CW: This post may act as a trigger for sexual abuse victims. Please read carefully.
It’s happened again.
In the UK, a courageous, mentally-tortured former football (soccer) player, Andy Woodward, has come forward and revealed the details of how he was chronically victimized by Barry Binell, a serial pedophile who was initially sentenced to prison in 1998, and had been Andy’s football coach at Crewe Alexandra since the age of 11.
Daniel Taylor of The Guardian interviewed Andy on the lingering, lifelong effects of the abuse.
“Woodward had to fake an injury during one game because he was having the kind of panic attack that became a regular feature in his career. He has been suicidal “on probably 10 occasions”. He has spent his professional life battling depression and anxiety, and is haunted by what a man who described himself in legal proceedings as a “monster” told him about some of the other victims.”
Taylor quotes Woodward.
“I just wanted to play football. My mum and dad will say that I always had a football in my hands, wherever I went. I saw Crewe as the start of that dream. But I was soft-natured, too, and it was the softer, weaker boys Bennell targeted.”
“What he’d do sometimes, to show the fear factor and make sure I never told anyone, was get out some nunchucks,” Woodward says. “He was a master with them. He’d tell me to hold out a piece of paper. I’d be physically shaking. Then he’d hit it with enough force to split it in half and make a little comment: ‘You see what I can do, you see how powerful I am?’
His story is freakishly horrific, as his perpetrator, Binell, went on to sexually abuse and marry his sister. He, finally, at 43, decided to tell his story.
Andy Woodward’s revelation has triggered hundreds of other men in the UK to come forward, and ask for psychological services for their own victimization at the hands of football coaches. Those are the men who can find the courage to reveal.
It’s shattering to think of how many others are staying silent.
What is sickening — accompanying investigations into these alleged cases, attempted cover-ups are being discovered as well. As in the Penn State scandal, those in charge may have neglected, actively ignored or tried to cover up allegations of sexual abuse.
The message that gives to victims is horrifying to consider.
Sexual abuse is difficult enough to handle. The terrifying threats of, “You better not tell or…”, are believed by the abused child who hears them. Keeping the secret is even more burdensome, and can lead to severe anxiety and depression. A victim can be triggered by even the slightest sound, smell, tone, or place, for years after the abuse is over — feeling once again powerless and not at all in control.
Revealing abuse can be the first step in a recovery of your own being.
And yet, in order to tell someone that you were abused, a man has to deal with several irrational beliefs about how being a sexual abuse victim may affect someone else’s perception of who he is, or sadly, his own perception of himself.
You’re not less masculine because you were abused.
Being sexual abused doesn’t have anything to do with sexual orientation. If you were abused by a man, it has nothing to do with being gay, or being attracted to the same gender.
If you were sexually aroused during the abuse, that means your body responded, as is normal. Your mind and heart were screaming for it to stop. There’s no rational reason for shame.
You’re not likely to become an abuser yourself. Studies indicate that 1/3 of abused male children are likely to abuse. That’s obviously a great cultural concern, but there are many abused men who would never touch a child inappropriately.
That’s a lot for anyone to consider.
Andy Woodward’s words illuminate the tremendous reasons for men and women to find the courage to stop keeping the awful secret.
Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden. I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength. I survived it. I lost my career, which was a massive thing for me, but I’m still here. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.
The only way to break apart these myths of sexual abuse, to destroy them, to reveal their complete irrationality — is for men to talk about what has really happened in their lives, and to give compassion and understanding to one another, while also receiving that same caring from the people that love them.
But that’s not the main reason.
The main reason is your own well-being and fulfillment — your own joy. It can mean not allowing your perpetrator any more control over who you are, or what you say.
It can mean being free.
In the UK, The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.
Photo: Getty Images