Male survivors of sexual violence get rare chance to speak up in documentary supported by Archdiocese of Vancouver
By Agnieszka Ruck, The B. C. Catholic
In a better world, Jeremy J.* would be making documentaries about pets.
But the planet we live on has far more urgent and pressing stories to tell than those of cute animals. Children and adults are being sexually abused, and far too little is being done to hear their stories, protect them, and prevent abuse, says Jeremy.
That’s why the first-time filmmaker has created a 13 1/2-hour documentary, The Cost of Silence, featuring victims/survivors who open up about abuse they have endured. The educational film includes conversation with experts weighing in on preventative justice, as well as an interview with a self-professed pedophile.
Unlike other public offerings on the subject, Jeremy’s project focuses on male victims of sexual abuse.
Listening to all abuse victims
“I want to push us to a point to having a meaningful discussion,” he told The B.C. Catholic in a recent interview. “We can never have the meaningful conversations we need to have if we’re not listening to all the victims.”
Jeremy J. says that he wants to shed light on stories that are often forgotten in public discourse about sexual abuse. In The Cost of Silence, he interviews nine victims/survivors of sexual abuse, all of them male. One was abused by a Catholic priest. Three were abused by women, including one by the victim’s own mother.
“Society sees male victims as nobody. They don’t believe us,” said Calvin, who is featured in the documentary. He was sexually abused by his father at age 5.
“I used to consider myself a victim because I felt that no one loved me and that I was the only one. But then as I came to talk to people, I realized I was not the only one and I could now become a survivor through talking and getting over my abuse.”
In his research, Jeremy discovered perpetrators were often abuse victims themselves.
“We have to acknowledge this is, to some degree, a learned behaviour,” Jeremy said.
He believes society needs to re-examine how it sees gender and abuse to actually make a difference for child victims. “Men are seen as saviours or perpetrators. All the prevention stuff is only aimed at men.”
But men can be victims of abuse, women can be perpetrators, and most abuse is perpetuated by family members, not priests, he said.
“For some odd reason (pedophiles) are the only hopeless people in our society. These are the only people we vilify as monsters. We don’t even vilify murderers as badly as we do these people,” he said.
But demonizing perpetrators often serves to further isolate them and push them from getting help to stop destructive behaviours.
“Pedophilia usually sets in around 13, so what are you going to do? I want to push us to a point to having a meaningful discussion.”
The project has been a trying experience for Jeremy, a survivor of child sexual abuse.
“It was mild as far as the actual interaction, but the effects that it had on my life were profound,” he said. “When you’re sexualized at an early age all of a sudden you’re different from the other kids. You’ve experienced something they don’t even know about. I would have parents that wouldn’t let their kids hang out with me afterwards.”
Jeremy feels most media “inflate and enflame” people rather than inform them on the issue of sexual abuse. When he approached six large abuse victim organizations asking them to help fund the completion of The Cost of Silence, not one returned his calls.
“No broadcaster wanted to hear about male survivors. I couldn’t get the basic grant given to most first-time filmmakers. My project was considered too ambitious,” he said. “It hurts as a survivor. It only reinforces what every survivor said that I interviewed: ‘society doesn’t want to see us because we go against the narrative.’”
Jeremy did eventually garner support from a surprising source: he received a one-time grant of $10,000 from the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Victim organizations “didn’t have the time of day for me. But here’s an organization that’s largely vilified within the field, but stepped up.”
Not a Catholic, Jeremy was thrilled with the unexpected support and has stayed in communication with the archdiocese to explore ways to raise awareness and provide programs for abuse victims and perpetrators locally.
“Jeremy has been inspiring in this area” and has “stirred up a lot of desire to be proactive,” said James Borkowski, archbishop’s delegate for operations. “We are hoping to collaborate more with Jeremy in the future as we build a more active aspect.”
The head of the archdiocese’s prison ministry, Bob Buckham, sees a great need for abuse prevention and education. “We know a lot of guys, and women, in jail who are in there for assaulting minors or possession or viewing of child pornography.”
After they do their time, released sex offenders can voluntarily participate in Circles of Support and Accountability, a local archdiocese-supported program that helps them find employment, housing, and stay out of trouble.
