My ex-boyfriend, the one who took it upon himself to disclose my abuse to my parents, brought my story to light in 2007. That was 13 years ago. Many people have known about my abuse since that time. It was always the elephant in the room. It was the unspoken truth of my past that lingered for over a decade.
I truly don't blame anyone for my abuse. I was groomed, abused, and dedicated to keeping the secret. It was too painful to talk about, and the two people I disclosed to in my early twenties weaponized it against me, which just made me bury the secret deeper. That is part of almost every survivor's story, trying to forge ahead with the truth of our past always lingering.
I have had to make peace with 2007 onward. I have written about how stigma keeps survivors from disclosing. Stigma also keeps people from supporting survivors once they know the truth. Of course it is a gritty and uncomfortable topic that is extremely hard to discuss. However, survivors need the most support once it is out in the open.
We have lived years feeling alone and invisible. We have been blaming ourselves internally for years as well. When the truth comes out and people still don't feel comfortable supporting us, it validates the stigma, shame, and pain that caused us to keep it secret for so long. As the truth of my abuse stayed quiet, I had validating thoughts of "See there is something wrong with me" or the more prevalent thought of "See, it wasn't that big a deal because no know wants to talk with you about it". What's unsaid causes more stigma.
I know many avoided the topic for years thinking they were protecting me. I know they thought they would cause me more pain if they brought up my abuse. They were waiting for me to feel comfortable and ready to start the conversation. The onus was on me, the survivor, to start the conversation.
People in my life knew since 2007. I know they spoke to each other about their shock and anger, but no one talked to me. No one sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said "You are a sexual abuse survivor. You need to get some help. You deserve to be happy. It wasn't your fault. It doesn't have to be a secret anymore." Survivors might resist. We might say we just want to move on and live life, but just know deep down we are looking for people to look us in the eye and tell us that we need help and that they are there to support us every step of the way.
There were other people I wish I would have heard from once they knew. After they found out about my abuse, my parents went back to talk with the head football coach. They told other coaches and mentors from my adolescence about my abuse. They were shocked and dismayed, much like my parents, but they never reached out. I was one of the young men they mentored for years, but when I needed to hear from them most I didn't.
I also have trouble reconciling that people, like my former coaches, knew but never alerted the school districts where my abuser worked. He was still in the same state. He was athletic director of a team in the same classification as the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs played their football team in the playoffs multiple times. Did their paths not cross?
Until I reported him this year, my abuser was able to advance his career all the way to assistant superintendent of his district. My mom did her best tracking his career. When she would hear through the grapevine he was going for a new job, she would write a letter to the leaders of that district. She tried her best, but others who knew, and had more influence, did not. That has been hard to reconcile, but I am working on it.
I am not writing this blog to blame anyone. There is only one person to blame in my story. I am writing to heal and educate.
Society has made it extremely difficult to talk about male sexual abuse. There truly isn't a space for it and this has to change. It starts with the thousands of people reading this blog. You can help be the change. If you know a survivor, be the person who breaks down the barriers created by societal stigmas and start a conversation. You might have to be uncomfortable. You might have to be persistent, but just know you are making a difference in that survivor's life.
What's unsaid causes more stigma. Let's change this. There are now thousands of people taking the time to read this blog. That is thousands of conversations that can be started with abuse survivors.
That really was a nice try. You snuck through the surge of new friends request I am getting from familiar people from my hometown. But you made some mistakes. You shouldn't of listed your college as the same one both you and your wife attended for your Mater's Degrees. Remember, I knew you then. You also shouldn't of tried to message me with your vague attempts at conversation. You see, the people who have been writing me messages of support have actually taken some time in writing them. Their goal is not engagement. Their goal is support. You were clearly trying to bait me into a conversation. Like I said, nice try.
It doesn't surprise me that you would take the time to create a fake profile. Secrecy is your best friend, an art you have perfected over the years. I am also not surprised you are keeping an eye on my blog. I knew it would make it to you. That was one of the goals sir. Just so you know, over 10,000 people read my blog yesterday. Your time in the shadows is up. And also know, I am not done yet.
I gave you an hour or so to access my profile. I wanted you to see that I overcame you. I have taken every opportunity and adventure put in my path and made the most of them. You couldn't put out the light inside me. You couldn't stop me from seeing the world. You couldn't stop me from starting a family. You might have gotten what you wanted when I was a teen, but you won't take anything from me now. You see, this blog you are reading that someone put in your path is an important and necessary step to stop both you and predators like you.
So nice try. Enjoy your reading. I hope the light I am shining on you is making you very uncomfortable.
Just about 15 years later, I was checking out of Safeway in Honolulu, where I had been living for about 3 years with my husband, when I saw a handsome man wearing a shirt for the Hawaii Gay Flag Football League. For the first time in 15 years, playing football crossed my mind. It would be a great place to meet new people and get some exercise.
Wearing the #15, my number from high school, I got to walk across the stage and hold a National Championship Trophy, playing along side some amazing people who are now lifelong friends. We became a family that weekend in Denver and created a memory none of us will ever forget.
In football you are always looking for a turnover, a fumble or interception, to give your team back possession of the ball. This was the story of how, after 15 years, I gained possession of the game that defined my childhood and brought me hours upon hours of joy as a kid.
Football is mine again and nobody will take that away from me ever again.
Being in Lane 8 meant I could see none of the runners behind me. The fastest qualifying runners would be in lanes 2, 3, and 4 and all of those runners were from 5A metropolitan school in the Albuquerque area. I figured I wouldn't see any of them till about the 2nd turn as they passed me headed toward the final stretch. Lane 8 truly is a killer. You truly are flying blind out there.
My brother was able to leave his football practice early. Since his college team's practice field was right next to the track, he was able to run over after practice to watch. I saw him hanging over a railing down by the finish line. If anything, I would get to see him for a little bit after the race before I headed back to Artesia.
I got in my blocks, the gun went off, and I truly ran for my life. What happened next would be one of the only memories I would allow myself to have in the years after high school. As I predicted, I didn't see another runner the entire race, but not because they passed me. No one passed me because the skinny kid with braces from Artesia in Lane 8 ran the third fastest time in the state, ever, and won the event. I remember rounding the final turn wondering where the hell the other runners were at until I saw Kirk. Yes Kirk. The brother whose shadow I never thought I would escape was jumping up and down like a maniac at the rail by the finish line. That's when I knew I was winning the race. I crossed the finish line, celebrated with my brother, and enjoyed one of the best Springs of my life. That race broke a school record for the 400 meter dash. A record that still stands to this day. I went undefeated in the 400 meter dash that Spring and ended up winning an individual state championship in the 400 meter dash. I went into that summer on cloud 9. I was slated to start on the high school football team that Fall. I was a state champion. I was living every Artesia kid's dream.
