing a male child and adults making sex preference choices? This is why men don’t speak up.
• None of my abuse was my fault and nothing I did made me deserve it. This is NOT something I did. It was something that happened to me.
• With God’s help, I can do anything.
• I HAD to go thru all this to be the person I am because God had a plan.
• We are only as sick as our secrets. Trauma doesn’t define me.
• I will NEVER EVER let the reason for my pain be an excuse to stay where I am for the rest of my life.
• One of the true tests of manhood is to face and resolve one’s past so it no longer controls you. That’s healing.
Peter further summarized his going public with the following words:
“While the original trauma was bad, what I told myself about it back in the day haunted me for decades. That is what I overcame. I hit it with everything I could: professional help, groups, family, friends and more. As a result, I have the life I was meant to have. My mom never knew. Neither did any other adult back in the day. I felt I “had to be the man of the house”. I couldn’t seem weak. Back in the day, if men showed feelings they were “weak”. “Stop that you are acting like a girl”! What does that say to a boy? What does that say to the little girl hearing this in the other room? So, I never told anyone from age 15 until 30. In hindsight, I kept it from Mom to not only protect her (as I was the new man with dad dead) but to protect me. I couldn’t deal with it all and then seeing her fall apart. This is what kids do. So, last Mother’s Day I went to the cemetery and had it out with Mom and Dad. I read them the article, played my video interview, and had “the talk”. Spent 45 minutes reviewing the last 45 years. Some of the most traumatic and healing things I have ever done. I then buried a copy of the magazine at the grave, not to bury my story but to bury my pain and leave it there. I walked away a totally victorious overcomer and was exhausted for 3 days after. “
There are some who climb mountains and there are some who climb mountains within. These are the survivors of sexual trauma. If you are a male or you know a male that has been a victim of sexual trauma, help them heal, first by listening and not judging.
Here are some resources:
1. 1in6: Support for Men Who Were Sexually Abused or Assaulted
2. Sexual Assault of Men and Boys. Rainn.