“Men don’t talk about sexual abuse,” says Dave Moody. He definitely didn’t. He’s an all-American, fifty-something guy. He played football at Morehouse College. He’s a prominent Atlanta contractor. He’s married with two kids.
And he had a secret: A male babysitter abused him when he was 10 years old.
“There’s a stereotype. People think you’re going to be a pedophile. I didn’t want people to look at me strangely. I felt like it was my fault. I felt alone and weird,” he says.
One in six men has an unwanted or abusive sexual experience before turning 18. Now Moody’s on a mission to help them heal.
More than two decades after the assault, he revealed the abuse to his wife when they found out that an acquaintance was an abuser. “It was the first time I said it out loud,” he says. The revelation set him reeling: He started suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and panic attacks.
“I was as close as you could get to a nervous breakdown. I wasn’t myself. I’d always been blessed with a happy heart, and I just knew this wasn’t right,” he says.
Moody’s wife, a hospice nurse, was supportive. “She let me cry when I needed to cry, but she also kicked my butt,” he says.
Over the years, he opened up to more people, including his kids. And after the events at Penn State, Moody—a well-known speaker on business leadership—went public.
“I was speaking to a group of at-risk young ladies. I saw no hope in their eyes. It made me tell this story about my own experience. You need to hear from people who you think of as doing well to understand that everyone has a road to travel. I wanted people to know: I’m walking in your shoes.”
Now he blogs at Moody Speaks, where he posts uplifting lessons from his recovery. (It’s pretty hard not to feel amazing after reading his stuff: Check out the sweet video he made for his wife on their 31st anniversary.)
“This is why Penn State and their recovery is so important,” he says. “I admired the courage those guys had. I have guilt that I never spoke up or confronted my abuser. So sharing my story is my way of helping.”
Here are Dave’s lessons from a lifetime of sexual abuse recovery, in his own words:
1. We Need Validation.
Stop saying kids are “resilient!” The media, government, anybody who hasn’t experienced this—they think we grow up and then we’re normal. It makes us feel like the damage is gone.
2. We’re Not Pedophiles.
There’s a stereotype out there that you’re going to repeat the cycle. So you end up becoming a victim twice. You look like you’re trolling for kids. Most survivors, the last thing they want to do is to hurt a child.
3. Abuse Doesn’t “Make” Us Gay.
Of course, some of us may be gay—and we should be proud. But the sexual abuse we suffered didn’t turn us into homosexuals. And for those of us who aren’t gay, like me, the wrong label can be just another barrier to opening up.
4. You Never Know Who’s Hurting.
I’ve had strangers come up to me and say, “This happened to me.” One friend of 25 years called me out of the blue. Another person whispered it to me at a party.
5. We Might Not Need to Talk About It.
You can’t do anything if the person isn’t ready. Let them know you’re there for them, you love them, and you’re around if they ever want to talk. If they don’t want to, leave it alone.
6. We Feel Guilty.
We hear it all the time: If someone hurts you, tell an adult. That’s tough when adults seem judgmental or strict. After it happened to me, my mom had an inkling. She didn’t mean it this way, but she said: “Don’t let anyone ever touch you.” But it had already happened. I felt I screwed up, like I wasn’t strong enough to say no.
7. Kids Notice Everything.
They’re watching how you react. If your kid spills water on the floor and you go nuts, well, the kid remembers—and they’re sure not going to tell you something big.
8. Happiness Is A Choice.
I just decided: I’m not going to live like this. I love life. I’ve been blessed with a happy heart, and it’s on me to move on. I did the counseling. But at the end of the day, it’s up to me.
9. It’s Not Just About Triumph.
So many celebrities talk about how they were abused in the past. But we need to hear about the journey, not just how they’re doing now.
10. People Are Compassionate.
After I went public, a number of men came up to me to say it had happened to them. They weren’t going to speak up, but then I did. I was stunned. Just stunned by how many men, how many people, have said, “Thank you.”
If you are a survivor learn more about the issues and how to start healing from sexual abuse right here. If you are a family or friend of a survivor, check out these helpful resources. Many parents and grandparents fear their loved ones may be abused. Learn more about the warning signs, how to talk to your children, and how to report by visiting the Hero Project and Darkness to Light.