1 in 6:

Stigma of abuse often drives male sexual assault survivors to suffer alone

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

Scott Sunday wasn’t quite 18 when he left home swearing to never look back.

The year was 1980 and Sunday was graduating from Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton. Immediately after the ceremony concluded, he ran up to the stands where his stepfather handed him his ticket to escape — a signed pink slip to an old, white Mercury.

Sunday raced home where his clothes were already packed, tied a mattress to the roof of his car, and then he was gone, thinking his troubles were now in the rearview. However, it would take decades for him to come to terms with the trauma he experienced as a child.

For years after high school, Sunday said he felt totally lost and didn’t know why. He suffered from depression, anxiety, and abused alcohol in an attempt to numb the pain he felt.

He spent four years in the Marine Corps, bounced around jobs, was in and out of college, and, after getting his girlfriend pregnant, thought that starting his own family would maybe help him suppress the bad feelings from his childhood.

However, it wasn’t until Sunday was in his 30s that the now 54-year-old Twain Harte resident discovered he’s one in six men who have survived sexual assault or abuse.

“It didn’t make sense,” Sunday said. “Yeah, there was the physical and verbal abuse, but it just didn’t seem to me that was enough for me to feel like that… until that last dream.”

The dream

Sunday first remembers having the recurring nightmare following the death of his father shortly after his 5th birthday.

Sunday had been adopted as an infant. His parents couldn’t have children of their own as his father had been paralyzed from a car accident.

The nightmare would be the almost the same every night.

Sunday said he would fall asleep and hear a voice calling out his name, then he would walk outside as if in a state of hypnosis and he laid down in the driveway.

While gazing up at the night sky, Sunday would see a pinprick of light among the stars that would grow larger and larger until it was the size of the sun and he could make out the features.

The face was that of an angry ram, with curled horns, snarling at him and shooting smoke out of its nostrils.

Sunday would break from his hypnosis and run inside, slamming the door to the house and pushing tables and chairs in front of it, but then he would see it slowly burning through the door and furniture.

The next thing he would remember is being carried back to his bed by a female family member, who would tell him he was having a bad dream.

A couple years later, the dreams stopped, Sunday said.

Running from the past

Just before Sunday’s 8th birthday, his mother married a widowed attorney who brought with him four children, turning the former family of three into a family of eight.

Sunday hoped to put the past behind him after escaping from the household on the night of his graduation, but the feelings of anger toward his female abuser would linger long into his adulthood.

By the time Sunday reached his 30s, the marriage to his first wife had failed and he was still struggling to come to grips with the anger he felt toward a member of his own family.

Sunday began going to group therapy and counseling in his early 30s to save the marriage with his second wife, Laura, who he met while they were both working for a telephone company in 1993.

While at a session, a nutritionist told Sunday that he had to eat healthier, and he explained that he had always had an unexplainable fear of fruits and vegetables, so much so that he would starve if alone on a deserted island with nothing else to eat.

The nutritionist told Sunday that such a severe aversion to a food item has been identified in people who suffered extreme childhood trauma, most likely sexual abuse.

“I was just like, ‘Nope that didn’t happen to me,’ ” Sunday said. “Totally in denial.”

Getting help

The realization of what really happened to him finally came after Sunday went home from work one day, bought a bottle of booze, and drank himself “into oblivion,” he said.

Sunday blacked out and left a message on Laura’s phone telling her about a night where a male relative played sexual games with him while his family was in the room.

“She played the message for me and it was like an explosion,” Sunday said. “From that point on, flashbacks and just horrible, horrible memories started flooding back, but it wasn’t until about three years after that the final piece came into play.”

Sunday said he was lying in bed one night when he had the recurring nightmare from his childhood again.

“I’m laying next to my wife, and I recognize my voice and see the light coming down the hallway,” Sunday said. “I stand up just as the sun was coming to my doorway with the same angry ram face.”

But this time, the image of the ram started dripping away like wax on a candle to reveal another face, that of the woman who abused him.

“From that point forward, it was probably the first time in my life that I started getting healthy,” Sunday said.

