Thursday, September 18, 2008
Glenn Kulik met his best friend, Scott, on a summer swim team when they were 10 years old and lived in New Jersey. Kulik played at Scott’s house every day after school, along with a third friend, John. Scott’s uncle gradually went from taking the boys to the movies, to giving them porn magazines, to asking them to take off their shirts. Soon, it went further– much further– than the boys wanted, but it was too late.
“When there was an effort to stop it, there were threats,” Kulik recalled. One day the uncle took the boys to a park, where they watched him kill a duck. “That’s what will happen to you if you tell,” the man said.
Kulik’s story is the central portrait depicted in Boyhood Shadows, an intriguing, locally produced new documentary that illuminates just how common and commonly hidden from view its painful subject is: male childhood sexual abuse.
It’s a difficult topic. But Boyhood Shadows is not difficult to watch. Strong editing extracts the poignant, the educational and the hopeful from a series of personal stories told by Kulik and seven other brave men, most from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. For its part, the camera does not linger on tears and the filmmakers remain sensitive to an audience reluctant to go too deeply into a disturbing topic. Monterey resident Laura Dare’s score enhances the storytelling with lyrics that echo the film’s themes, infusing it with pathos and, at times, a soaring determination.
“If there’s one thing this film accomplishes, I hope it makes it acceptable for men to talk about their experience of childhood sexual abuse,” said Steve Rosen, who directed Boyhood Shadows. He produced the film with Terri DeBono at Mac and Ava Motion Pictures, the Pacific Grove company they founded in 1987. “The actual abuse isn’t as bad as what happens when a man tries to tell someone about it. Either people don’t want to hear it or victims are made to feel there’s something wrong with them.”
Though the scope of the material is international, the primary setting of Monterey County serves the subject well. The 47-year-old Kulik, a Los Angeles resident, came to Monterey County to join a Male Survivors Group for victims of childhood sexual abuse when he couldn’t find treatment for men near his home. He flew to Monterey every Tuesday for two years to attend. “I never missed it once, not even when I was in New York,” he said.
“MOST BOYS ARE TAUGHT TO ENDURE A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF FEAR AND PAIN WITHOUT TELLING AS A BADGE OF MASCULINITY. TO COME FORTH AND ADMIT THAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOMINATED BY ANOTHER HUMAN SEXUALLY IS THE ULTIMATE SIGN OF BEING A VICTIM AND BEING WEAK.”
The Monterey County Rape Crisis Center offers one of only 40 such programs in the world, according to Stephen Braveman, a certified sex therapist who runs a private practice in Monterey and contracts with MCRCC to conduct its Male Survivors Group.
The two most astounding statistics presented in the film– and there are many– is that one in six boys is sexually molested by the age of 16 (for girls, it’s one in three) and that each predator averages 117 victims. “I swore to God I’d never tell [what happened to me],” said Kulik. “My family is wonderful. They loved me and never had a clue. They didn’t know until well into my 20s that I was both abused and severely addicted.”
The film will premiere at the Monterey Conference Center on Monday, Sept. 22. Not only will proceeds from the premiere benefit the Child Abuse Protection Program of the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, but DeBono said 100 percent of proceeds from the film will go toward victims’ programs.
After two years, the abuse ended for Kulik when the boys got into trouble and were no longer allowed to play together. But his real troubles were only beginning. “As long as I was being disruptive, that’s all that mattered,” he said. “There was some obvious stuff– fighting, drawing a penis on a [school] blackboard. It ranged from the vulgar to the violent.”
Glenn’s brother, Dominic, who was interviewed for the film, said: “There were things that, as a younger brother looking up to an older brother, seemed heroic but became dysfunctional. Then it was this immensely gut-wrenching concern that someone I love is suffering and that something’s under there that is not normal.”
Though Mac and Ava primarily makes films for nonprofit organizations, Rosen and DeBono are known among documentary enthusiasts for their award-winning productions addressing social issues, including Beyond Barbed Wire (about Japanese internment camps) and Accidental Hero: Room 408 (about a teacher of public speaking who transforms children’s lives).
The two-room Mac and Ava offices are housed at street-level beneath DeBono’s residence in New Monterey. Photos from their various shoots fill the walls. The “cockpit,” as Rosen, cinematographer-director-editor, calls the tiny room where he works, is jammed with the high-tech tools of post-production. The wallpapered office of DeBono, producer and co-director, is her idea of a Hollywood bungalow. Currently, her desk is covered in hard copy– photos, media kits, DVDs– as she launches Boyhood Shadows, including planning the premiere, submissions to film festivals and press relations. The pair does everything themselves, from location scouting to PR.
At an interview upstairs in DeBono’s living room, Rosen and DeBono were still full of zeal about their film’s challenging subject after spending 14 months in production, including multiple trips to New York, New Jersey and more than six California cities. The tall, handsome Kulik joined us.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be in the film,” Kulik said. “I didn’t want to be in it. I just wanted revenge.” He hopes Boyhood Shadows will help to destroy his archenemy, NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association. “They represent all pedophiles to me.” Rosen said that, for many reasons, Kulik’s story turned out to be the best one to highlight.
The impetus for Boyhood Shadows came when the Male Survivors Group felt compelled to respond to a local newspaper article that perpetuated the myth that survivors grow up to abuse other children. “While it is true that most male sexual predators were themselves sexually or physically abused as boys, it is also true that the majority of boys who are sexually abused never go on to be predators,” said psychologist Richard P. Gartner, the author of Betrayed as Boys.
Kulik’s two friends were often in the room with him during the abuse, which included being forced to lie on their backs with their knees by their ears while they were raped.
Though the problem affects both genders, it is more complicated for boys. Eighty-eight percent of predators are men, regardless of the victim’s gender. In a culture that reviles homosexuality, boys are especially afraid to be discovered. And many feel they should have prevented it.
“Most boys are taught to endure a tremendous amount of fear and pain without telling as a badge of masculinity,” said Pacific Grove resident Fred Jealous, who founded two groups, Men’s Alternatives to Violence in 1979 and Breakthrough Men’s Community in 1987. “To come forth and admit that you have been dominated by another human sexually is the ultimate sign of being a victim and being weak.” Most of the men in the film are heterosexual, including Kulik, who is married.
Their silence fuels another emotion besides shame: guilt. Many survivors are torn between hiding and speaking out when they realize others are most likely suffering at the hands of the same predators. Since Kulik’s abuse ended, John committed suicide, and the last time Kulik saw Scott, he was mentally unstable and “not well.” Kulik said, “I left Scott there. I didn’t say anything. It had to be going on before I went there and had to go on after.” In one of the stronger narrative threads in Boyhood Shadows, the filmmakers travel to New Jersey with Kulik to the scene of the crime and in search of Scott.
Kulik went through numerous therapists, treatment centers, books and materials to find help.“The moment I got to Monterey, I knew this was it. It was the only thing that worked,” he said, adding that Braveman’s method is “innovative and original.”
“It’s a myth that, ‘Once a victim, always a victim,’” Braveman said. “Men do heal and do graduate from the group and live healthy, happy lives.” He explained that the group is not free-form, but presents a structured program that the average client completes in a year and a half.
According to Braveman, who founded one of the first men’s groups in the nation: “In the ’60s, if a man said he had been sexually abused, he was considered psychotic, put on psychotic medication or put in a psychiatric hospital. By the ’80s, we started taking victims seriously. In the ’90s there was movement to start organizing with other professionals.”
THE TWO MOST ASTOUNDING STATISTICS PRESENTED IN THE FILM– AND THERE ARE MANY– IS THAT ONE IN SIX BOYS IS SEXUALLY MOLESTED BY THE AGE OF 16 (FOR GIRLS, IT’S ONE IN THREE) AND THAT EACH PREDATOR AVERAGES 117 VICTIMS.
Not all of the truths are more comforting than the myths. For example, the term “survivor” is not hyperbolic. Males abused as children are four times more likely to commit suicide, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol. The cost to society is high. Addictions cost taxpayers untold millions in health care, recovery, related criminal prosecution and loss of productivity. “If the stigma can be lifted, you’re going to see a lot less of these addictions,” said Rosen.
The two most astounding statistics presented in the film—and there are many— is that one in six boys is sexually molested by the age of 16 (for girls, it’s one in three) and that each predator averages 117 victims.
Boyhood Shadows confirms that children are easy pickings for abuse, especially by likeable adult males. In each case documented in the film, the abuser was a relative, teacher, coach, scout leader, camp counselor, priest or other trusted adult. While the men generally expressed a wish for the abuse to stop, most also admit to confusion in the face of a comforting man who “played guitar” or “took me to the airport every weekend to see the old planes” or presented “abuse in the form of affection” or “represented God and the church.”
“Virtually none of the men I’ve treated– and I’ve treated hundreds– were abused by a stranger. It’s not the proverbial man in the dirty raincoat who grabs a kid. Much more insidious is the guy who’s in a position of trust,” said Gartner.
Secrecy was encouraged. The boys heard messages like, “You’ll be the one to get in trouble if you tell, not me.” And children who do speak up are often not believed. Some parents refuse to believe, children frequently make poor witnesses in court and young “troublemakers” are not credible– although that’s just what many abused children unfortunately become.
“The pain became so great,” said Kulik, “I thought, I better tell someone.” One night when he was drunk, he told Maggie, a friend Kulik had met in acting class when he was 24 and “hung out with for a few years.” Kulik swore her to secrecy, and she kept the secret until he tried to commit suicide.
“It was a half-assed attempt,” said Kulik. “I cut my wrists.” Maggie told his family and they got him to a mental hospital. He stayed clean for a year, but soon had a relapse and, in the years between then and now, has had 17 relapses, was in and out of prison, in and out of rehab, and spent eight years on the street, disconnected from his family. In 1997, he survived being shot in the head.
He moved to California in 1991 but it wasn’t until 2001 that he sought help. He went to Cri-Help, a treatment center where he developed “a crush” on Karina, a counselor and also a survivor of sexual assault. Eventually, they married and in 2003, had a son. Kulik still wasn’t talking about his childhood abuse– he just wanted to get sober. But this secret wasn’t going to let him rest. Though the Kulik family heard about his sexual abuse years earlier, Kulik said it was not something they talked about.
“The denial was so deep I [realized] I could not be honest with a person on a deep, intimate level,’’ he said. “And once I had a child, he was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“My brother, Dominic, found the program in Monterey. He didn’t push me. He knows how to talk to me. And I knew I had to do something.”
The topic erupted into public attention in 2001 when the first wave of lawsuits against Catholic priests for the sexual abuse of children emerged. Lawsuits have cost the Catholic Church more than $2 billion since 1950, but the scale of the problem is only recently dawning on most Americans.
In an interview, Monterey County Rape Crisis Center executive director Clare Mounteer, who appears in Boyhood Shadows (presented in association with MCRCC), commented on the changes she’s seen in her 21 years with the 35-year-old organization. “We have been well aware that the issue concerns boys as well as girls because we provide the child abuse prevention program in Monterey County schools that’s mandated by state law,” she said. “After our presentations, children come up and make disclosures.”
Some high-profile cases have brought attention to the subject. “Everything from the Michael Jackson case to Oprah and actress Teri Hatcher coming out as survivors,” Mounteer said. “When celebrities come out, it makes it OK for others to do so. People realize they’re not alone.”
Since 1984, California has required public schools to address child abuse prevention at four points during their education, but no longer provides financing. Mounteer said MCRCC raises the money each year to provide this service, and the Catholic Diocese of Monterey also contracts with MCRCC voluntarily to provide the same education for their private schools.
Kulik takes the blame off his family, although not all survivors do. “Awareness. That’s the most important thing,” Kulik said. “My two nephews will not be abused. They know the boundaries. The whole family is aware.”
Mounteer described some possible symptoms that a child is being abused: “Kids might become withdrawn, secretive or overly friendly with an adult. Eating disorders, too little or too much, also occur.’’
It’s also common for victims to remain silent about the subject until they are well into adulthood. Many men do not remember until well into their adult lives. “It’s usually at a time when their career [and their family] is fairly well established. They’re at a more secure place in life, and somehow their brain is ready to let them remember,” said Murray Shane, a psychiatrist who was interviewed in the film.
“I didn’t remember a lot of this until 35 years later,” said Allen Martin Elvin, a former news anchor with KSBW and KION, currently with KPIX in San Francisco.
In California, there is a 10-year statute of limitations for most sex crimes. Senator Elaine Alquist, from Santa Clara County’s 13th District, hopes to eliminate the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse with Senate Bill 256. “At whatever point in your life you want to come forward, we ought to be able to prosecute,” she said.
The premier Internet site on the subject is www.MaleSurvivor.org, a national organization that works against male sexual victimization. Its president, Curtis St. John, said in Boyhood Shadows that one day he heard a woman lecture about domestic violence, saying “Those who can speak need to stand up and speak for those who can’t.” That was it for St. John. He decided to speak. And he hasn’t stopped. The website boasts many resources and a healthy online community, with 5,623 registered users and 245,000 posts on 52 forums.
“While rage about sex offenses has never been higher, public support for sexual assault victims has never been lower,” said Suzanne Brown-McBride, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We can get reports out, we can get attention, we can get meetings with leaders. But victims don’t get the same thing.”
Boyhood Shadows presents evidence that the nascent community of male survivors is taking increasing responsibility for this disconnect. It’s inspiring to witness men struggle to regain their own power, then hand it off in the form of support to newcomers. “One of the ways you graduate from the middle stages of recovery to the later stages is by giving back,” said Alex Shohet, cofounder of Wonderland Treatment Center in Los Angeles, in one of the film’s encouraging moments. Kulik is a case in point. Since he accepted his first board position in 2004, he has worked relentlessly on behalf of abuse victims. He sits on several boards, volunteers and is writing a book.
The work of giving back, epitomized by Boyhood Shadows, is being done by survivors at treatment centers, in men’s groups, on websites and in legislative efforts. For many victims and their families afflicted by this too-common malady, Boyhood Shadows will be a particularly strong and helpful hand– with the potential to be far-reaching and to inspire prevention and early intervention for thousands.
The sense of loss and the need for prevention was perhaps best captured by Steven J. Sanchez, one of the men featured in the film: “I don’t care if they give me a check for $10 or $10 million. You tell me where I can cash that in and become a 10-year-old boy again.”