Randy Ellison is the author of a fiercely honest memoir about his recovery from childhood sexual abuse after he was molested by a trusted minister. In Boys Don't Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy also explains why victims of abuse by trusted adults find it so hard to "just get over it and move on." His goal is to use his own difficult story of healing to help others find the strength to tell their own stories and heal themselves.
Randy kindly agreed to be interviewed for Rose City Reader, in connection with a book-related project I have going in my professional life. A great part of my law practice involves representing sexually abused children, or adults who were sexually abused when they were children. I am putting together a bibliography of books to help child abuse survivors.
My plan is to create two book lists. One will be firsthand accounts and memoirs, such as Randy's Boys Don't Tell. The other will be a list of books by advocates, counselors, and other professionals on the topic of child abuse and exploitation, whether aimed at survivors or people who work with survivors.
Your suggestions are welcome!
How did you come to write Boys Don’t Tell?
Once I began therapy at age 57 I found emotions pouring out of me that had been bottled up for decades. I was completely overwhelmed so I began writing down how I was feeling about all the issues that came up in counseling. After a couple of years I decided to put everything I had written into book form. I asked some people to read it, and based on the feedback I got, I went and found a publisher.
Your memoir is intensely personal – did you have any qualms about sharing so much?
It is intensely personal because it is a factual reporting of my therapy sessions. Since most of the book was already written, it didn’t make sense to change anything or leave pieces out. I have lived a life of denial, being tougher than nails with walls to protect me. At this point I figure I have no downside to sharing openly and honestly. In fact, that is exactly what gives my life meaning now. And besides what’s the point of sharing about trauma recovery and not giving a full and honest reporting of it. My willingness to be openly vulnerable with my story gives strength to others. What more could I ask for?
The subtitle of your books is Ending the Silence of Abuse. What do you hope your book will accomplish?
Child sex abuse exists in the shadows. Secrets are its greatest ally. In fact the mores against talking about child sex abuse are greater that the mores against doing it. So abuse continues generation after generation. And the cultural norms against men speaking about being a victim are even greater, though we are beginning to discover that they suffer abuse to almost the same degree as women.
So my hope is that if I can stand up as a man and speak of being sexually abused that it will give others courage to speak up and seek help for healing. The more light we can shine, the fewer children will be abused and survivors will find themselves on a path of recovery and well-being. And it all starts with survivors telling their story.
Who is your intended audience and what do you hope they will gain from your book?
I envisioned three distinct audiences. First and foremost, I wanted to publish this book for other survivors in the hopes that they would read something they could identify with and know that they are not alone. I wanted people to see that recovery and healing were not only possible, but immensely rewarding. The second intended audience was family members of survivors. Since it is a fact that most people do not reveal what happened to them in any detail, I wanted loved ones to be able to read a very real reporting of what survivors go through in life. Lastly I hoped that people who run organizations and churches as well as policy makers could get first hand knowledge of what it is like to live as a survivor and see the pain and destruction it causes.
Can you recommend any other books about healing after child sexual abuse? Are any of them personal account like yours?
Probably the two best known books are Victims No Longer by Mike Lew and The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. These are both great self help books. There are many personal accounts, but to be honest, most of them scare me. I am not interested in reading accounts of abuse. I am interested though in reading of how people deal with the abuse in recovery and their stories of triumph. That is what I tried to do with Boys Don’t Tell. I would mention one other memoir, The Journal of My Broken Life by a good friend of mine Carolee Horning. I applaud her bravery in writing her story.
What resources would you recommend for survivors of child sexual abuse? Their loved ones and supporters?
The most important resource is a good therapist that has experience in trauma recovery and specifically child sex abuse. The success and degree of recovery will be determined by the relationship between the survivor and the therapist. Some people find a survivor group a better or more affordable way to deal. It is easier to find groups for women than men, but there are also online groups you can join. I would mention Male Survivor and 1in6, which are both specifically for men. Also Joyful Heart Foundation founded by actress Mariska Hargitay, is a good online resource. I have many articles and resources on my website, Boys Don't Tell.
All of these websites have good information for loved ones and supporters as well. Understanding what survivors are going through is a great first step. My wife has pointed out how little is out there, both in voice and resources for partners of survivors. One of the best things I have read for partners was this article in The Altlantic by Shonna Milliken Humphrey about being married to a survivor, "On Marrying a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Dealing with Misinformation, Feeling Powerless, and Slowly Getting Better Together."
