New York Times
CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD GARTNER
Beyond Betrayal: Men Cope With Being the Victims
By CLAUDIA DREIFUS
Published: March 1, 2005
the past 25 years, Dr. Richard B. Gartner, a faculty member
at the William Alanson White Institute in Manhattan, has
been developing therapies and treating men who suffered
sexual abuse during childhood.
With a new book about to be released by John Wiley &
Sons, "Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life
After Boyhood Sexual Abuse," Dr. Gartner, 58, sat
in a Chelsea kitchen on a recent Saturday morning and
spoke about the experiences that drew him to this work.
Dr. Gartner is a past president of MaleSurvivor: The National
Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization, a support
network devoted to "overcoming sexual victimization
of boys and men."
How did the issue of sexual victimization among men and
boys become important to you?
In the mid-80's, I began to see a male patient who very
slowly began to recover some memories of childhood sexual
abuse, which took us a long time to identify.
first, the memories came in very strange fragments. Mainly
he was remembering images of roses, which turned out to
be the wallpaper in the living room where he'd been molested.
It took us a long time to put together what he was talking
about. I didn't know what to make of it.
I'd previously had other male patients tell me about childhood
sexual abuse, I wasn't thinking much in those terms. I'd
done my analytic training in the 1970's, and in those
days, thanks to the later writings of Freud, the conventional
wisdom was that memories of abuse were fantasy or wish
I began to look in the professional literature. There
wasn't much to be found, and most implied that this was
very rare and that you should treat men and women in the
same way. Neither turns out to be true. So I had to make
my own way.
time, I connected with the handful of professionals across
the country who worked in this area, and we shared ideas.
Eventually, my patient needed group therapy with men who'd
been through similar experiences. Well, in New York, the
city with everything, there was no such group. So in 1991,
I started one. It's still running today, with different
How widespread is this problem of sexual abuse of children?
If you read the professional literature, the research
supports the idea that somewhere between 1 in 6 or 1 in
10 males have, by the age of 16, experienced some explicit
unwanted sexual contact from an adult or an older child.
on what questions they are asked, there's wide variation
in what the men report. If you ask whether they've been
abused, they tend to say they weren't. If you ask about
"unwanted sexual activity" and you start to
go through it, they'll tell you it happened.
females, the literature says 1 in 3 admit to unwanted
childhood sexual contact. Girls tend to be more frequently
victimized by family members, often by their fathers.
But plenty of boys are molested by fathers and stepfathers.
Why, until recently, was the sexual abuse of boys something
one heard little about?
I think it strikes a raw nerve, particularly in men. There's
a piece in our culture about what it means to be a man
that says "a man can't be a sexual victim, that's
the province of women."
many victims, their abuse translates as, "I'm not
male" or "I'm gay" or "I'm a woman."
For some, recognizing the abuse brings up fear of homosexuality.
If the patient was abused by a man, he might ask: "Why
was I chosen? Did the abuser know something about me I
gay men might even blame their homosexuality on the molestation.
They have a tough time developing a positive sexual identity.
may think that to say "I feel good about being gay"
would mean "my abuser won."
childhood abuse creates in most men, gay or straight,
is a great confusion about sexual relations.
Often, there's a lot of acting out. But the most important
thing is that adult intimate relations are ravaged.
You've written about the lengths some men will go to keep
from defining themselves as victims. Why the resistance?
If you've decided that being a man means not being a victim,
then you can only keep your self-concept by saying, "I
have not been victimized," even if that isn't true.
you put yourself in charge of the situation by saying,
"I created it," or "It wasn't a trauma."
Almost every man in my group therapy first said: "I
don't really belong here. My experience wasn't really
tend to minimize their own trauma. Women survivors, I
think, are different. They'll say, "This really was
terrible." And it'll take a man a while to get to
that point. While men are getting there, they tend to
manifest a range of symptoms.
drug addiction, gambling, sex addiction, inability to
have a relationship are very common. Men tend to come
for treatment in their 30's and 40's, after trying a whole
lot of other "solutions" like substance abuse.
they come because they've never had a relationship that
lasted more than three months. And yet they'll say, "The
abuse wasn't really that bad."
Can a boy be molested by a woman?
Of course he can, as we've seen in those cases of schoolteachers
and young boys.
it comes to sex, we live in a society where boys and men
are supposed to be in "in charge" and thus able
to get out of sexual situations, if they want to.
if a reluctant adolescent boy has been molested by a woman
and if he feels anxious about it, he won't find a lot
of places where he can voice his anxiety. His friends
and even his family are likely to tell him he was "lucky,"
When the news stories of sexual abuse within the Roman
Catholic Church first hit the headlines, were you surprised
I thought, What took them so long? I certainly knew about
many, many men who'd been abused by clergy, Catholic or
others. These men were coming to me as patients. For the
Catholic men, the problem wasn't just the abusive priests,
but also how the church had handled their accusations.
have great admiration for the men who came forward. They
were disbelieved for such a long time - even, often, by
their families. As horrible as their stories are, the
good part is that the scandal has opened up public discussion
of male sexual abuse. For many, it's now easier to talk
You've said that therapists who work in the area of child
sexual abuse will be traumatized by it. Did that happen
Absolutely. Writing the book was traumatic. As I was going
through these men's stories and thinking through their
implications, I felt the world was evil. I looked for
exploitation everywhere. I felt depressed. Luckily, I
have wonderful colleagues I can talk to about these things.
How have therapists and other professionals changed on
the issue of child sexual abuse since the 1970's?
I used to go to professional meetings and ask colleagues,
"Who here is treating male sexual abuse patients?"
It was rare that anyone raised their hands. These days
you can see many more therapists working with these sorts
of men, and finally more men are coming in for treatment.
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