I’ll admit that when I first listened to David Holthouse’s startling declaration that he’d once planned to commit murder, I was a bit shocked. It would have been difficult then to imagine how his searing story of recovery from a childhood rape could be transformed into a play that would leave me feeling, not just moved, but inspired.
But inspiration was exactly the feeling I left the theater with after watching “Stalking the Bogeyman,” last week. The remarkable theatrical dramatization of Holthouse’s story, by Marcus Potter, opened Sept 29th in New York City. (1in6 resources to support healing will be offered to all audience members who attend. Representatives from 1in6 will also participate in periodic “talk backs,” TBA)
Holthouse’s story first gained widespread notice after he appeared in a 2011 segment of the National Public Radio show “This American Life.” (He’d previously written about the experience in a column in the newspaper where he worked as a journalist.) In the 20-minute radio piece, Holthouse described his 25-year struggle to maintain the secret of having been raped by the older son of close family friends, when he was just 7 years old.
Chronically shamed by the memory of the abuse, and the desperate fear that the older boy, now an adult, might abuse others, he developed a scheme to kill him. Ironically, as he finalized the details, his parents’ timely discovery of a reference about the rape in one of his old, childhood journals, disrupted his plan for murderous retribution. With his secret known, he finally found the path to healing.
Every time I re-experience Holthouse’s stunning narrative, I’m reminded of the imposed,emotional limitations men operate under. Widespread social norms discourage men from revealing feelings like sadness, and fear and vulnerability, which so often result from childhood sexual abuse.
Undoubtedly, anger, the one emotion men are given permission to express, can be a useful, even possibly a necessary step in the process of reclaiming a positive view of life. But like so many men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, without outlets for a full range of complex emotions, anger eventually nearly consumed Holthouse.
And that’s just the simple part.
What the aptly titled “Stalking the Bogeyman” also portrays so well is the destructive power of two widely-disseminated misconceptions which were born in an earlier era, and which still frame many people’s understanding of the dynamics of sexual abuse, especially of boys. In fact, they reinforce the very idea of a child’s notion of a “bogeyman.”
For Holthouse, in addition to the shame he felt at having been raped, these misunderstandingsterrorized him further, fueling his sense of despair over more than two decades, to the point of rationalizing the idea of killing the abusive older boy — by then a man in his 40s.
In sharp contrast to the myth that shaped Holthouse’s fears about his own potential to sexually offend, research has shown that in truth, only a small percentage of boys who are sexually abused act out sexually themselves. (Although it’s true that many who commit sexual offenses experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect as children, the opposite – that boys with those experiences are likely to repeat them – is not true.)
And similarly, while many adults who sexually offend report that they committed their first offense during adolescence, research has shown that the vast majority of adolescents who sexually abuse another child do not continue to sexually abuse children as adults.
But for a child growing to adulthood, all the while secretly carrying the burden of making sense of his childhood trauma, stalking a bogeyman made great sense. When Holthouse finally orchestrated a meeting with the one who abused him, he discovered something very different.
His new perspective and the freedom from his secret pain gave him the hope to finally seek a healthier, happier life. “Stalking the Bogeyman” exquisitely captures the complex steps in this journey of recovery.
Founder and Executive Director of 1in6
Photo Credit: Bruce Glikas, © Broadway.com
Posted by 1in6, Inc. More information available at www.1in6.org.
The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. 1in6′s mission also includes serving family members, friends and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.