Speaking out

Sunday began unraveling more of the mystery through subsequent therapy sessions, finally coming to grips with the sexual abuse he had suffered.

“It was from about 5-and-a-half to almost my 8th birthday,” Sunday said.

In 2001, Sunday and his wife moved to Tuolumne County after she retired from the phone company.

Sunday now works as a technician for Microtronics, an electronic manufacturing company in East Sonora. Laura works as the community services director for the Center for a Non Violent Community based in Standard, an organization that provides support for people who have suffered domestic and sexual abuse.

For many years after realizing the sexual abuse had occurred, Sunday said he was unable to find much data or information about other men who had similar experiences.

Sunday was attending a national conference on sexual assault and domestic violence in Washington, D.C., with his wife last year when he stumbled upon a booth for the Bristlecone Project, a campaign promoted by the organization 1in6, which is intended to raise awareness about the number of men who have suffered unwanted sexual experiences.

“This gentleman, Dr. David Lisak, has talked to men all over the country and is trying to get the stigma off of it and make society aware that there are more men who have experienced this than you realize,” Sunday said.

The project also inspired Sunday to go public with his story.

Sunday shared his experience publicly for the first time last week in front of about 150 people, which included family, friends, colleagues and strangers, at an event put together by the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office to celebrate Child Abuse Prevention Month and Victims’ Rights Week.

“If I knew someone I could tell them without a problem, but it was different having a microphone in front of this gigantic group of people,” Sunday said.

The audience gave Sunday a standing ovation.

Sunday said a line of people formed waiting to talk to him. Some introduced themselves as survivors as well, while others said he had helped them understand dreams they’ve struggled to understand.

“It was overwhelming,” Sunday said.

Sunday said it’s difficult to be an adult and deal with such feelings from the past, because the adult mind wants to rationalize those feelings and move on. He also said the difficulty men have acknowledging their experiences is rooted in societal gender norms.

“Boys aren’t supposed to cry,” Sunday said. “Even as a kid, you’re supposed to fight your own battles. Everything is about being dominant, being the alpha male. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you’re certainly not the alpha male, so what are you?”

Sunday said he plans to do more public speaking on the topic now that he’s broken the ice. He also wants to get a certificate to become a drug and alcohol counselor and get training to handle crisis line calls from a male perspective.

Resources available

Due to the stigma, Sunday said he believes the number of men who have dealt with such experiences is more than one in six.

There are a number of supportive services available for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, including those offered at the Center for a Non Violent Community.

The center is recognizing National Sexual Assault and Abuse Awareness in April with flags representing each of the 101 survivors, including children and adults, that the center helped in 2016.

Almost 50 percent of those served in 2016 were survivors of human sex trafficking, according to Laura Sunday.

This year to raise awareness, the center is taking a special focus on male sexual assault and abuse.

During the Second Saturday Art Night event in downtown Sonora on April 8, the center asked musicians to put a single blue guitar string on their guitars that was intended to represent the one in six men who have survived such crimes.

Laura Sunday said sexual assault or abuse can happen to anyone regardless of the person’s gender, race, or age.

Raising awareness and starting a conversation is important because such crimes are believed to be underreported.

“Much like domestic violence, sexual assault is kept very secret and private,” Laura Sunday said. “People don’t talk about it, they don’t want to think it’s happening.”

Sexual assault can also have long-ranging effects on a person’s life and family. Substance abuse is often common for people who have been assaulted, Laura Sunday said.

The center offers a 24-hour anonymous crisis line to anyone who has been assaulted. There are also a number of a services and resources available on the center’s website.

For people who think someone close to them has been assaulted, experts say the best thing to do is offer a safe place to express themselves without fear of judgment.

Ginger Martin, coordinator of the District Attorney’s Victim-Witness Program, said it’s best to just listen to what the survivors want to say over offering opinions on what they should do.

“Ask what they would like you to do, and be OK if it’s nothing,” Martin said. “I think the biggest thing for me is a secret should never hurt.”

17037269
The Union Democrat
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