National Post Forgetting the male victims of child abuse (National Post September 26,2007)   

National Post - Wednesday September 26th, 2007

At the age of 26, 10 years before earning his first million dollars as cofounder of the Second Cup coffee empire, Frank O'Dea was a homeless alcoholic panhandler. Almost 40 years on, the reason for his life of desperate squalor -- three rapes during his boyhood -- is revealed in O'Dea's new book, When All You Have is Hope. With no therapeutic outreach available to help him, he plunged into a ruinous downward spiral.

In the 1980s, Canadians were shocked into awareness of the widespread evil of child sexual abuse. In Ontario alone, the names Cornwall, Prescott and London became synonymous with "respectable" pedophile rings -- lawyers, doctors, police officers and Catholic clergymen -- that for decades preyed on society's most vulnerable boys.

The Cornwall Public Inquiry, launched in 2005 and presently in Phase Two -- "healing and reconciliation" -- is focusing on services and programs to prevent the victimization of, or help heal, future Frank O'Deas.

On paper, very worthy. But a curious thing: A kind of semantic migration has emerged between intention and action.

Some commissioned studies in the 1990s did focus on boy abuse, such as The Invisible Boy: Revisioning the Victimization of Male Children and Teens and Project Guardian: Sexual Exploitation of Male Youth in London; others, like Tipping the Balance to Tell the Secret: The Public Discovery of Child Sexual Abuse, focused on both sexes. The reports were replete with scarifying facts and stats, but no specific programs to identify sexually abused children were put into public practice. And then, mysteriously, both "boy" and "child" disappeared from the parlance, and in their place up popped abused adolescent "women." And lo, a public program emerged to serve them.

In 2000, Marion Boyd, a former attorney-general in Bob Rae's Ontario NDP government, convened a publicly funded task force on the health effects of woman abuse for the Middlesex-London Health Unit. Its advisory panel included representatives from London's hospitals, community agencies, the judicial system, the police force, psychologists and the then-director of London's Children's Aid Society. Everyone on Boyd's panel was intimately familiar with the 1980s-era abuse scandals, and some would later testify at the Cornwall Inquiry, almost entirely about boy victims. Yet astonishingly, all signed off on Boyd's final report, which recommended a health unit protocol for screening only "women" 12 years and older for present or past abuse.

After five years of development and training, in 2006 the protocol -- called the Routine Universal Comprehensive Screening (RUCS), even though it is neither "universal" nor "comprehensive" -- became operative in 25 Ontario public health units. Why only girls and not boys? In Boyd's words, because "there is little point in screening for a health condition when no referral resources are available to serve the needs of those identified."

I leave it to readers to reflect on the irony of this statement and supply their own bizarre medical analogies -- an irony to be compounded when RUCS produces data useful for enhancing already prolific women's resources. By data omission, on the other hand, the project forecloses on funding for male survivors of sexual abuse. (There is exactly one funded referral centre in Ontario for the thousands of Frank O'Deas of Ontario.)

RUCS is proudly bruited to the 137,000 registered nurses of Ontario (RNAO) as a "best practice." In separate telephone interviews, I asked two RNAO spokeswomen to provide an ethical rationale for RUCS. Their explanations were: "There is no evidence to support the screening of men at this time"; "We know it is helpful for women, [but] we don't know if asking men about their past is helpful"; "[Screening boys] may do more harm than good."

Particularly disingenuous was the assertion that male abuse issues are "understudied." Nonsense. Impeccable research abounds, which the RNAO -- I suspect for purely ideological reasons -- under-consults. As a merely curious lay person, via a few judicious queries and Google, I had no trouble finding credible peer-reviewed research.

Taking one example of many, in a 2005 article in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, one finds a study concluding: "Sexual abuse is a serious problem, but the boys and men who have been abused rarely report this experience unless asked during a therapeutic encounter," and "Those professionals who do not screen both boys and girls for abuse are not meeting professional obligations by withholding services that they know or should know would be beneficial to their patient/client."

Frank O'Dea was raped by three people. The second and third were a police officer and a priest. But the first was an older woman. Eight per cent to 16% of the male population has been abused sexually. Most at risk are poor, fatherless boys 13 and younger. A significant number of child sex abusers --one authoritative researcher says 20% -- are women. RUCS will neither help these boys nor expose their perpetrators.

The scientifically debunked but stubborn ideologically rigid paradigm insisting only females are victims and only males are abusers still reigns over Ontario's health and social services. Sadly, a latter-day Frank O'Dea's chances of finding therapeutic help today are about what they were 50 years ago -- virtually non-existent. Think about that over your second cup of coffee.

© National Post 2007