What can friends and family of abuse victims do to support them?
The first thing supporters can do is acknowledge that it happened, “I believe you.” The second thing survivors need to hear is, “It was not your fault.” Most survivors need to hear this over and over to ease their shame. What may look like a simple process from the outside is very complicated on the inside. Supporters need to realize this often involves PTSD, and like returning war veterans, we need to let the survivor take the time and space they need to heal, which often takes years. The most effective support you can give is to just hold the space with your loved one. Don’t push, lead or judge. Sharing the space and their pain with loving arms is the very best thing you can do.
Please tell us about your work with abuse survivors and advocates.
I try to be a face, voice and presence for survivors. Every survivor I have known feels alone with their secret. I share my healing experience (which is still going after 5 years) in articles I write and when I speak. I think hearing that one person can recover after keeping the secret for 40 years gives strength to those just starting on the path. I also think seeing how I have turned my pain into a mission motivates others.
I find survivors to be exceptionally sensitive and beautiful people. Child sex abuse is often called a soul injury, so recovery from that abuse is healing the soul. Being involved with people who are working to heal their soul is a tremendous privilege and honor. This work is truly blessed.
The speaking I do is a major portion of my work. Everyone grows from hearing the survivor voice. We have lived for centuries knowing that children are abused and have preferred to not talk about it and let the abuse continue. We need to normalize talking about abuse so we can help people heal and prevent it from happening in the first place. The place to start is for survivors to share their stories. I will speak to any group, of any size, anywhere and I guarantee you that people’s attitudes will change after hearing a survivor’s story.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as someone working to help abuse survivors?
I believe you. It was not your fault. You are good enough. You deserve and can have joy in your life.
“Ending child sex abuse is the most effective action we can take to improve the human condition on earth.” Monique Hoeflinger
Have you written or are you writing any other books? Any plans to publish them?
I write regularly and have published over 150 articles. I have not yet put together a second book but I plan on doing so. The next book I have in mind is for men, with a theme of “Why me God?” to explore the conflict between the cultural expectations and pressures on men, with being a victim. Currently being a man and being a victim are mutually exclusive. I want to offer men a path to healing that includes a vision of maleness that does not include denying our feelings, being overly tough, or being violent in any way. On my journey I have come to accept that it is enough to be a good and kind man and I want to share that with others.
What’s next? Are you working on new projects?
I think I have more projects in mind than I have years left on earth, but here are a few:
The book is one project. (See above.)
I would like to make a DVD recording of Boys Don't Tell as well as readings of some of my blogs for people to be able to hear the first person voice. I think it can communicate so much more than just the words on a page.
I want to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse in Oregon. It currently expires (the crime is forgiven) when the survivor turns 30 and most people do not address their abuse until later in life.
We currently require teachers to have 30 minutes of education on child abuse, which mostly covers mandatory reporting. Teenagers are required to have one class on dating violence now. I would like to work to get required class time for every grade on healthy relationships, to include bullying, sex abuse and all types of domestic and gender based violence. Most kids do not have good examples of healthy relationships at home or in the media. We need to begin to teach and model how to be in healthy relationships for our children.
I want to get faith communities to take on Jesus’ commandment to nurture and protect children. Churches along with everyone else have seen fit to look past or over child sex abuse. Since it directly affects 20% of the population I think it is fair say it is an epidemic. Our faith communities could be the foundation of the cultural change if they would make protecting children their top priority. I am working on a project called Safe Church with an ecumenical group and I am working directly with the United Methodists on policy change and programs. I hope someday to see our faith communities leading the movement to end child sex abuse.
Any parting thoughts?
I believe child abuse is a root cause of a large portion of ills facing our society. It breaks individuals, changes the course of life and our culture as a whole. I want to thank you for your interest in my book, Boys Don’t Tell, and wanting to learn more about child sex abuse. I invite you to continue on this path and join the movement to end child sex abuse. Take one action each day, week or month to protect a child or help a survivor heal. You will be amazed at the impact of your support. Blessings.
BOYS DON'T TELL IS AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND A KINDLE EDITION. YOU CAN BUY IT AT RANDY'S WEBSITE, AMAZON, OR BY SPECIAL ORDER FROM YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL BOOKSTORE.