DURYEA – Melissa Guziewicz sensed something was terribly wrong the day her 13-year-old adopted son, Sean, approached her in the family's home.
He was really upset and said, ‘I wish I could tell you something,' Guziewicz said.
She wasn't prepared for what came next.
Sean reached down and pulled up his sleeve, revealing multiple marks from wounds he had inflicted on his arms. He had been secretly cutting himself for years.
But she soon discovered it was not the only secret he had been keeping.
While undergoing counseling for his self-mutilation, Sean told a counselor he had been sexually abused at age 7 by the teenage grandson of the foster parents with whom he had resided prior to joining the Guziewicz home on Main Street.
Like many child sexual assault victims, he remained silent for years, unable to verbalize the inner torment that led to him to his self-destructive behavior that also included an eating disorder.
It's been two years since he first revealed his abuse. Sean, now 15, has made great progress in dealing with his psychological issues, his mother said.
Now he wants to encourage others to Just Tell.
On Monday, the high school freshman will travel to State College to take part in the two-day Child Sexual Abuse Conference at Penn State University.
He'll be appearing as a member of Just Tell, a nonprofit organization that provides support services to encourage victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and seek treatment.
Sean is among a panel of 10 male child sexual abuse survivors who will discuss the unique challenges men face in overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse.
Treatment, awareness and support for male sexual assault victims has come to the forefront in recent months due to extensive publicity surrounding the trial of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of molesting numerous boys.
The Penn State conference features presentations by experts who will provide insight into research, treatment options and prevention of child sexual abuse.
Sean hopes to emphasize the importance of increasing awareness and support for male sexual assault victims.
I think a major part of me getting better is trying to help other people with their problems, he said.
Revealing child sexual abuse is difficult for both genders, but males are more reluctant to come forward than females, experts in child sexual assault say.
Young men think they will be judged if they reveal, said Vivian Farmery, founder of Just Tell. They fear society will cast them as being homosexual if their abuser was male … One of the ways we want to address that is by de-stigmatizing the issue so that young men know it's not their fault and they don't need to feel ashamed.
Advocates for sexual assault victims have worked hard to address those issues, but concede more needs to be done to help male survivors.
There are a lot of resources for sexual assault survivors, but many are focused on women, said Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
While there are several national organizations that provide support and resources for male victims, it's much more difficult to find help at the local level, Marsh said.
Sean's path to recovery has been long and arduous.
He and his brother, Kyle, joined the Guziewicz family, which also includes three biological children, as foster children in October 2005. Melissa and her husband, Chris, adopted both boys in January 2007.
Hostile and angry, Sean, then age 8, was an extremely difficult child when he first arrived, Melissa said.
He fought every little thing, Melissa, 45, said. It was really rough.
With counseling, love and support, both boys eventually began to overcome their issues.
You understand what they need is discipline and structure. After a while they responded to it, Melissa said.
When Sean turned 13 she noticed he had become withdrawn and depressed and began showing suicidal tendencies.
She had no clue Sean had been sexually abused until the counselor dropped the bombshell.
It was devastating, Melissa said. There was a lot of guilt – how didn't I know? It didn't happen under my watch, but he's still my son.
Sean said he just couldn't bring himself to tell his adoptive parents.
It's hard for guys to tell. People don't want to talk about abuse at all, especially if it's abuse of a guy, he said. It's easier to talk to a stranger than someone you know. You don't have to worry about feeling ashamed because you're not next to them every day.
That's a common emotion for male survivors of sexual assault, Marsh said.
There may be a reluctance to put the burden, so to speak, on a loved one, Marsh sad. Male survivors don't want to tell their spouse or parent because they don't want them to be upset and blame themselves for what happened.
Sean didn't realize how much effect his abuse had on him until he went through counseling.
I didn't think it was that important, that this could be the reason why I was having issues, he said.
Now he understands the link, and wants to empower others like him to come forward and seek help.
In addition to attending the Penn State conference, he's a member of Just Tell's street teams, a group of teenage volunteers who attend concerts and sporting events to pass out information that encourages teens to report abuse.
It's part of a nationwide effort by numerous organization to increase exposure of child sexual abuse – an effort Marsh says continues to make great strides since the Sandusky case broke.
We've seen a distinct rise in people coming forward to the national sexual assault hotline in the wake of the Penn State case, she said. They know there is a safe place they can go, that they're not the only gone going through this, and that justice can be served.
Several national organizations provide information and support services for child sexual assault survivors.
• Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network provides support services for sexual assault victims of all ages and genders: www.rainn.org
• Just Tell provides support services to encourage child sexual assault victims to come forward and seek treatment: www.justtell.org
• 1in6 provides support services tailored to male sexual assault survivors: www.1in6.org
• Male Survivor provides support services for males: www.malesurvivor.org
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