Photo: Jim Austin now lives in Peterborough
When Jim Austin was 13 years old he wanted to make a little bit of money so he took on a paper route in Toronto. The last customer on his route was an older man.
Austin was very close to his grandmother as a child, he says he talked to her every day. When he was twelve his grandmother passed away leaving him feeling alone and grief stricken. The predator sensed this and used it to his advantage. The last customer on the route began grooming him and for three years, sexually abused Austin. “I thought I was the only one” Jim says. “People who are abused, it’s like being murdered because it murders your soul”
Statistics show one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Jim and many others think it’s probably closer to one in four as the vast majority of victims of sexual assault don’t come forward. Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police according to government statistics. 80% of the perpetrators are friends and family of the victim.
Billy Thomas (name has been changed due to ongoing court proceedings) also thought he was the only one, at first. Billy lived in Peterborough. He was a budding sports star with potential to be a professional athlete when his whole life changed. As a teenager he signed up for a hunting safety course to get his hunting license. He says the predator, an instructor, offered to take him hunting and then sexually assaulted him. “I buried it, gone, put it in my back pocket” He says.
Although Thomas says he buried the incident, it robbed him of his dreams and aspirations. “I wasn’t the same, didn’t have the same drive” He no longer played the sports he loved and gave up his future as a potential professional athlete. He says he didn’t tell anyone, not even his mother, for 35 years. “Over the last few years it really started creeping up on me” he says. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about it”
One day he was at work on the night shift and at about 5 o’clock in the morning he says he was “thinking too much” and just crashed. ” I left work, came home and woke up my family, sat them down in the living room and told them my story”
Jim Austin also buried his pain for years and it effected every aspect of his life. “Who could possibly love someone this damaged, dirty, a lowlife.” he felt. He says he felt “unworthy”
Many male victims of sexual abuse spend years trying to hide from the pain. “You hate compliments because that’s a spotlight on you, if you have an argument with the boss you make it go away fast” Austin says.
Thomas says he tried to become invisible. “Every time I go into a mall or somewhere shopping or anything my head is down, I don’t make eye contact with anyone, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I’m not a fan of people anymore really”
Jim Austin started to remember what had haunted him for 38 years while he was at a conference in Toronto in 2008. The conference was on Male Victims of Sexualization. He was working as a social worker at a jail at the time. “I thought, I’m a social worker I can deal with this” Jim remembers. “But it became increasingly debilitating and I couldn’t deal with it any longer” He says he got drunk at his friends cottage that year and told them his story. ” It was like barfing razor blades, it was so painful. But it was my story”
“It’s harder coming out with it than burying it” Thomas says It’s easy to bury, you just pretend”
When Austin finally went to the police he says they didnt’ want to hear it. ” I got up the nerve to pick up the phone and call police and they wouldn’t even take my name” he says. Austin’s abuser was dead by the time he came forward. He says he wanted validation that this was done to him. “I wanted it out of my head and to says it’s there on paper. I don’t have to carry it around any more”
So he went to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and he got that validation. ” I got a judgement saying I had been offended against” ” Abuse is like a cancer, left unaddressed it gets bigger and bigger and bigger”
Thomas says he too had to push for justice. “It took a year and a half before police even brought him in for questioning” he says’ “The city police turned me away, told me to go to the OPP” He says some police tried to talk him out of reporting the incident and offered him counselling instead.
That needs to change according to Austin. “A male survivor wonders what is the point? We need a national strategy to recognize this exists” Austin says he has friends who were abused and when they first tried to talk about what happened to them they weren’t even allowed inside the doors of sexual assault centres, they were for women only. Some of that has changed in the last few years. In 2010 the Attorney General made money available for a provincial network of sexual abuse support centres strictly for males. At the time it was hailed as historic and necessary. The move was a response to recommendations stemming from the four-year public inquiry into allegations of an organized pedophile ring operating in the Cornwall area. There were 34 victims of abuse. Ontario was divided into four regions and each was to have a lead agency that can set up counselling support for men and help victims access police or legal help.
Charges were laid recently against Billy’s alleged abuser and later more victims came forward.
Austin spends a lot of time talking to other survivors and writing and speaking about his experience in order to help others. He was part of two historic Oprah shows that shed a light on the issue in 2010. But he says there’s still a lot of work to be done and he blames the way men are portrayed in the media for some of the problems. “It’s a movement that see’s all men as terrible people. As soon as we try to advocate for ourselves we are accused of being anti feminist” He points to commercials that give the impression men have no feelings or are incompetent. “Idiots. Morons. Brainless. In desperate need of supervision by a wife. Unable to act like an adult. “Yes dear”. Unequal to women. Twits.” he opines. The dishwasher commercial with the “yes dear” guy and the Pepto Bismol commercial with the sick guy on the couch really get his goat.
An article in the Toronto Star in 2013 shows there’s still long way to go according to Austin. It was about a man who claimed he was sexually assaulted by four women and it drew sharp criticism after the article stated -“Of course, one man’s sexual assault is another man’s sexual fantasy come true and seemingly made light of the situation.” Austin complained about the article to the Ontario Press Council. You can read it here: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2013/04/09/sexual_assault_case_involving_four_female_suspects_a_bizarre_anomaly.html
“My kids used to wonder why I was so on top of them all the time” Billy Thomas says. “I keep close tabs on them all the time, it’s a sick world out there, you can’t trust people”
If you are a male survivor of sexual abuse you are not alone, there is help: