One winter day in l990, I stood frozen in an airport book shop,
tears of gratitude flowing hard, weeping with joy. I'd been looking
for a junk book, but what I found was a treasure I desperately
On the shelf there was a simple trade paperback, unremarkable
in appearance and design. My adoptive father and spiritual mentor
came quickly to me, apprehensive, asking what was wrong, and all
I could do was point-I could not trust myself to speak.
He knew immediately. He bought the book and guided me from the
store to the plane. There was finally a book for me, that addressed
my needs and experiences, that helped me realize I was not alone.
My copy is dog-eared and worn today. I wore out two highlighters,
and the margins are filled with cryptic notes. I've given away
several copies, and at least twenty men have bought the book on
Victims No Longer Order on-line was the first publication designed and
targeted to meet the needs of men were sexually abused as children.
I'd been trying to make sense of the madness by translating into
my experience literature intended for women, but I had a hard
time fighting through the implicit male-bashing and the differences
in perception and affect. In those books, only men were molested
children, and women the only victims: in reality, boys are statistically
almost as vulnerable as girls, and women are as likely as men
to molest boys. Yet those books were all I had, and I made do.
I had to-or kill myself.
Today, a man who is beginning the arduous task of healing from
childhood sexual abuse has a much larger range of resources available.
There are at least seven books specifically written for the male
survivor. Three are either partially or wholly individual stories,
idiosyncratic and personalized. Each gives a different view of
the recovery process, and are valuable because of their intimate
viewpoints: in the end, every man will create his own story.
I've reviewed the three manuals that take a more impersonal overview
of the recovery process, three more personal stories of recovery,
and a book that tells an individuals story along with being structured
as a manual. I issue this warning: my recommendations are entirely
subjective, based on what I believe is the best for the male survivor
of female perpetrated incest. My criteria include inclusion of
significant emphasis on female perpetration, a lack of male-bashing
and blaming, diversity of sexual orientation, and utility both
in constructing a cognitive understanding of abuse and in helping
the survivor access long-buried emotions associated with the abuse.
With that caveat, my winners are: Mike Lew's Victims No Longer
Order on-line and Mic Hunter's Abused Boys. Order on-line
The first is still the best, at least for men new to recovery,
desperately attempting to make sense of the horrendous memories
and flood of feelings. He structured his book along the model
used in the ground breaking book for women, The Courage To
Heal. Lew covers the gamut of possible abuse, showing a remarkable
even-handedness about the gender of the perpetrators. He strives
to be as neutral as possible about issues such as sexual orientation.
The cognitive sections are interspersed with survivor's accounts
of the abuse and their healing journey.
Lew writes in a friendly, facile voice, though at times his therapist's
voice can sound saccharin and may seem to have a somewhat condescending
tone at times: therapists seem to have a compulsion to repeat
the obvious. Each section deal with an aspect of the abuse or
of recovery, with frequent asides on various topics. His book
is full of healing messages.
Hunter writes in a far more cognitive tone, academically dissecting
the scope, nature, and pervasiveness of abuse of male children.
His overview is more concise and intellectual than Lew's, and
gives a deeper understanding of the societal dynamics of abuse.
Hunter is also the author of a two-volume study targeted at therapists
on treating survivors, and his academic background is put to good
use. His book is better at giving the male survivor of female
perpetration a sense of being included in the community of healing,
due to his choice of survivor's stories.
The stories fill the second half of the book, in contrast to Lew's
practice of breaking up his chapters with survivor tales. The
pacing works in both cases-indeed, the more intellectual tone
of Hunter's book may serve as a better preparation for the horror
stories to come. Both books include extensive resource lists and
The most important aspects of the books are the remarkable absence
of male bashing. No matter how well-intentioned, books intended
for females tend to be contaminated by an undifferentiated rage
that shames all males (along with ignoring female perpetration).
The effect is to include all males in the potential population
of perpetrators, while ignoring the other half of the population.
As recent research indicates, men are as likely to be abused by
a female as by a male, and while the data was not available at
the time these books were written, both books are even-handed
and avoid shaming men for being male.
I wouldn't recommend one over the other-the approaches compliment
each other-instead I would recommend to the man new to recovery
that he buy both. The combination would give a solid understanding
of the dynamics while serving as excellent tools for accessing
and dealing with feelings aroused by the reading. Each is worth
the money-and more.
As for Sonkin's Wounded Boys, Heroic Men, I wouldn't even
recommend it to a perpetrator, much less a survivor, of childhood
sexual abuse. It is an incompetent exercise in male bashing, coming
from the extreme feminist perspective. Virtually all the abusers
portrayed in the book are male, and virtually all the survivors
are either physically or sexually abusive themselves. Sonkin assumes
that all men who are abused abuse innocent women, if not children,
in their adult life, and that the men are always the initiators
of abuse. Rather than present a balanced portrait of adult relationships,
he hews to the party line: it is always, and only, men who abuse.
