When the effects of childhood sexual abuse began to overwhelm “Erik’s” life as an adult, he turned to a Toronto addiction and mental health centre for support.
“I was like a crack-addict for sex,” he explains. “I was so addicted to the idea of feeling guilt and shame that it would make it really challenging to exist.”
“Erik” prefers to remain anonymous because he fears the stigma surrounding male sexual abuse could tarnish his career as an educator.
The common misconception that abused boys will go on to become abusers themselves still has the power to silence grown men.
Research compiled by the Men’s Project – a Centretown-based counseling group that advised the Cornwall Inquiry - estimates that at least one in every six men in North America are victims of sexual abuse.
While those numbers are from different studies, it is hard to know how many men have been abused because it is often not reported.
An inquiry of widespread sexual abuse at government and religious institutions in Cornwall is the latest in a series of high-profile pedophile scandals.
The Cornwall Inquiry reported last month that there was a lack of expertise and specialized services able to deal with male victims of sexual abuse when they came forward.
The Department of Justice recently launched a study to better understand the nature of male abuse and its impact on men. Experts hope the results will address the growing demand for services.
As male sexual abuse gets a higher-profile, more men are seeking help from centers like the Men’s Project, says executive director Rick Goodwin.
But male sexual abuse survivors won’t find many groups for their needs.
While the majority of government-funded sexual abuse centers are aimed towards helping women, very few are trained for dealing with male victims. The Men’s Project is the only such center in Ontario and one of only four in Canada.
Male survivors face barriers at every turn when they decide to deal with the trauma, says Goodwin.
"For a guy to accept that he was victimized would suggest that he has to redefine himself as a man."
Men are affected by sexual abuse differently than women, which means treatment for abuse needs to be gender-specific, says Andria Fry, a counselor who works with both men and women.
“Until recently there haven’t been a lot of men standing up saying ‘we need this help’,” she adds.
The Cornwall Inquiry found that institutions that should have provided support often caused more harm than good when victims came looking for help.
“For some, this resulted in revictimization by the institution from whom they sought help,” explained Justice Normande Glaude in a statement accompanying the inquiry’s report. “The response of institutions became a further source of harm.”
A failure to understand the issue will discourage others from seeking help, says “Erik”, who had a similar experience when he first sought counseling.
While at the addictions and mental health center, “Erik” says he was treated as a potential sex-offender and even underwent invasive tests.
Researchers threatened to call child services to take away his child, even though his sexual compulsions were never directed at children.
While funding is a constant roadblock, the cost of ignoring male abuse constitutes a crisis that will carry over to future generations if it isn’t dealt with, says Fry.
Sexual trauma leaves many abused men unable to cope with daily stressors and can make parenting a more difficult task.
Many of Fry’s clients turn to addictive behaviours from binge eating to drug abuse as a way of coping.
“You can’t avoid dealing with abuse,"she says.
"You can get by, but it will come back to bite you."
For “Erik,” dealing with the trauma of abuse while being a father meant balancing a fine line between taking care of his son’s needs and dealing with his own emotional issues and his sexual compulsions.
Although he eventually found specialized help and considers himself a great father, “Erik” says he fears where his life was headed without the right help.
“I’d be homeless or dead right now," he says.