But that summer was stolen by my abuser. He used my success to solidify himself as my biggest cheerleader and fan. He used that support to make our "connection" and "relationship" stronger. He was my position coach in football the next year. He was a pole vault coach on the track team the following two years. He was at every football game. He was at every meet. When other kids were sitting in the back of the bus having every right of passage you can imagine, I was sharing a seat with him. The next year at the same meet that made me a temporary star, he made sure to chaperone the trip. I didn't win anything and he was there to "comfort" me in the back of the van as we headed back to Artesia while everyone else had drifted off the sleep for the long ride home. I never won another state championship. I came in 5th the next year and 7th the year after that. I never came within a second of the times I ran that spring. The weight of the "secret" made sure of that.
The haze and fog of my high school years rolled in that summer and never lifted. I withered away for my remaining years. I got very good at playing the role of high school student, and I still have trouble remembering many details of my junior and senior years. I have blocked them out for years and it still shocks me in therapy that I won't allow myself to access that time in my life. I know that is part of trauma recovery and each week we chip away at it, but I know it will be awhile before I come to peace with those years.
In my parent's old boxes, I recently found a trophy I hadn't seen in 20 years. It was the trophy awarded to the Track Athlete of the Year given out by my high school. My trophy says "Track Athlete of the Year, 1999, Jake Robbins". I also found the picture of myself receiving that award. All the track coaches were lined up to shake hands with the award winners. In the picture, I am at the end of the line holding my trophy and the hand I was shaking was his.
Abuse can happen anywhere. Abuse can happen to anyone. The people in my hometown would have never believed what was happening to me. There just wasn't space in our town for this realization. Towns like to stick to narratives they create and Artesia didn't have space to spot the signs of sexual abuse, especially from a high school coach and teacher. That is not blame. It is truth. I don't blame Artesia. I blame my abuser. My hope is that by writing and sharing my story, I can break down stigmas and help create more awareness and safety for possible victims of childhood sexual abuse. Especially in hometowns like mine.
I woke up exhausted today. This past week was a very long one. On top of putting a lot of effort into this project, I also teach 2nd grade in the time of a Corona. Distance Learning is surprisingly exhausting. It is hard to explain to people who are not teachers, but this necessary educational model takes a lot out of teachers. Report cards were due Thursday and parent conferences are this Monday and Tuesday. Needless to say I was pretty much immobile last night and woke up exhausted today.
This project is necessary. I am gaining confidence and clarity as I write and share each post, but it is taking a lot out of me. Truth truly is a scalpel that opens up old wounds so they can heal. I can feel that. It isn't an exciting thing opening up decades old wounds. Some might wonder if it is truly worth it. To me, it is. It did take courage for me to start this journey. I had to trust that I could handle opening up old wounds. But I am happy that I did.
Today wasn't the greatest day. I woke up tired as did the boys. We did a long hike up to a beautiful lake on Mt. Hood and no one, except Derrick, were at their best. But Oregon always has a way of showing up for me. When we rounded the bend in the trail and saw the frozen lake with a snow capped mountain backdrop, I felt the happiness I had been searching for all morning long.
There will be good days. There will be bad days. The important thing is to learn and grow as the days pass by.
The point is visibility. The point is making a mark in the social media landscape that will hopefully be seen by the right person at the right time. I am writing this in a way that will help a survivor who might stumble across it one day. I realize that the impact of my blog might take months or even years. I am completely o.k with this.
I haven't really been tracking any movement on social media. I watched the Social Dilemma on Netflix twice, so I don't have social media apps on my phone. When I do get a break from online teaching, I usually check my blog traffic. That is what I want to know. Who is actually clicking the link to the blog and taking the time to read it. Likes on Facebook and Instagram are awesome and appreciated, but actually reading my blog is the intended outcome.
The first few days, the traffic was exactly what I expected. It was very low. I really was fine with the numbers. It was almost a relief. Vulnerability is powerful but exhausting so having a smaller audience almost took some pressure off. Maybe it would be best if I finished out the project and the blog took off later? I still feel that way. I have over 20 days left on this journey and most nights and early mornings I am not sure what to write about anyway.
To my surprise, the traffic spiked significantly the past two days. I am not talking about thousands of visits, but it was a significant enough spike that I took notice. Was it a Facebook share? Was it a retweet? I checked my social media platforms and saw that neither of those things had happened. But over a two day span, I had received some pretty heartfelt messages from people from my high school and hometown. I had an uptick in friend request from Artesia natives. That is when I realized, my blog was being shared by people in my hometown.
This didn't need to happen publicly on Facebook, but it did need to happen. I am still healing and I have complicated feelings about the town where I was born and raised. Like I have written, there is a hazy fog over my years there, especially my teenage ones so hearing from Artesians has been surprisingly healing. It feels like another step in reclaiming my hometown. After all those years of feeling like no one really cared about me, it has meant a lot to know people who I grew up with are reading this and do care. Abuse happens everywhere, even in small towns focused on creating an idealistic upbringing for children.
I also wonder how long it will be before he sees this. I wonder how long it will be before someone unknowingly starts a path for him to read these very words. I hope he does someday. I already took his job. I already did my part to not allow him to have direct contact with children and teens, but I hope he does read about his impact on me. I hope he reads how I overcame his abuse and now have the strength to write about it. I am not done sharing. I am not done telling my story. I am not done shining light on my abuser and predators like him who need to be pulled from the shadows.
So I conclude by writing directly to my fellow Bulldogs. I want you to keep sharing. I know this story may shock many of you and that many of you will feel the desire to send it to another classmate of ours with a message of "did you see this". Do it! If I want this story to grow anywhere, it should start where it all began. I might of fell short under the bright lights of Bulldog Bowl, but I am hoping to rise up under the bright lights of the love and support of fellow Artesians.
It is fitting that I am writing this on a Friday. This is the day our town would turn orange and black, almost every single resident dawning clothes supporting our local teams. The heart of our town bleeds orange and black and today I feel the support from thousands of miles away. It is great to be a Bulldog!
My abuse continued through my first year of college. Yes, I was over 18 at that point. I was an adult in the eyes of many, but I was still clutched by the emotional connection that my abuser cultivated. I don't remember much of my freshman year at the University of New Mexico. The memories are encased in the same fog as my high school years. I didn't have many friends and I don't have any memories of classic college freshman shenanigans. I just floated through the year playing the role of new college student who finally left his small hometown. I was a little lost. I thought maybe I could major in psychology or something. That sounded like a cool thing to say.
That all changed my sophomore year, when I took a work study job at the University's child care center for staff and students. That is where I found my love of teaching. My true memories of college began on the Children's Campus and not the campus of my college. I worked with all ages over the years but landed in the before and after school program for school-aged kids. Not long after, I enrolled in the School of Education and completed my degree in Elementary Education. I severed ties with my abuser in my first fews months of working at the center. I came out as a gay man not long after and finally started down the path of living my own life.
