Advocates and therapists for survivors of male sex abuse say the recent scandals at Penn State and elsewhere may help men who were abused as children, and boys being abused today, step out of the shadows and get the support they deserve.
They also hope society can become better educated about the issue.
"The allegations have kick-started a public dialogue about sexual violence and the community's responsibility," says Jennifer Marsh, who directs hotlines at RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. "It's a conversation we have to have and can't shy away from."
If increased Web traffic and calls to hotlines are any indication, the tide for men and boys may, in fact, be turning.
National organizations like RAINN, MaleSurvivor and 1in6 -- a reference to research estimates that one in six men have been sexually abused as children -- all report increased attention since the story about former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky first broke in early November, setting off what seemed like a domino effect of allegations at Syracuse, The Citadel, the Amateur Athletic Union and elsewhere.
RAINN saw a 54% increase in traffic to its online hotline in the week after the Penn State story made headlines. Though RAINN does not ask the gender of hotline visitors, Marsh says the organization has anecdotally seen "a significant increase of male visitors."
The experience of two organizations that specifically exist for the benefit of men and boys may be even more telling.
MaleSurvivor, which provides resources, information, discussion boards and recovery retreats, received nearly 135,000 online visits in November, a dramatic jump from its monthly average of 100,000.
Likewise, website traffic at 1in6 has boomed from an average 475 visits a week to as many as 1,200, according to a founding board member.
Calls to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) also have gone up, both locally and nationally, by 20% to 30% since the recent wave of stories broke, says David Clohessy, the organization's executive director.
Both hope and desperation could be driving the increase, he says.
Survivors of clergy sex abuse who didn't come forward before -- or did but didn't feel heard -- may see the overwhelming attention and outrage and believe this is their time to talk. And they may be motivated by the realization that society has not progressed as much as they had hoped.
"There's an assumption that surely, after all these [Catholic Church] lawsuits and payouts and scandals, surely no institution ignores child sex abuse these days," Clohessy says. "So when they see the stories out of Syracuse, Penn State and The Citadel, they might think, 'My gosh, I better come forward.' "
Another motivation to speak up now, Clohessy says, is thanks to the wonders of the Internet.
The stories in the news have prompted men, who may have put aside thoughts of their former abusers for years, to search online for their abusers' names. Clohessy says these men are finding out that maybe the teacher who officials vowed would never teach again is now offering private music lessons in his home, or the coach who was ousted has a wife running an in-home day care center. Betrayed by false promises and outraged, some of these men are compelled to act.
They're not alone
Coming forward for any survivor of sexual abuse is complicated, and it's only more so for men and boys, experts say.
Men may have a harder time seeing themselves as "survivors" or "victims." Even identifying what they experienced as "abuse" can be a stretch for some, says Jim Hopper, a clinical psychologist who's worked in the field for 20 years. And strolling into, or calling a hotline affiliated with, a "rape" or "sexual assault" crisis center? That may be years off, if that day ever comes.
It's for this reason that 1in6, which Hopper helped found, avoids using labels. With pages like "Sorting It Out for Yourself," 1in6's website offers a safe entree for men to explore whether something that might have happened to them as children is affecting them today -- whether it's fear of intimacy, drug dependency, pornography or sex addiction, Hopper explains.
The 1in6 stated mission is "to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives."
Jim Struve, a psychotherapist in Salt Lake City, has worked with male sex abuse survivors for 35 years. He helped organize the first conference exclusively for male survivors, which brought 450 people from 14 countries to Atlanta in 1989. He served on a committee that would establish the National Organization Against Sexual Victimization of Males, which later merged with and became known as MaleSurvivor. He's facilitated 35 weekend recovery retreats for the organization since 2003.
Like Hopper, he says language matters.
"How males are asked about abuse influences their answers," he says. "If you ask most males, 'Were you sexually abused?,' they will answer, 'No.' But if you ask them behavioral/descriptive questions like, 'What age was your first sexual experience?' 'How old was your partner?' or 'Was this sexual experience consensual?' ... men will often describe situations that are abusive, while not defining them as abuse."
One in eight rape victims is male. One in six men were sexually abused as children. These are facts that experts like Struve say need to be heard, repeated and accepted.
Male survivors "have been in the shadows," says Struve, who runs therapy groups for male survivors both at his private practice and through Salt Lake City's Rape Recovery Center. His groups are filled to capacity with waiting lists.