In 2016 on my social media wall I came out. Not in a sexual identified way, but from out of the Shame Closet and into Survivor Ownership. I publicly admitted I was molested as a child and am a child abuse Survivor. Afterwards, I wanted to hide under my covers. Forever. I made this choice willingly but still, the vulnerability of it, the utter nakedness made me feel completely conspicuous. The response was overwhelmingly positive with many people sending private messages. Many of my childhood friends reached out and shared their own stories of having been abused and it was surprising. Most surprising though was how many of those sexually abused as children were my male friends.

This is in no way to diminish the suffering of females or Femmes who’ve suffered and been victimized. According to National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States annually. Statistics reflect rates of at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused. However, this isn’t a contest. Child abuse is unacceptable, period. Yet many ignore it hoping it will go away thus making it acceptable.

From cookouts and parties, movies nights, even church gatherings, many of us would see each other often, but never uttered a word about what was happening to us. From childhood to present stage of life, I’ve always connected with men easily, more so at times than with women. Odd to some because the one who abused me as a child was a male. I understood from a young age just because this particular male was wrong didn’t mean all men were wrong. From wrestling, playing video games and just talking sometimes late into the night, many of my male friends have been and continue to be fiercely protective of me and I of them.

We sometimes don’t think of men having feelings and needing protection but that simply isn’t true. And to have feelings or need protection doesn’t make one weak. It makes us human. Often, when one has suffered abuse trauma, feelings have to be stuffed into a societally accepted package for the sake of daily survival. This teaches one their feelings or what happened doesn’t matter, that they don’t matter. Subsequently, many versions of dysfunction rear their ugly heads. Not having a place to shed all of this can be very lonely and detrimental to overall well-being and health.

Opposed to violating them in any way, the verbal offerings of the men I knew from the He-Man and ThunderCats days with countless pulls to my hair had tales tugging at my heart. So often when we hear the words “child abuse,” girls come to mind, but males? Not so much. What my friends shared with me regarding their abuse I understood; the feelings of shame, rejection and helplessness. One male friend, normally loud with a bigger than life presence, dropped his voice barely over a whisper as he shared his story of abuse.

Coping for this friend meant “proving” he was a man by sleeping with as many women as possible. He explained he shut down and wanted to distance himself from what happened when he was a kid. Coping tactics like this aren’t uncommon. Abuse victims cope in a myriad of ways, often unhealthy because these behaviors have become normalized and you do what you know. From excessive opiate and alcohol consumption to successful adulting appearance-wise but depressed and emotionally broken this demonstrates we still have a lot of work to do. We should be allies for each other, men for women and women for men, us working together and against this problem.

The word Ally comes from the Latin word alligare, meaning “to bind to.” Binding, aligning, ally can also be used as a verb, meaning “join forces with.” We need more who will act together, and protect one another from incorrect information, assumptions and the like. This can be initial healthy steps towards healing. As with many situations in life, those who know better must demonstrate how to be better and be allies for those who’ve been in hurtful and harmful situations. This doesn’t mean men, or any victim of abuse are incapable. It means we all need those who recognize the injustice of something to stand up and against ignorance, faulty ways and behaviors, increasing awareness and educating those who either didn’t know or have access.

As my friend quietly shared his story, my heart felt so heavy for him. He’d been holding this truth since we were kids, never telling anyone because they may think he was less than. Less than a man, less than a person, just less. I ached for him and wanted to reach through the phone and hug him tightly, letting him know I saw and still see him, and he was more than the abuse suffered. But I listened with both ears and heart because that’s what he needed.

Listening to him and the many others who’ve shared has deepened my understanding. While there are similarities within our shared pains, for males often the accepted myths deepen the shame, leaving questions of manhood. Pervasive myths of males including sexual abuse of males is less harmful than when females are victimized; they must have wanted the abuse because they were aroused or even, since they were abused means they will instantly go on to abuse others are just a few mentioned. These and other tales of untruths should be debunked loudly and regularly. Instead of ignoring this topic because it’s “too difficult” we need to continue to bring this up in conversations and increase awareness. The silence is what aids in perpetuating this epidemic. It sickens me, even now, thinking of the many friends I’ve had who’ve dealt with this type of pain. These stories, so much like my own but still uniquely theirs, deepens my resolve and hopefully yours too to continue to promote awareness and education with love and compassion. I will continue to be an Ally.