Forgetting the male victims of child abuse
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
At the age of 26, 10 years before earning his first million dollars as
cofounder of the Second Cup coffee empire, Frank O'Dea was a homeless
alcoholic panhandler. Almost 40 years on, the reason for his life of
desperate squalor -- three rapes during his boyhood -- is revealed in
O'Dea's new book, When All You Have is Hope. With no therapeutic
outreach available to help him, he plunged into a ruinous downward spiral.
In the 1980s, Canadians were shocked into awareness of the widespread
evil of child sexual abuse. In Ontario alone, the names Cornwall,
Prescott and London became synonymous with "respectable" pedophile rings
-- lawyers, doctors, police officers and Catholic clergymen -- that for
decades preyed on society's most vulnerable boys.
The Cornwall Public Inquiry, launched in 2005 and presently in Phase Two
-- "healing and reconciliation" -- is focusing on services and programs
to prevent the victimization of, or help heal, future Frank O'Deas.
On paper, very worthy. But a curious thing: A kind of semantic migration
has emerged between intention and action.
Some commissioned studies in the 1990s did focus on boy abuse, such as
The Invisible Boy: Revisioning the Victimization of Male Children and
Teens and Project Guardian: Sexual Exploitation of Male Youth in London;
others, like Tipping the Balance to Tell the Secret: The Public
Discovery of Child Sexual Abuse, focused on both sexes. The reports were
replete with scarifying facts and stats, but no specific programs to
identify sexually abused children were put into public practice. And
then, mysteriously, both "boy" and "child" disappeared from the
parlance, and in their place up popped abused adolescent "women." And
lo, a public program emerged to serve them.
In 2000, Marion Boyd, a former attorney-general in Bob Rae's Ontario NDP
government, convened a publicly funded task force on the health effects
of woman abuse for the Middlesex-London Health Unit. Its advisory panel
included representatives from London's hospitals, community agencies,
the judicial system, the police force, psychologists and the
then-director of London's Children's Aid Society. Everyone on Boyd's
panel was intimately familiar with the 1980s-era abuse scandals, and
some would later testify at the Cornwall Inquiry, almost entirely about
boy victims. Yet astonishingly, all signed off on Boyd's final report,
which recommended a health unit protocol for screening only "women" 12
years and older for present or past abuse.
After five years of development and training, in 2006 the protocol --
called the Routine Universal Comprehensive Screening (RUCS), even though
it is neither "universal" nor "comprehensive" -- became operative in 25
Ontario public health units. Why only girls and not boys? In Boyd's
words, because "there is little point in screening for a health
condition when no referral resources are available to serve the needs of
I leave it to readers to reflect on the irony of this statement and
supply their own bizarre medical analogies -- an irony to be compounded
when RUCS produces data useful for enhancing already prolific women's
resources. By data omission, on the other hand, the project forecloses
on funding for male survivors of sexual abuse. (There is exactly one
funded referral centre in Ontario for the thousands of Frank O'Deas of
RUCS is proudly bruited to the 137,000 registered nurses of Ontario
(RNAO) as a "best practice." In separate telephone interviews, I asked
two RNAO spokeswomen to provide an ethical rationale for RUCS. Their
explanations were: "There is no evidence to support the screening of men
at this time"; "We know it is helpful for women, [but] we don't know if
asking men about their past is helpful"; "[Screening boys] may do more
harm than good."
Particularly disingenuous was the assertion that male abuse issues are
I suspect for purely ideological reasons -- under-consults. As a merely
curious lay person, via a few judicious queries and Google, I had no
trouble finding credible peer-reviewed research.
Taking one example of many, in a 2005 article in the Journal of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, one finds a study concluding:
"Sexual abuse is a serious problem, but the boys and men who have been
abused rarely report this experience unless asked during a therapeutic
encounter," and "Those professionals who do not screen both boys and
girls for abuse are not meeting professional obligations by withholding
services that they know or should know would be beneficial to their
Frank O'Dea was raped by three people. The second and third were a
police officer and a priest. But the first was an older woman. Eight per
cent to 16% of the male population has been abused sexually. Most at
risk are poor, fatherless boys 13 and younger. A significant number of
child sex abusers --one authoritative researcher says 20% -- are women.
RUCS will neither help these boys nor expose their perpetrators.
The scientifically debunked but stubborn ideologically rigid paradigm
insisting only females are victims and only males are abusers still
reigns over Ontario's health and social services. Sadly, a latter-day
Frank O'Dea's chances of finding therapeutic help today are about what
they were 50 years ago -- virtually non-existent. Think about that over
your second cup of coffee.
© National Post 2007