Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys by Michel Dorais

I fear that this is one of those reviews that people are likely to pass up or one of those books that no one would read really, but if there’s ever a book that I reviewed here that I wish everyone would read, it’s probably this one. And that’s because there’s probably a male in everyone’s life who’s been affected in one way or another by sexual abuse whether you know it or not. Even if there hasn’t been someone you know affected by sexual abuse, it’s so important just to be aware of these issues. The number itself can be eye opening to some people. One in six boys is the victim of sexual abuse. Think of how many men you know. And sadly, that’s lower than the number of girls. For girls, it’s more like one in four.

I don’t want this review or this post to at all seem sexist or gender biased. I plan on focusing on the sexual abuse of boys because that’s what this book is written about, but I don’t by any means mean to diminish the abuse of girls and women. It’s a problem that’s even more prevalent than with males and needs to be talked about more openly as well. Sadly, abuse in general tends to be very hush hush and it becomes a subject of taboo so that the victim feels that they are the ones who have done something wrong. They are the ones who are less of a person because of it. As Don’t Tell points out, this is a culture that’s been formed by families who have turned on victims who have come forward, children who have been called “gay” and teased for being abused by another man, being forced to stand trial and relive their abuse in their testimony only to be accused by the defense of lying, etc.

I’ve preached so many times on my blog about how I feel about gender and lgbt issues and this book brings up so many points on those issues. A person who’s abused by another man often is left not knowing anything about their own sexuality. It’s natural to feel some type of sexual excitement or gratification despite the horrendous experience of the abuse. We can’t control our bodily functions. It leaves a young boy very confused and our society has raised boys not to ever question their sexuality and certainly not to talk about it at the dinner table. What is a 13 year old going through puberty to think when he’s discovering girls, but has been abused in the past by a man with no one to talk to?

The book points out that instead of turning to family or peers for support, they’ll often turn to miscellaneous sex, sometimes prostitution, or drugs to deal with the question of their identity. A sort of desperate search of some kind of meaning. It also mentions that sometimes those who have been abused will in turn abuse others, repeating the cycle. I was hesitant to believe this at first, finding it hard to believe that anyone would reenact that horror on anyone, until I read some of the victim’s stories. There are quite a few in here. And there are a few people that did in turn abuse others as a form of curiosity as to why others did it to them or as a form of some type of universal retaliation. Abuse of any kind forms nothing but a dark cloud that it’s hard to escape from, it seems.

But this is why I want people to read this book. To understand it! To understand how it can happen. To bespell the myths. To be educated on it. To be aware of it. And most importantly to not be afraid to TALK about it. Most abuse of young boys happens by relatives…people close to the home. In most cases, it’s immediate family. Sometimes cousins or uncles. It’ll sometimes extend to friends of the family or neighbors. We often think “strangers with candy” but that’s not the case most of the time. I’m not saying that we don’t need to be afraid of strangers with candy and I’m CERTAINLY not saying that we have to raise our children to be wary of our relatives. Not at ALL! But don’t be afraid to educate children. Teach them what a bad touch and a good touch is. And don’t just say people shouldn’t touch you “there”. The word “penis” is ok to say. Children also need to know that more than just a touch can happen. I don’t know the best way to go about this, but maybe just saying if anything doesn’t feel right you need to say stop! Because so many of the victims in this book said that things didn’t feel right, but they didn’t know if it was wrong the first time. Yes it may be uncomfortable talking to kids, but imagine the alternative.

And most importantly, it’s important to let people know that you accept them, I think. So many people who have suffered abuse feel used and rejected by the world. And they’re scared of the world. Scared to form any kind of relationship again. And I think they just need to know that that’s ok and it’s understandable and that they’re not judged because of what was done TO them. That they didn’t do anything wrong. And that who they are is not a bad person.

This book goes into so much more. It’s really THE resource on the topic of sexual abuse of boys and how it affects them and I’m so glad that I read it. I think it was a tremendous resource to me both personally and professionally. If you want statistics, it’s here. If you want stories, it’s here. If you want to know how to help someone, that’s here too. If you want to know how abuse affects people, that’s definitely here. How to overcome it? That’s a long road and I don’t know that there’s a definite answer but there are several roads to take that are all listed here. Like I started out in this review…I hope that people do read this book. You know, even if one person reads this book, I’ll be happy. There’s much to learn here, much to share.

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10 Responses

  1. I so wish I could rid the world of the stranger-with-candy or stranger-behind-the-bushes myth. It’s responsible for SO much crap :\ Anyway, thanks for bringing what sounds like an amazing book to our attention, Chris.

  2. I hope people don’t pass up this review, Chris…and I really don’t think they will. Thank you. What a wonderful review…of a book that’s truly important! I, for one, will be looking for it.

  3. What a great and important review! As a high school teacher librarian this looks like an important one to read. Do you think it would be worth getting for my high school library collection? I worry that no student would ever check it out for fear of the teasing…

  4. As a mother of three boys, this is one of my worst fears. I’ve been watching you read this book over the last few months and I’m glad to hear it’s so good. I think it’s something I ought to read at some point, even if I’m terrible at reading nonfiction. Of course I hope my boys end up going unscathed. At the same time, I can’t help but worry, you know? It’s so awful that we have to worry about these sorts of things. 😦

  5. Thank you for this review. My father works in child protection, so my family is constantly complaining about the strangers-with-candy danger, and how people focus so much on that and ignore the far more likely danger to their children from people they know. It’s appalling the number of kids this happens to.

  6. Sounds like an important book. Unfortunately, working in a school system has opened my eyes to the sexual abuse of boys and how prevalent it actually has become. This is one book that I would read.

  7. Chris, you do so much good in the word by bringing up topics that need to be addressed and understood and acknowledged. You do the world a good service. Thank you.

  8. I definitely want to read this book. Great review, Chris.

  9. Chris – Fantastic review! I agree that the stranger-with-candy approach is awful. I have a soon to be three year old little boy and because of your courage to post this will most definitely make sure he’s educated. It’s not something you think about everyday and because of my “Oh, I will protect my son” attitude, I don’t always think about aspect of relatives. Thank you for shedding light on this subject…great job!

  10. Great review Chris! My niece is four now, and it’s really difficult to try to talk to her about these things without making her scared, you know? But I’ll double check to make sure that my sister has done it (I kind of feel it’s not quite my place.) We were reading a book the other day whose message was if an adult is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, say ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ and while I find that admirable, I do have a little worry about what happens if a child says no/stop, and the adult doesn’t stop, and then the child feels even more guilty. I don’t know.

    I feel like I should definitely read this since I want to be a teacher, but I’m also feeling a bit vulnerable right now, so I think I’ll wait until I’m stronger.

    >>And most importantly, it’s important to let people know that you accept them, I think.

    So true, and you’re one of the most accepting people I know.

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