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Nov212011

Sexual Abuse: Does Society Train Boys to Be Silent Victims?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When the abuse began, Paul Treml was 14 years old, a schoolboy athlete, 5-feet 6-inches tall and 115 pounds.

His abuser, he said, was a decade older and seven inches taller, a hulking ex-college athlete who almost made it to the pros and who ran the youth sports league in Treml's Pennsylvania hometown.

For 21 years after that torture ended, Treml, now 53, kept the details secret from his even closest kin.

He started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, trying to blot out the fear, shame, guilt, hurt and assorted confusions about his sexuality that abuse survivors and the clinicians who treat them say are particularly acute for sexually assaulted males in a culture still prone to telling boys not to cry and to always be ready to defend themselves.

Sexual predators, clinicians say, are keenly aware that those complexities fuel male reluctance to discuss what happened.

"Boys are less likely to disclose," says University of Massachusetts clinical psychologist David Lisak, who works with male victims and victimizers.  Convicted Catholic "priests understood this dynamic and picked boys partly because they are less likely to be believed," he said.

Allegations that Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach at Penn State University, was a serial child molester have brought those fraught realities to the fore at a time when, by the most frequently cited reference, an estimated one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18.

"As a kid, you're completely frightened by what's happening to you.  You don't know what to do or what to say," said Treml, a regular public speaker on sexual abuse of men and boys.

"In my mind, no one would believe me. Or they'd think it was my fault or I was asking for this or I was homosexual.  Those emotions become so powerful you become numb.  Then you just go into denial," added Treml.

While rape is traumatic for everyone, boys and men are more likely than girls or women to keep that violence to themselves for extended periods of time -- if not, forever -- and to grapple with a host of mental and emotional ills that accompany their decision, clinicians say.

"It's somehow much more shameful for a male to admit to being abused.  It not only stirs their sense of weakness about being victimized but also the whole issue of sexual attitude and identity," says Dr. David Reiss, who, during more than 25 years as a practicing psychiatrist, has mainly treated adults who were abused as children, including sexually assaulted males.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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