March 8, 2013
Richard B. Gartner, Ph. D.
14 Fifth Ave #G1
New York, N.Y. 10011-8866
I want to thank the Committee for giving me the opportunity to talk to you about the effects of childhood sexual abuse on its victims. I am a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York City who since the mid-1980s has been treating adults sexually abused as children – especially men sexually abused as boys. I am considered a national expert in this area. I am the Founding Director of the Sexual Abuse Program of the William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Institute in New York City; a Co-Founder and Past President of MaleSurvivor.org: the National Organization against Male Sexual Victimization; and the author of Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men and Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life after Boyhood Sexual Abuse. I have been quoted widely in the media on the topic, including the New York Times, 20/20, the London Times, the Washington Post, NPR, and all the major television networks. While I have worked more extensively with sexually abused men, what I will say applies to female victims as well.
Most sexually abused children know their victimizers. Predators by and large are family members or other caretakers in positions of power and trust — a member of the clergy, a teacher, scout leader, babysitter, coach, camp counselor, health care professional, or other trusted adult or older youth. Predators like this betray children at a most profound level.
Victims are rarely chosen at random by their abusers. They are often children who are in some way already vulnerable. They may be weaker than other children, or smaller, or unathletic, or disabled. They may come from troubled families, be separated from one or both parents, or for some other reason be set apart from their peers. In some cases, their parents are alcoholic, or absent, or physically abusive. Often, these are children who look to other adults for solace, comfort, healing, advice, and emotional closeness.
A sexual predator has highly developed antennae that can identify a child like this. Often the abuser offers the consolation such a child yearns for. But by introducing sex into the relationship, the predator eventually betrays any trust established.
This sexual betrayal has terrible implications for a child’s future relationships. The abuser — someone whom the child has believed could be counted on implicitly — has used a power relationship to satisfy his or her own needs without regard to the child’s needs.
This experience is a defining one for a young person. So, these children often grow up distrusting people in power, believing they are untrustworthy, malevolent, treacherous, and undependable.
In addition, they often experience problems in other relationships, becoming frightened about getting close to others and learning to keep isolated and distant. Among other common aftereffects of childhood sexual trauma are anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, ragefulness, truancy, poor grades, and even suicidality.
Victims of child sexual abuse are often criticized and demeaned for not having come forward at once, or immediately after becoming legal adults. One reason they don’t disclose their abuse is that they do not have any faith they will be believed. And, in fact, they often are not believed. I’ve heard of children who were told they were telling dirty lies about a pillar of the community, or, even worse, were blamed for seducing such a person.
In addition, abusers often impose silence as part of the betrayal. They may tell a child that no one will believe the child’s word over the adult’s, and that in any case if the abuse comes to light the child will be taken away from home and put in foster care, or that a family member will be hurt or even killed.
The trauma of these interpersonal betrayals should not be underestimated. The sexual nature of the crime often shames the victim, who as I said is often already marginalized and vulnerable. This leads to further isolation and desperation.
So, for many reasons – fear of being either disbelieved or blamed; distrust of people in power due to the betrayal itself; a shaky sense of self compounded by victimhood; lack of supportive network; fear of retribution from an abuser still seen as powerful; and so on — victims maintain a self-destructive silence or minimize the impact of abuse as long as possible. They may resort to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain, and often only come for help – or even acknowledge to themselves the nature of what happened – well after young adulthood.
In my own practice, I have treated, supervised, or heard from upward of a thousand childhood sexual abuse victims since the 1980s. I can only think of a handful of victims who came to treatment on their own before their late 20s, which is well beyond the current statute of limitations. I can only think of two who came before New York’s statute of limitations was reached at age 23. More often, victims – especially men – do not come for help until at least their 30s or 40s. Indeed, I have known men to come forward only in their 60s and beyond who had never told another human being that they were sexually abused in boyhood. Girls and women often have similar difficulty acknowledging what they consider their shame. When these individuals come for psychotherapy they are rarely psychologically ready to face their abusers or press charges.
Instead, victims of child sexual abuse often try to just forget that the trauma ever happened. They may minimize the effects of the abuse or just put it away in some corner of the mind in order to go on functioning in other parts of life. Sometimes the events play over and over in the victim’s mind, sometimes they are remembered but never thought about, and sometimes they are forgotten for a long time.
But when a victim finally does come forward and discloses childhood sexual abuse, predators or institutions in which the abuse took place have usually stonewalled, denied what happened, disavowed any culpability in it if it did happen, and blocked any means for the victim to find peace in relation to a traumatic history.
And now we come to the State. When New York State requires that a traumatized young person must come to terms with shame, disclose terrible sexual betrayal, and bring charges against a victimizer — all by age 23 if he or she is to have justice, the State is revictimizing these people yet again.
So, I ask you today to change the statute of limitations law by passing bill #A1771. Right this wrong for the future, and allow victims who in the past were not able to seek justice at a reasonable age to have that opportunity now. These men and women were abused as children by sexual predators. Please make sure the State of New York does not continue to hurt them by insisting they take legal action and charge their victimizers before they are reasonably capable of doing so. Take away predators’ “Get out of jail free” cards. Thank you.