Interview with Randy Ellison
The statistics are hard to ignore: one in six boys and one in three or four girls are sexually abused before they turn 18. An estimated 20 million male and 30 million females are victims of child sexual abuse; 80 percent of people being treated in residential alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers were abused as children; more than 90 percent of perpetrators are known by their victims and 30 percent are family members. Child sexual abuse is pervasive in our society, yet it’s often swept under the rug, hidden and ignored. Randy Ellison, an advocate for victims of child sex abuse, and himself a victim as a teenager, is trying to do something about it. “We can’t stop the cycle,” Ellison believes, “unless the abuse is acknowledged, talked about, understood and prevented.” Author of the new book, Boys Don’t Tell, he was interviewed by Best of You Today (www.bestofyoutoday.com) not long ago in an effort to shed some light on a topic still under-examined in society. A version of the interview appears below. Ellison, a victim’s advocate and activist for cultural change in the child sexual abuse arena, works with several organizations on abuse prevention and awareness in his home state of Oregon.
BEST OF YOU TODAY: You say sexual abuse of children is actually accepted by the majority, the government and our institutions. What do you mean?
RANDY ELLISON: To start, we consider sexual abuse of children a heinous and horrific crime. We prefer to not picture it happening and we definitely do not want to imagine someone we know doing these things. Perpetrators are not strangers dressed in dark clothes hanging out around schools and ice cream shops. More than 90 percent of perpetrators are known to the victim and more than 40 percent are family members. What would you say if someone accused your brother, father, uncle, minister or teacher of abuse? Likewise when institutions get a report of suspected abuse by a long-time employee they use any rationale to dismiss it. “It probably didn’t happen and if it did we’ll just believe him (or her) when they say it won’t ever happen again. Okay, now we can move on and get back to a more acceptable reality.” We are prosecuting at most two to three percent of sexual assaults on children. Remember, innocent until proven guilty and we really don’t want to believe anyone could do that. Add that most pedophiles are master con men. They not only groom their victims, they are very good at making people like them and showing how much they care about kids.
BOYT: There seems to be an awareness today that sexual predators are found in the very organizations that we entrust our children to—churches, scouts, coaches, teachers. Should the groups be screening adults who become involved more closely?
RE: If you have any business that deals with kids, pedophiles will be drawn to you for easy access to their victims. Yes, they definitely should screen very closely. They also need a written policy on what they do to protect children, which needs to include that no adult will be in a private one-on-one situation with kids. The policy should be posted where it can easily be seen and every parent and child should have it explained to them and get a copy of it.”
BOYT: Are there any clues that should trigger our suspicion so we can protect our children? What kind of behaviors should we look for?
RE: We need to be vigilant in protecting our children. Watch for someone paying undo attention to one child in particular. Someone who offers to take a child out for a treat, offers to give them a ride home, or who gives them small gifts—these are all red flags. Especially when it is a child who doesn’t get much attention socially or displays needy behaviors. We need to make the choice that it is better to question and report suspicions than to accept and turn away. It’s not about “them”—victims and perpetrators—it’s about us. We need to reprogram ourselves to keep children safe.
BOYT: In your book you talk about how it was difficult to actually look at your abuser as a predator because you had considered him a friend and mentor. Is this typical? Is it part of the reason that an abused person decides not to tell anyone?
RE: Yes, it is typical in many cases. Part of the grooming process is to get the victim to bond and feel a loyalty to the perpetrator. For me, I just dissociated the abuse behavior from the rest of our relationship. I never thought about it. It would happen and I would put it away and live the more acceptable parts of life that made sense to me. Loyalty definitely is part of the reason people don’t tell. I know of several cases where pedophile ministers or priests die and their victims actually come to honor them at their memorials.
BOYT: What about other factors that keep victims from speaking up?
RE: Well, fear and shame are also major factors. Some victims are threatened into silence or feel the abuse was their fault. Especially with boys, they often experience a physical arousal and satisfaction from the abuse, so they feel shame from that and become conflicted over the right and wrong of it. In the developing mind of a child being sexually abused by a trusted adult or loved one is like two trains in a head on collision. The abuse is in direct conflict with everything we are taught about relationships. Every line is crossed or destroyed.
BOYT: When a person is sexually abused as a child, though they may hide this aspect of their past, it manifests in many ways. What are the long-term effects of abuse?
RE: A lot of survivors, me included, feel as though our souls were stolen. My abuse threw me off the track of life. I had thought I would be a minister, but not only did I not do that, I dropped out of college and drifted through several careers and life in general. I never let anyone get close to me and to help deal I became an alcoholic and drug addict. Never let anyone get close. We moved a lot as well. It was though I was running from something and doing my best to forget what that was. Eighty percent of people in residential alcohol and drug treatment programs were victims of abuse. Eighty percent of people being treated for Schizophrenia report abuse as a child. More than 50 percent of women in prison report they were abused as children. Of the 200 men (of which I was one) on Oprah for a program about male abuse, 80 percent said they had contemplated suicide and 30 percent had attempted it. Eliminating child sexual abuse is the most impactful thing we can do to change our society for the better.
BOYT: What hope can you give a survivor of abuse? What would you like to say to readers who haven’t yet admitted or spoken up about their abuse as children?
RE: When we become victims of child sex abuse often our emotional maturation stops. We do not develop into the adults we were meant to be. We also lose the rest of our childhood and lock that child away. Once you get to the point of safety where you can begin to deal with your abuse, some amazing things can happen. It is an important and joyful experience to go back and honor that lost child within, even learn to play again. As I faced my fears and shame I immediately began to mature and develop. My addictions no longer rule my life. I find myself in new meaningful relationships and making friends. I am no longer alone and I am able to give and receive love freely without fear.
BOYT: Can you share some final words on what survivors can do to heal?
RE: If you have never spoken about or dealt openly with your abuse I encourage you to start with a friend you can trust. Counseling and therapy are a must. You cannot unpack all you have locked away by yourself. That process will require that you learn to put yourself first. You have value and you were not the cause of what happened to you. It is an extremely difficult process, but one that pays off ten-fold. You will find you can replace fear and shame with joy and satisfaction. I wish you strength for your journey.
For more information on Ellison’s work, visit www.boysdonttell.com.