“All the stuff that we do with prison ministry and COSA is after the horses have left the barn so to speak. It’s all after the crime has happened. How do we be preventative and stop crimes from happening and stop lives from being ruined?”
In Germany, a pilot project called Dunkelfeld (German for “dark field”) invites people sexually attracted to minors to admit themselves to free, confidential counselling in the spirit of abuse prevention. Thanks to Jeremy’s connections, Buckham is in touch with the people behind
Dunkelfeld and with a psychologist in Toronto who runs a self-referral program and hotline, Talking for Change, for people with troubling sexual urges.
Buckham said any sort of prevention program in B.C. would face several hurdles, not the least of which are Canada’s mandatory reporting laws. If a person admits to watching or possessing child pornography, police have to be notified. That could be a significant barrier for someone to seek counselling.
Plans to run local abuse prevention programs are in the brainstorming stages, said Buckham.
More information: costofsilence.org
Turning the Titanic
Statistics show one in four girls are abused as minors. For boys the number is one in six, and Michael, featured in Jeremy’s documentary, was one of them. He was four years old when he was first sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old female babysitter.
After his mother found out, that babysitter never appeared again. But at age 12, Michael entered the foster care system and there was abused again. “I bounced from foster home to foster home. I ended up in a group home and eventually the social worker who was supposed to be there to look after us moved into the group home and was systematically raping my foster brothers.”
For more than two years, the social worker abused Michael in every way but sexually. “He made my life very difficult mentally, physically, spiritually, saying things to me and making it very hard on me.”
Then, after he wore down all of Michael’s self-worth, he took his dignity, too.
“I never gave permission. My words of ‘no’ went unheeded. My hands pushing away went unheeded. He was a very strong man. He was bigger than me. He was very well versed in what to do and how to do it. So no matter how much you twisted and turned and fought back, in the end it happened.”
After Michael left foster care, married, and had children, that dark part of his life was locked in a “glass case” in his mind. When asked if he’d been abused in the group home, he always denied it. It was only during a healing retreat many years later that he realized he had to open the glass case and deal with its contents.
“When people find out I was raped, what will my wife say? How am I going to tell my children? Will my co-workers find out? What kind of bad words are going to be said to me now?”
Jeremy hopes all victims can, like Michael, move from “victim” to “survivor” and that every person can unite in preventing abuse from occurring to anyone in the first place.
“We can still disagree on what gods we pray to, who we vote for, and what drinks we get at the soda stand, but we can agree on the stuff we all share. I can’t believe there’s a reasonable, good person that wants to see childhood sexual abuse occur at the rate it is,” Jeremy said.
“We’re all on the Titanic heading toward the iceberg, but we’re still at the time we can turn away.”
The Cost of Silence is a multi-part series distributed by Films Media Group. It comes with a three-disc Healer’s Edition, which includes testimonies from abuse survivors (including on the autistic spectrum), a session between a therapist and a survivor, and ways survivors can seek healing. There is also a single-disc Preventative Justice edition, which interviews a “non-offending pedophile” and the people behind Dunkelfeld discussing ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
Jeremy is also releasing a two-hour condensed version and is raising funds to send 111 sponsored copies to non-profits across the globe.
“Really, if we lived in a world where I could do puppies and kitten documentaries, I would be really happy to. But that’s not going to give me the fulfilment I want professionally, which is to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg, even if it’s just a degree or two.”
*Jeremy J.’s artist name is used in this article to allow his family to remain anonymous.
RESOURCES / CRISIS HELP
Saskatchewan provincial 24-hour sexual assault line 1-844-952-0434
Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Info Centre 24-hour crisis line 306.244.2224 / Men’s group of support: 306.244.2294, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Micah Mission Circles of Support for former and current incarcerated individuals with sex related offences: themichamision.org, 306.653.3099
Hope Restored Canada: women and men entrapped in sexual violence: www.ho
B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse is a non-profit society that provides therapeutic services for men who have been sexually abused and is based in Vancouver.
When Males Have Been Sexually Abused as Children is a booklet published by the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence Public Health Agency of Canada.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health runs a Sexual Behaviours Clinic in Toronto for people with sexual behaviours or urges that could result in personal and/or legal difficulties.
Reporting sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon: Contact Info