Reality and reason dictate that many men who were abused by women
will mate with abusive women in a compulsive repetition of the
past. Not in Sonkin's warped world. He holds women virtually innocent
of any child abuse or abuse in adult relationships and focuses
solely on shaming men. He virtually ignores gay men, though his
book purports to address the needs of all men. One telling point:
the promotional blurbs from other authors include no men-probably
because none of the recognized male authorities in the field would
recommend this dangerous book.
His tone is patronizing without apology, his theories on healing
dangerously slanted, his writing stiff and turgid. He does a lousy
job of explaining abuse in societal or political terms.
The book sucks. Thumbs down. Don't waste the money, even out of
curiosity. Male survivors of female abuse have suffered enough
shame, and they need no more reminders of how the extreme feminist
left has ostracized them from the mainstream of recovery because
the reality of women who abuse does not fit the political need
to maintain a system of dogma.
Speaking Our Truth Order on-line is the newest book in the rudimentary
bibliography and in some ways the most effective, because editor
Neal King was wise enough to allow the survivor voices to show
the dynamic from the personal viewpoint, rather than explaining
in therapeutic terms the pain, shame, and terror survivors feel.
The anthology of writings by males can be excruciatingly painful
to read at times, but in the end, not only holds out the promise
of healing, but shows how some men have found peace and wholeness.
Tim Sanders' book, Male Survivors, holds a middle ground,
telling his personal story of recovery while serving as a workbook
and manual. It is light on the exposition of the dynamics of abuse,
stressing exercises and meditations rather than cognitive knowledge.
Though not all male survivors end up in 12-Step programs, the
vast majority utilize the recovery community to one degree or
another (especially considering the high rate of addiction and
relationship problems among survivors). The book outlines a recovery
program based on the Twelve Steps, heavy on affirmations and spirituality-an
area given a somewhat short shrift by Lew and Hunter.
A survivor himself, Sanders refers to his own recovery throughout
the book; a mixed blessing, as what worked for him might not work
for someone else. Though he attempts to be inclusive in his recommendations
of various prayers, he writes from a Christian perspective, which
doesn't help those who are not of the majority religion, or who
can't approach their deity within that framework.
Sanders has his own system of recovery, and while I didn't find
it particularly useful, there were nuggets of wisdom throughout
the book. It would be especially useful to men with little or
no familiarity with the twelve-step process, or for those looking
for a workbook, as he includes many well-designed exercises. The
twelve-steps are a powerful tool for recovery, if properly applied,
and Sanders is on solid ground in his interpretations of the steps.
In a field that is replete with autobiographical books by survivors
of male-on-female incest, including highly publicized role models,
Richard Berendzen's book, Come Here, Order on-line is the first written
by a highly functional, successful male who was abused by a female,
and despite its flaws, is a desperately needed addition to the
literature. Survivors of female abuse, both women and men, have
often been discounted by the mental health establishment, and
little literature has been published detailing the prevalence
of female abuse, much less frank and painful personal stories
that offer the survivor a sense of acknowledgment and identification.
Like a double edged sword, Berendzen's story cuts two ways: though
his message about female perpetrated abuse is desperately needed,
his very functionality tends to minimize the difficulty of healing.
He was the president of a major university when his repressed
memories surfaced, so when Berendzen's world fell apart, he had
far more support than most. Career and financial security, loving
and supportive relationships, and access to the best available
therapy is a luxury most survivors do not have and must cope without.
Hank Estrada and T. Thomas both tell their own stories in a fashion
designed to give a personalized overview of the recovery process. Estrada's (Recovery for Male Victims of Child Abuse) Order on-line
is formatted as an interview session, and covers a wide
range of topics. He traces his path from victim to survivor to
advocate, and offers useful opinions and personal theories. As
the book was recently updated, the bibliography and resource directory
are perhaps the most timely and useful of any the books, as organizations
tend to wither and disappear as their founders heal and move on
to less painful lives.
Thomas' book Men Surviving Incest : A Male Survivor Shares the Process of Recovery Order on-line is idiosyncratic and highly personal, both telling
his own story and that of other men. While he makes no claim to
inclusiveness, he does cover much ground and offers his opinion
on various modes and techniques of healing.
Sanders', Estrada's and Thomas' individual stories combined with
King's compilation provide important validation for the survivor,
along with rare views of the process of recovery: so few men have
trod the path that each voice is still quite unique. As more men
find their healing and add their voices to the swelling chorus,
more resources will be created for those that follow.
Scott Abraham is a survivor of both male and female perpetrated
abuse, an author of several articles on recovery from sexual abuse,
and is studying to be a therapist. His writing was included in
the anthology Speaking Our Truth.