After Simon Weinberg and his wife Kathy Barbini made The Healing Years, a documentary about women recovering from sexual abuse, they were bombarded with requests to shed some light on men healing from similar experiences.
“One of the main reasons we do any of this is giving people a voice through a medium,” Weinberg said. “ . . . But one of the biggest reasons was that, when we made The Healing Years, we thought it was just a woman issue. We truly thought it was a woman issue, and we didn’t really go into the male issue. And we got pushed in it so hard by rape crisis centers and coalitions and everybody else — corrections, military — to do it. When we were doing it, a pastor down the street, a kid down the street, neighbors down the street all start disclosing about their own abuse.”
Weber State University’s Center for Diversity and Unity screened the film Boys and Men Healing from Child Sexual Abuse in the Shepherd Union Building’s Wildcat Theater at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The documentary, produced and directed by Barbini and co-produced by Weinberg, follows the stories of three men who were sexually abused as children.
One of the subjects of the documentary shared his experiences of being repeatedly abused by a Catholic priest and his later attempts to get the New Jersey statute of limitations for sexual abuse revised. Another subject told an experience he had when calling a rape crisis center for help. The employee who answered the phone assumed that, because he was a man, he was calling for help as a rapist, not a victim, and referred him to help groups for perpetrators.
“It’s addressing an issue that is ongoing for a population of people that we don’t talk about,” said Adrienne Gillespie, coordinator of the Center for Diversity and Unity, after seeing the film. “We do not talk about young men and boys and abuse in really almost any context other than bullying. And so to talk about sexual abuse and men and boys healing is really powerful, and it’s an opportunity for us to engage in an important topic in a new way.”
Following the screening, Weinberg and Jim Struve, a licensed clinical social worker with MaleSurvivor.org, took questions from the audience. Struve said a common effect of sexual abuse is for men and boys to question their sexuality and masculinity, or whether they themselves could become perpetrators. He said another symptom he often sees is the tendency for victims to be one of two extremes.
“What happens a lot for men is that some of the mental health of those men who have been abused pocket at one extreme or the other,” he said. “They’re either totally shut down, and very depressed and isolated, maybe not successful in their careers or relationships — or the other end is that they’re overachievers. They’re kind of like super in whatever they do, and either one is really about the way in which the abuse has put a heavy cloud on them.”
The turnout for the screening was small, but Gillespie said the film will still be available for viewing by any students who are interested.
“The Center of Diversity and Unity would be happy to hold future showings and discussions in partnership with Counseling and Psychological Services,” she said. “Simon and Jim have given us permission to show it with unlimited restriction, and we are just so fortunate to have this powerful documentary become a part of our library as a resource.”
Weinberg and Struve also invited students to visit MaleSurvivor.org. Gillespie said awareness of this issue is important to spread in Utah because of a cultural reluctance to discuss sex at all, let alone sexual abuse of boys and men.
“. . . for men in general, we don’t really encourage that sort of conversation or discussion,” she said. “And so it’s important in a society that doesn’t tend to have those conversations to let people know that this is an issue, it’s ongoing, there are paths to healing, there are resources on campus and in the community, and that you’re a survivor, and you count. You matter.”