I love children's books. I have grown my collection over the years. My happy place in Portland is Powell's Books. Their children's section is huge and I can spend hours in there looking for the next great book to share with my students. In a book hunt a year or so ago, I found a book that I connected with on so many levels.
So as a teacher, I will tell you the story now and the connection I made with the story because good readers build comprehension by making connections to the books they ready (said in my teacher voice).
Norman was a perfectly normal kid, until one day he grew beautiful, colorful wings. His first flight was amazing. It was unlike anything he ever experienced, but then self-doubt and shame crept in as he landed back on solid ground. He worried that everyone would see him as different or weird. So as he went home, he found his large winter coat and covered his wings. For months, he wouldn't take the coat off. He missed out on so many experiences. He couldn't swim with his friends or play without getting too hot, but his shame kept the coat on him day after day. One day he let himself remember his first flight after he grew wings. He remembered the feeling of joy as he flew through the air. It was then that he realized it was the coat that was making him miserable and not his wings. The coat was suffocating him. So, he finally took it off and let himself fly. He was back up in the air feeling happy and free. And then the most amazing thing happened as he looked down at the ground. He saw other kids taking off their heavy coats and letting their wings out. Before he knew it he was flying side by side with other kids with bright colored wings. He wasn't normal at all and that was perfectly ok. He was perfectly Norman. That was all the mattered.
I brought that book down from the shelf yesterday and read it because that is what I am trying to do here, on my blog, with sharing my story. All these years, it wasn't the abuse that was weighing me down. I survived my abuse. I created a beautiful life for myself. It was the secrecy, shame, and guilt that kept me from letting my wings out. It was the belief that the abuse was my fault that kept me from flying. The secrecy of what happened was suffocating.
But just like Norman, I finally had this realization that taking off this coat would finally let me fly. So I started a blog and decided to share my story for 30 days leading up to my 38th birthday. I started this personal project to round out a year where I finally accepted myself as a sexual abuse survivor.
As I tear off my coat and take flight, I hope to have the same impact as Norman. I hope I can help other survivors tear off their coats and take flight.
This is why I am here. This is why I am writing. I am perfectly Jake. And that is perfectly o.k
Thanks for reading. But the book Perfectly Norman here https://www.powells.com/book/perfectly-norman-9781681197852
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner explains the six stages that can lead up to sexual molestation.The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by instilling in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs. He describes 6 stages of the grooming process in an article for Oprah (Source).
1. Targeting the victim
This process with my abuser began for me in 6th grade, the same age my son is now. I am from a small town where constant parental oversight wasn't necessary. Artesia prided itself around it's dedication to children. While my abuse didn't start in 6th grade, the grooming did. My parents recently moved in with my family and brought with them a few boxes of old photos and items from my childhood. I found my 6th grade yearbook and found my abusers name signed in the book. That signature brought back the memories of the inappropriate conversations he would have with me. Conversations about his physical relationship with his wife or the strip clubs he visited in Vegas that year. The kid in that yearbook. The kid who labeled himself "cool" had been targeted and didn't even know it yet.
Stage 2: Gaining the victim's trust
The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. My abuser was a teacher and a coach. My grooming was able to take place over years as I matured and moved toward high school. I know now that he didn't act sooner because he was abusing someone older than me. It was like he was creating a line up of victims to account for kids growing up and leaving town.
Stage 3: Filling a need
Once the sex offender begins to fill the child's needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child's life and may become idealized. In the time my grooming intensified, I was in the shadow of my brother. My brother was a huge star in our town. He was one of the best wide receivers the town had seen at that point. He was on his way to a Division 1 full ride scholarship at the state college and was a really big deal. While I was successfully working myself through the junior high and junior varsity football programs, everyone, including myself, wondered if I would ever live up to the expectations having a star athlete brother brings. I know it sounds so silly and very much an adolescent right of passage to feel this insecure as an early adolescent. The only difference for me is that I had been targeted. My abuser seized this insecurity and used it to deepen the "relationship" and "connection" we had. He was going to be my position coach after all. He could guide me to meet these expectations.
Stage 4: Isolating the child
The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. I still remember all these moments. His car pulling into our driveway when my parents were away or occupied, just stopping by to chat or play video games. He would take me on long drives in country roads. He would bring me little gifts from his trips with his wife. He cultivated a special relationship creating a sense in me that he loved and appreciated me in a way that others, not even my parents, provided. Looking back it all makes sense to me. He was using these tactics to lay a foundation of trust to isolate me from others.
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship.At that point, the adult exploits a child's natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. He escalated his talk of his sexual history. At that point, I had never had any sexual encounters at all in my life. Then it was another visit to play another round of video games. It was a bet that the loser would give the loser a hand job. He lost of course. It just escalated after that. I still remember how he approached intercourse. Telling me he had read in a book at a bookstore that there was no danger in two men having sex. I was 14 at this point. Of course I went along with this. The emotional connection was locked down and he led me right where he wanted me.
Stage 6: Maintaining control
Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child's continued participation and silence. In a fiercely conservative and religious town, secrecy was completely necessary. He assured me secrecy made our "relationship" even more special. So as my high school years went on so did the country drives, visits to his classroom on weekend afternoons when he was planning, and night time visits to the garage behind his home. The longer it went on, the deeper the "connection" grew as did the need for secrecy. If people saw us getting closer and closer, then they might suspect something. Every time a community member, friend, or family member would comment on how close we were or raised questions about the time we spent together, the deeper the need for secrecy grew as did the need to turn to my abuser to help me keep the secret. It was a sad and vicious cycle.
This was not an easy post to write, but it is a necessary one. I am writing it to answer the questions people might have about "how does this happen" and/or "how are abusers able to coax children into abusive situations". Abusers have a plan. They fine tune it through the years as the leave more and more victims in their wake. If you have your own kids or children in your life you love and adore, keep an eye out for adults who exhibit these behaviors. It just takes one person to break through and stop it. Abusers are skilled, very skilled. But it takes just one vigilant person in a child's life that tears down the wall of the emotional manipulation and stops the abuse.
Thank you for reading. I pulled a lot of information from the following article.
Meditating is hard. No one tells you that. You can't just light a few candles. put on some Enya, and go right into enlightenment. The human mind is intense and always racing, especially mine. So trying to sit still in one place for even 10 minutes was something I had to convince myself I could even do. I use to hate slowing down. The feeling of inadequacy, shame, and anxiety would be so overwhelming that I needed to just keep moving opting for mindless activities that I felt would drown out my ever racing mind. Just keep moving...
But as time has gone on, I am improving. My therapist always reminds me that is is a practice, which means you have to practice. So here I am each morning clearing my mind and checking in with myself. It's been such a huge part of healing journey which is what I share it with you now.
I have a little ritual. I love to sage. I really do. To me, it really feels like it clears out the negative energy around the house. If you would have told me a year ago that I would be a guy walking around his house each day with a sage stick I most likely would have laughed in your face. But nonetheless, I sage each day.
I even have a crystal I use during meditation. Yes, a crystal! I hold and use an amethyst that is aimed at rebalancing, protection, and alleviating anxiety, fatigue and stress. I have learned that the use of talismans and amulets dates back to the beginnings of humankind, so I can't write off the use of crystals some hippy dippy practice. Egyptians and Greeks believed in the power of crystals. Chinese culture highly values jade as does the Maoris of New Zealand who are known to wear jade amulets representing the ancestor spirits, which were passed down many generations through the male line. Use of crystals for healing are referenced in the Bible, Koran, and Buddhist teachings. So while I felt silly at first incorporating healing crystals into my life, I now know the use of them are an ancient practice that I should not roll my eyes at or mock.
I have learned that it is important to find things, practices, and time to ground me each day in walking down my healing path. Its not about worrying what anyone else would think about these practices or items, its about how they make me feel and how they help me. It is teaching me to pause throughout the day, breathe, and realize that I am doing my best. Healing and healing practices take time. Breaking decades long patterns of thought is not an easy task. But I am still here each morning dedicating myself to starting each day with a positive mindset and hopeful feelings about the day ahead.
I found interesting data on the website https://www.mhanational.org/ that helped me validate that these stigmas do exist in our society. According to this organization, the male population of the United State is somewhere around 152,000,000. And of those of 152,000,000, 6 million suffer from depression or some other former of mental anguish and of course much of male depression goes undiagnosed. 19.1 million people are diagnosed with anxiety disorder and of those 3 million men have panic attacks, agoraphobia, and other phobias. But according to this organization, men are far more likely to report fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest in work and other hobbies before they will ever report feelings of sadness and worthlessness. And this is pretty scary because it leads to a large proportion of men committing suicide. Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. In 2010, a total of 38, 364 people committed suicide and 3 quarters of those were men. The stigma men face in terms on mental health have serious consequences leading to millions of men falling victim to substance abuse and alcohol dependence. As a gay man, it saddens me to see that gay men are most at risk for the serious consequences of unsupported mental crises.
I have lived in that stigma. My mom was a social worker and my dad a minister. They supported people for years with deep life traumas, but social stigmas are so rooted in this country's perceived masculinity complex, that even I didn't recognize my strong need for mental health treatment and therapy.
I am one of the lucky ones, because last fall I just couldn't take hating myself anymore. I hated that I could never full be present in any beautiful life moment. The pain and self-doubt from the trauma of my sexual abuse was always there reminding me that I was unworthy of continued happiness. Then I finally sought help and began therapy. It wasn't easy at first. It took time to truly give myself over to the process, but I will be forever grateful that I did. I found the right therapist at the right time, and the process has taken me far down my healing path the past year. I was able to finally accept my abuse and then go through the agonizing process of reporting my abuser.
I engaged in EMDR, which is "a phased, focused approach to treating traumatic and other symptoms by reconnecting in a safe and measured way to the images, self-thoughts, emotions, and body sensations associated with the trauma, and allowing the natural healing powers of the brain to move toward adaptive resolution." This therapy is what helped me trace a line from every feeling of self doubt and self hate back to the trauma stemming from my abuse. It was eye opening and so important to my healing.
The social stigmas of this society's perception of what it means to be masculine need to be erased. There has to be space to let men be vulnerable because in my mind, vulnerability is the bravest, strongest, and most masculine thing ever. It takes more grit and toughness to accept mental anguish and model how to grow from it.
It took me years to get here, but I am so grateful I have. I am Jake. I am a sexual abuse survivor and thriver.
A used information from the following website in this post.
Day 2 of my 30 day visibility project....Thank you for joining me on this journey!
30 days, 30 posts, 30 day of putting myself out here to try to make change.
I am 30 days away from turning 38. While 38 truly feels like a random birthday, it means a lot of me. Just over a year ago I started my journey of healing. I now know that healing is a life long journey but it took me nearly 24 years to step foot on this path. 24 years since I was that 14 year old kid who was sexually abused by someone I trusted. Someone who was suppose to help guide me through the formative years of my life. Someone who was my teacher and coach.
So why am I doing this personal project of visibility on my social media platforms? Because we can make these platform what we want. They are ours, and I want mine, for the next 30 days, to be about bringing light to one story of abuse in hopes of making space for other survivors while also educating the people in my life about the path survivors take in a quest of healing.
Invisibility is one of the main obstacles. Processing through the invisibility of being abused to the invisibility of the pain that I have been living with for decades that no one could see. It created a complex of no one truly caring or the thoughts that what happened was not “a big deal”. These are not truths I want to carry anymore.
So I will put myself out here and make this visible for myself. This is an important step for me. Writing these thoughts each day and sharing them in vulnerable way will break me out of this trace of invisibility. I also hope it is my attempt to remove the stigma of male sexual abuse so more space can be created for survivors like myself. This will be uncomfortable for me as I share my story and write “male sexual abuse survivor” each day. It will uncomfortable for you as well, as the stigma that comes with this subject is hard for people to hear. You might think it is over sharing or an attention grab. It will be uncomfortable, but I am hoping that I, and those who join or follow my journey, will grow in that discomfort. Otherwise, just keep scrolling.
I AM a male sexual abuse survivor.
I know you are still sitting there in that locker, after your first game as starting wide receiver under the bright lights of Bulldog Bowl. You dropped two passes while others rose to the occasion and introduced themselves as the stars of the new season. I still picture you sitting in the locker, falling apart, feeling invisible. You are beating yourself up because now everyone knows you never deserved to be there in the first place. He put you there, that was the only reason. He was your position coach and just months early he made his play and began the abuse, right under the noses of those cheering fans who create the wave of orange in the stands every Friday night.
I know this is the first of many moments where you begin to feel the crack inside of you. This is one of the many moments where you begin to feel invisible. I want you to know that it is not for fault. You are just a kid. He knows this. He sees your vulnerability and he is preying upon you. He has his own sickness inside him that he cannot control, and you are the latest victim. Yes, there are others. There are kids who have walked the same halls as you that have felt the same isolation and invisibility that you do right now. It will be many years before you know this, but there are others.
This is not your fault Jake. You have been manipulated. There is nothing wrong with you. You deserved your place on that field. You worked so hard for it. You love football, and you always will, but your struggles have nothing to do with your ability. He is taking this moment from you. He will be the first person to assure you and comfort you as you continue to fall short of expectations. It is not your fault Jake. He planted the seed of self-doubt and then nurtured it as they grew into a dependence on him to find comfort while he got what he always wanted. So he could have sex with you young boy.
You have a light inside you Jake. Your smile lights up a room. You are intelligent and people like you. You care about people and you have the same insecurities as every other kid in your school. However, they are lucky enough to not have someone seize those insecurities to abuse them. Yes Jake, you are being abused. What is happening to you is not normal and it is also not your fault. I am so sorry that you will have to finish your high school years, the years that should some of the best of your life, withering away while sinking deeper into self-doubt. It's not your fault Jake.
You will leave that town. You will get away. You will continue to feel lost until a work study job just two years after your escape will lead you to the campus childcare center. You will find your love of children and education. You will let education take you across the country which will open your eyes to a world so far from that tiny town in the dusty Southeast corner of your home state.
You will still have endure some relationships that will also prey on the self-doubt he planted inside of you. There will be rough times from the next half decade, but just know you will persist. You will persevere because you will remain hopeful and optimistic despite everything you will have endured.
But you will meet a man who truly loves you. Who sees right through fog of despair and pain, right to the man behind all the insecurity and doubt. You both will decide that you want to start a family and will decide to help the most vulnerable kids. Kids in foster care.
On your 29th birthday, you will hear about a sibling group that needs a home. Your will meet your eventual sons, who will steal your heart and push you to be a better man every day for the next decade.
You see Jake, you will never give up. The pain and invisibility you feel right now as you sit in that locker will stay with you for 20 years. It will keep you floating above yourself, keeping you from truly living in the present moment. You see Jake, you will grow and change but you still be me, almost 38 years old, stuck in that locker and stuck in that town. I will still be you so hurt and unsure, wanting so badly to truly heal.
It is not your fault Jake. It was never my fault. I am writing this letter to you because I need to finally let you go. You will always be a part of me. You will never truly leave. But I need to live in my now. I need to live in the present moments I have worked so hard to create for us.
But in order to do that, I just needed to let you know that what is happening to you now and the pain you feel now is not your fault. I needed to let you know that it will all be ok. That light inside you will never truly dim. You are so much stronger than you know young man. You will be ok. I promise. Now I must go.
With so much love,
I still sit here waiting so see what will happen. Will there be any action against The Coach's license. It is starting to wear a little thin. I know there is enough to make sure he doesn't work with children anymore. I have faith in the investigation, but the waiting in so hard. But there are still lingering thoughts..."Will they believe me?...Did I do enough?...Will anyone even care once action is taken?...Does my story even matter?
I call every couple of weeks for an update. I am always told that a decision "will come soon". I do know that he was fired from his position as assistant superintendent in his district month's ago. He hasn't been sitting on administrative leave as the investigation plays itself out. That was a relief.
I have been busy, following my known matters of filling my life with productivity to mask the pain, insecurity, and crippling anxiety. I am teaching again, which in a pandemic has been intense. I teach each day for hours as I also manage and assist with my children's learning. Time is flying by and at times my healing feels like it is drifting away. I am fighting to make sure that I don't bury it anymore. That I won't let the mask of productivity stop my healing journey.
I am still here waiting.
I remember getting the call from The Coach out of the blue early in the morning of March 1st, 2004. He was frantic and panicked. He told me that The Kid had murdered his mother the previous evening and was currently on the run.
I had met The Kid in 2002 when I was helping The Coach with a football camp at his new school. He was a quiet kid and the most athletic player on the team. I knew The Coach had high hopes for his football career, but I wasn’t at a point where I saw the true connection between myself and The Kid. The Coach had already picked his next victim. The Kid and I just didn’t know it yet.
Once I got The Coach calmed down, he explained in more detail what had happened. He told he about The Kid’s abusive and alcoholic mother. He said The Kid just snapped and attacked his mother with a knife and then fled. He also explained how The Kid and him had been out on a drive earlier that spring. The Coach told The Kid about the “relationship” we had. He told him how special it had been for us. The Kid, who had a girlfriend, told him that he thought he might be bisexual. I didn’t need to hear any more to know where things lead after that conversation. I had been in that same truck on that same drive.
I heard from The Coach later that day. The Kid had been found hanging in his uncle’s house one town over. He had committed suicide. He was 17.
The Kid has been someone I could never put out of my mind. He is a guilt I carry with me on my healing journey. If I had reported him in high school, The Kid wouldn’t have ever been on that drive with him. Once he was fired in Artesia, I could have told my story to make sure he could never work again, but I wasn’t strong enough. The Coach’s years of emotional manipulation lead me to look out for him and not me. I never said anything. I fled to college. The Coach fled to the Indian Reservation and right into this kid’s life. When I wish I had the strength to disclose sooner, it is The Kid’s face I see. He was only 17. He still had so much life ahead of him.
I went deep into Google to find this kid’s full name. I only had his first name which made finding him difficult. I searched the archives of the small town newspapers in the area of the reservation. I couldn’t find anything and the small town newspapers didn’t have archives that went back that far. I got luck thought. I found a newspaper archive website that claimed to have the archives of all the New Mexico newspapers, but of course it required a subscription. I saw that I could join for a 72 hour free trial. I joined and knew I had a short period of time to get the information I needed and then cancel my account before they charged me the $100 membership fee.
It didn’t take long. Once I entered the kids first name with the key words “murder” and “suicide”, I found him and the many stories about his tragic end.
The stories of his death were so sad, but it was the other articles I found that broke my heart. The article documenting his sports career. He turned out to be the quarterback of The Coach’s team. I read about his heroics in the teams only win of their first season. I read about this quest to qualify for the State track meet in 2003. He worked hard and qualified, but didn’t place at State. He was quoted as saying he would come back strong the next year. There wasn’t an article about him that didn’t also include a quote from The Coach. The quotes talked of his potential, his work ethic, and how he was such a great kid.
I found an article of him from his church’s newsletter. He spent the summer of 2003 helping to restore an old catholic mission on the reservation. There was a picture of him with a big smile and they refurbished the adobe walls.
I do not put The Kid’s tragic fate solely on The Coach’s shoulders. The Kid had a whole deck stacked against him. His life most certainly would have been an uphill battle and that is what disgusts me. It disgusts me that The Coach used this kid’s vulnerability to build a relationship with him. He used that relationship to sexually abuse him. The kid already had a life filled with turmoil. He needed someone to help him. He needed someone to love him. He didn’t need someone to abuse him. He didn’t need someone to add even more confusion into his already turbulent life. It is this story, even above mine, that disgusts and enrages me. This story shows the magnitude of The Coach’s disgusting behavior.
I still see The Kid’s face and imagine the pain he must have been feeling as he put that noose around his neck. I couldn’t show up for him then, but I can show up for him now. I want to make sure The Coach won’t take advantage of kids anymore. I won’t allow him to prey on the vulnerability of children. His time is up.
I organized all the newspaper articles I complied into a folder on my desktop. The next day I called Jeremy, the investigator, to let him know that I found The Kid’s first and last name. He let me know that this was great news and asked if I could send him the files once we hung up. He also said this would be a good addition to the report he had already filed with the department’s prosecutor. I paused. He continued to tell me that he felt the three statements he received plus the prior action on his license was enough to take action on his license. The information on The Kid would only make the case against The Coach stronger.
I was happy to hear my efforts would help the case, but my heart still ached for The Kid. His story wasn’t even necessary to bring justice to The Coach. If I had done none of my research, my case would have been strong enough to send up the ladder, and that was devastating.
This is why I have to continue the story and the fight. The Kid is the reason why. I cannot let the 4 newspaper articles of his tragic end by the closing of his story. There is no way to know if The Coach sexually abused The Kid. That chapter was closed with a casket being lowered into the ground. But, I know. I know he was also a victim of this man, and I am connected to him much like I am to the man from my hometown. We share a bond formed in the depths of uncertainty and pain The Coach caused in each of us.
I will never forget The Kid. I will keep those stories on my desktop so I don’t forget who this journey is for. It is for me and every kid who has lived through abuse. It is for The Kid. I will take him with me on this journey and hope that somewhere in the universe he will be given a small sense of peace.
Jeremy let me know one more thing before we hung up the phone. He let me know that The Coach has been put on administrative leave until the end of the investigation. I hope he feels the walls closing in around him.
Got a message for another survivor. A woman. The same town. The same coach. She saw my Facebook post and reached out to me. There are now 3 of us.
I am not alone. I knew there were other survivors in the world. I had seen them on Oprah and documentaries. But I am not alone in my story. This is the second person who came forward, anonymously, to me that experienced the same abuse, in the same town, that I had. I am not alone in my story. I am not alone in picturing this man's face alongside every feeling of self-loathing. Both of the fellow survivors had the same "relationship" with this man and have been living with the emotional fall out for decades.
I reached out to her that afternoon and we spoke. We didn't run in the same circles in our hometown. We knew each other in the same way everyone in a small town knows each other, but we never knew we had this connection between us. Our conversation wasn't deep. It was just an acknowledgment that we both existed within the same story. We didn't share a lot of personal details about our "special time" with The Coach. We just let each other know that we "see" each other.
I left the conversation feeling proud of myself for creating space for this woman to tell her story to the investigator. For once, she got to tell her story, out loud, to someone who could actually be able to hold The Coach responsible. But I also felt something else.
You see, this is the woman, who was once the girl, that removed The Coach from my hometown. While I am not sure where she was in the grooming process, The Coach was clearly in the process of entering his next "relationship" as I left town for college. But she had a sister that fought for her. She had a sister that saw the developing odd "relationship" and knew it wasn't right. She knew there had to be more to the story. So her sister hacked her email and shared some emails with the school district that got The Coach fired. She was the reason he disappeared.
While I was proud of myself for creating space, I was still left feeling invisible. While I don't blame my family for my abuse, the remnants of sadness and resentment that no one in my family was responsible for running him out of town still exist. My complex of invisibility can be traced back to these feelings. There was no one in my life that can be blamed for my abuse. The only one to blame is The Coach. But I still yearn for those years in high school and envision someone coming in to rescue me. I wish someone had hacked my email, or followed me to his house late in the evening where he would have me park in the back so we could meet in his garage once his wife fell asleep. I know that looking back isn't healthy. But that is what I felt when hanging up from my conversation with this woman.
I am so happy she reached out to me. It helped push me to keep going in my journey to bring light to my story. But as is the case when healing from my abuse, I was left with complex and complicated feelings.
I check his district website each week to see if there have been any changes. Today I found his name missing from the staff page of the website. In fact, I couldn’t find any of his information listed anywhere on the website. I dug deeper and found an agenda to that night’s school board meeting. At the top of the agenda was an hour long closed executive session with a statute alluding to the executive meeting being closed because of attorney client privilege. My mom and I dug a little deeper and saw that statute usually applies to meeting dealing with licensure, personal changes, and firings.
This executive session could have been for something completely unrelated to my case. After seeing his missing name from their website, I have a strong feeling this session was to plan his exit. I know they would like to keep this resignation or termination quiet. Little do they know, I will not go away that quietly. Soon, I hope that State is made aware of The Coach and his actions. His day of reckoning is not quite here. He will just have to wait.
I honestly don’t know or remember much about the other man that I was convinced was abused by The Coach. I knew that he was from a prominent family in Artesia who ran in the same circles as the head coach and many other families who were considered golden legacies producing some of the town’s biggest football stars. His dad was a large football booster and this man was a decent football player at best during his time under the lights of the Bullbog Bowl. I have also heard that after I came out in the summer of 2003 he drove up and down Main Street telling anyone who listened about my coming out. I can pretty much guarantee his intentions weren’t supportive ones.
I had always wondered about this man as his relationship with The Coach.
So, I was quite surprised to see a Facebook message appear on my screen telling this man would like to send me a message. Here is what he wrote to me:
Hey Jake!! I love seeing you being happy and your beautiful family! I wasn't sure how to get ahold of you and/or if you even care but (The Coach) was a bad person to me for over 3 years in Artesia. I don't know if he was good to you or bad to you but he’s being investigated by the FBI. A student recently killed himself because of the actions of (The Coach). Anyways they are heavily investigating him all the way back to his years in Artesia and didn’t know if you might have any info. They are taking anonymous statements. Hope you continue living life with that great smile! So happy for you.
Now, the PED was investigating The Coach, not the FBI. Also, the student who killed himself was a much more complicated story than he knew. But, it shocked me that he had reached out. I wasn’t expecting to hear from him at all, but here we were.
My first thought after hearing that he reported was “we got the fucker”. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but this man’s statement made my case so much stronger. I couldn’t possibly imagine how The Coach could escape these developments.
I received sporadic messages from this man over the next few weeks, mostly sharing his anger and his desire for justice. He told me that he told his family and that they wanted to sue The Coach, Artesia, and anyone who might have known and did nothing. I felt his pain and anger. I have been on my journey for 10 months and this man was just at the start of his journey. I was surrounded by people who support me. I have a patient and supporting husband and parents who are determined to show up for me in this difficult time. I don’t know this man’s family, but I can assume, based off their very public religious and political beliefs, that this man doesn’t have the space I have to heal. I am hoping there is space created for him to cope and heal.
I believe that everyone has their own path to healing and I am sensing that this man and his family need to work through their anger towards the situation by suing and punishing everyone involved. My hope is that eventually they can heal through compassion, empathy, and love. I hope they can create a space for this man to feel supported in path to healing.
Interacting with this man helped me define my own path. I have no desire to sue or be compensated in any way. I find peace in helping to create space for others to speak their truth. I know there are other victims out there and I want to create a space where they can tell their story. I want to give a voice to every child The Coach took advantage of during his time as a trusted educator and mentor. They deserve to heard. I deserve to be heard and when this man is ready he deserves to be heard too.
I felt many emotions after receiving the initial message from this man. It has been hard to absorb his pain knowing exactly how he feels and how much hurt is inside of him. But he has his journey to follow and hopefully a new future filled with the security, happiness, and calm that comes with accepting and overcoming sexual abuse.
I am working to feel pride in the fact that I created the space for this man to report. I gathered every ounce of courage I possess and I reported The Coach, giving this man and hopefully many other a path to report. I did that.
I was super worried that I would find a ticket on my windshield. While hiking down from a morning exploring Lower Twin Lake on Mt. Hood, I had the realization that my parks pass was hanging in Derrick’s window and I hadn’t paid the 5 dollar day pass fee. Luckily, there was no ticket on my windshield. I was relived and happy that a morning spent decompressing from what I considered a “failed” interview didn’t end with a flapping yellow citation.
Once I turned on to Highway 26, I finally got a few bars of cellphone signal. My phone pinged with a voicemail from Jeremy Garcia asking me to call him back. I wasn’t expecting this, so I called once I had a full signal. The boys were entranced with a movie in the backseat, so I has some time to kill on the 45 minute drive back into town.
From the minute the call connected, I could tell this conversation would be more casual. There was no recording necessary and Jeremy was just calling to update me. He had interview my mom that morning which had gone well. Both her and I had mentioned how The Coach had been fired from his job in Artesia for inappropriate communication with a sophomore girl. However, my mom and I were convinced that Artesia Public School had done nothing other than let me go quietly. We didn’t think they had reported anything to the PED. Jeremy informed us that after some digging, he found that Artesia did in fact report him to the PED in 2001 and that “something had happened to his license”.
He also mentioned that my mom had given him the name of a man a few years older than me who was suspected of having suffered abuse from The Coach as well. I confirmed what I had heard of this man, but also let Jeremy know that a statement would be a long shot. This man was from a super conservative family with very strong religious beliefs. I mentioned all this to him and wished him luck. Jeremy told me that between the report to the PED in 2001 as well as the interviews with my mom and I he felt he had enough to send to his department’s prosecutor to make a determination on any actions on The Coach’s license. However, he did mention that the other man’s statement would be a great help to his investigation. I wanted to tell him not to hold his breathe.
The call ended and a smile spread across my face because Jeremy has left me with one other anecdote. He had interviewed The Coach the day before. Without giving any details to their conversation, he let me know that he was panicked. Good, I thought. It is his turn to live with anxiety. I hope he lost every bit of sleep that night knowing a storm was building on his horizon.
I came through the door flustered. The past 2 hours were spent criss-crossing our town catching on some necessary errands with two boys who would have preferred the dentist over tagging along with me. As I came through the front door, my phone began to buzz with an incoming call. I get so many spam calls nowadays that I usually just reject the call and move on with life. However, the number had the familiar 505 area code flashing Santa Fe, New Mexico on my screen. Hoping it was the investigator, I answered the call. The caller introduced himself as Jeremy Garcia and asked if I had time to give my interview about my abuse. Knowing that I needed a few moments to gather myself, I told Jeremey to call me back in 15 minutes so I could get my children settled.
Once I sent the boys out to play, I went to my office. I tried my best to breathe and collect myself, but I quickly realized that I was not at all prepared for this interview. I had meant to write down all the details I could remember coupled with a timeline of my abuse. Seeing as I had no idea when Jeremy would call me, I kept putting it off. With 5 minutes left before Jeremy was due to call me back, I started to frantically write down a timeline of my abuse. I hit all the major years and quickly built out my timeline from grooming to the conclusion of my abuse.
Jeremy called me back and told me that he would be recording the call. He got on his recording phone and the interview began. There were no pleasantries. There was no small talk. It was all business. There was no fluff. Jeremy is not a counselor or support professional. He is an investigator. His first questions was "Ok Mr. Lee, can you tell me why we are on this call right now?" I began my story, giving as much detail as I could remember. He asked very few follow up questions. In total he asked me about 5 questions. The final two gave me pause and made my heart sink. He asked if I could think of and distinguishing marks in any of The Coach's private areas. I couldn't remember any and stumbled through that question. I wasn't expecting that type of question. He then asked if I had kept any notes, gifts, or items that were given to me by The Coach during the time period of my abuse. I hadn't kept anything. Shame had me discard every picture, every note, and anything related to my so called "relationship". I wasn't expecting that question either.
The interview ended quickly. Jeremy gave me the obligatory timeline and assurance that they will be in touch in the future.
The quick interview left me in a haze for the rest of the day. The feeling that I hadn't given a believable or compelling interview had me feeling depleted. It was the first time I realized that The Coach could get away with his abuse. Ultimately, it was my word against his. Yet, it took so much emotional strength to get to this place and thinking that it wouldn't matter was a crushing blow.
I spoke with my family about my interviews. I shared me concerns about noting happening to The Coach. My mom attempted to build me up by stating "you did this for yourself." She told me that I could being to find peace knowing I did the right thing for myself above everything else.
It was a nice thought, but I was starting to realize that simply reporting was not enough. I have a story to tell. My story is not just for me. My story is for every boy who was abuse. My story is for every boy who had their innocence taken from them. My story is for the men who have grown up feeling worthless. My story is not over.
My mom grabbed my Dad’s arm and said, “This is too much we are going back downstairs”. That was the conclusion of an hour long, vicious fight with my Dad at our kitchen island. What began as a disagreement over our boys, developed into a full blown airing of grievances. While this fight was intense and angry, I was able to finally speak my truth to my Dad and by extension my Mom. The delivery was not great but the message was my truth.
In therapy, one of the main themes of my work is reframing my negative self-belief that I am invisible. The belief that no matter what, I will never matter. While I don’t blame my parents for my abuse, this feeling of getting abused right in front of my family and the small town I grew up in has always surfaced in my thinking. That belief fed the darkness and helped grow the ever expanding insecurity growing within me. Why didn’t anyone help me? How could people truly not know? It must be because I wasn’t important enough to matter to anyone. And when I truly felt that I didn’t matter to anyone else, it was an easy gateway into not mattering to or believing in myself.
It was actually after another epic fight in 2007, between my father and I, that my parents found out about my abuse.
The man from my turbulent relationship hated my parents. He could never truly control me with my parents in the picture. He picked apart every interaction I had with my parents, especially my mother. He hated my mother because 6 months into our relationship, on a hunch, she ran a background check on him. She was a social worker for 35 years, so she knew to trust her gut on this hunch. She found, and revealed to me, that he had a pretty sordid past. He had multiple DWI’s and a restraining order placed on him by a previous boyfriend which he violated resulting in an overnight stay in jail. The jail stay happened in the early months of our relationship, when we were still living apart, and he told me he was visiting a friend in the mountains where there was no reception. There was also a court date he had to attend once we did live together that he did not tell me about till much later. For the first year of our relationship, he had to attend anger management therapy as part of his plea deal.
He already had me in his clutches. Even after receiving all this concerning information, I was unable to break away. And from that point forward, he hated my mother and did what ever he could to drive a wedge between us.
He was truly the only person I ever disclosed to until recently. I started dating my first boyfriend just a few weeks after I broke things off with The Coach, so I didn’t have to disclose. We just treated that as my previous “relationship”. But the turbulent boyfriend knew it was abuse and held on to this information waiting for the perfect moment to punish my mother.
My dad and I just finished another epic fight and I had gone into his room to work it out once our tempers mellowed. My mom was concerned about the quick escalation of our argument and wondered aloud why I was so angry. In that moment, without any permission from me, he said, “Oh you didn’t know about his abuse in high school”. I made peace with my Dad and we left the next day. This man said nothing to me about disclosing my abuse to my mom. I had to find out a few days later when I called to hear her crying on the other end of the line. She told me what had happened.
The issue that I have with my parents is from 2007 onward. They knew of my abuse and we never truly spoke of it. It was like an elephant in the room. It would come up in passing from time to time but I would deny it had any affect on me and they wouldn’t push it any further. We were having parallel shame. I was suffering inside and hating myself. My parents were dealing with the shame of never knowing or stopping my abuse. Our parallel shames never crossed until this year.
This silence about my abuse only fueled the belief that I didn’t truly matter. If it was a big deal, wouldn’t these people in my life push for me to find help? Wouldn’t they sit me down and help me honestly accept myself as a survivor? That never happened so I kept living my life thinking it wasn’t a big deal and that I just had to keep pushing and gritting through life. The resentment and pain of this silence began to fester like an untreated wound.
This wound burst open as my Dad and I fought in our kitchen. Looking back on this particular fight, it felt like a forest fire scorching the Earth. However, the earth eventually cools and the forest grows back stronger. My relationship with my parents will continue to heal. My resentment will cool. We will grow back even stronger than before.
My parents asked me what I wanted to do. If I didn’t want to disclose, they would understand. If I did want to disclose, they would be there to support me. I explained to them that I feel a moral, ethical, and personal obligation to report my abuser. He still works with children in a position of authority. I also want him to answer for what he did. I want to create space for others who might have been abused by him to disclose. I wanted to hold accountable the people who have known about my abuse for years and did nothing. I want to hold accountable the head coach, a God in our town, who has known since 2007 and did nothing. It is time.
I worried that he would be able to slink away into retirement once we made the complaint. He could use his family or the Coronavirus as a shield to quietly retreat from public life. I worried he would wait a year or two and try to seek employment in another district or state. I wasn’t sure what to do.
My parents stepped into this moment to finally support me. My mom found where we should send our disclosure letters. This would cover the process of reporting him. My Dad contacted a close family friend who was once a journalist in my hometown. He thought she might be able to write my story. If she couldn’t write the story, she could probably point me in the right direction. He could run from a firing or resignation. He has in the past. He can’t run from my story. He can’t hide from my bravery. My story will always be there. For once, he will be the one with something lurking in the shadows.
I officially reported my abuse on July 7, 2020. I had my initial contact with the head of the Public Education Department investigative team. She outlined the process and painted a picture of the months to come. She explained the statute of limitations and how my case would be labeled either a 60 day or 2 year case. The statute of limitations being how long they have to investigate and make a recommendation to the Secretary of Education. She gave me the name of the lead investigator and said I should hear from him by the end of that week or the beginning of the next week. The Coach’s state teaching license is officially labeled “under investigation”. His school district will get a report of this development. He will know then. I hope he starts to sweat. I hope he can feel the world closing in around him.
I didn’t hear anything from the investigator for two and a half weeks. It made me nervous. I am still plagued with the feeling of insecurity and belief that nothing will happen because I simply don’t matter. I am still trying to push those feeling aside. I had trouble sleeping the first week after my disclosure. I would wake up and feel the magnitude of what I am doing. It took my breath away. Eventually, that feeling would give way determination. I know I am doing the right thing. This is the right thing to do.
I got up the nerve to call the investigative unit this week. A part of me just wanted to leave it alone and try to convince myself that I have met my ethical and moral obligation to report my abuser. The personal obligation is the one driving my forward. I need to show up for myself in this moment. I need to prove to myself that I can be strong a brave.
I sent out the following emails on Thursday, July 23, 2020
Camille called me immediately after my second email. She wanted to assure me that my case was not “low priority”. She said the only cases that filed as 60 day cases are ones where the employee was fired or resigned as a result of the disclosure or allegation. She explained that all other cases are filed as two year cases, but they usually don’t take two years. She explained that they are taking my complaint very seriously but at this time they could not share any more information about my case. It was good to get clarification. It was also good to show them that I will be that squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
I will let my family help me. I will accept the support. I will show up for myself and be brave
To whom it may concern:
My name is Jake Lee, maiden name Jacob Robbins, and I am writing to disclose my sexual abuse at the hands of a current employee of the New Mexico Public Education Department and a public school district. My abuser is a current Assistant Superintendent for a public school district in New Mexico. While he was employed as a teacher and coach in my hometown between the years of 1999-2001, he sexually abused me while I was both a student and football player.
Reporting sexual abuse is a difficult process. It has taken me nearly 20 years to build the strength and courage to report him. He was a skilled predator who used emotional manipulation and very effective grooming techniques to build a relationship with me. He truly made me feel like I was in a relationship with him during my years of abuse. He made me a part of his family. He took me on trips. He inserted himself as a supportive and nurturing adult in my life. However, that perceived connection came at the cost of the sexual abuse that occurred during those years. I was just 15 when the abuse started and it continued past my graduation from high school.
Artesia is a conservative town deeply passionate about God and football. It was not a safe place to disclose my abuse. The longer the abuse went on the more isolated I felt. This isolation only worked to free up more space for him to continue the abuse. Keeping this secret, living the lie, and protecting The Coach and myself from the repercussions of our sexual relationship was very detrimental to me. While he remained a coach on the highly revered football team, I was left to feel isolated, disgusted, and paranoid through a time I should have been thriving. While he continued to teach, I was left feeling so lost in a life I was supposed to be living. He was my first sexual experience. He robbed me of so much while pretending to be my protector.
There were many opportunities for him to be exposed and disciplined as a sexual abuser. My parents were concerned with how close we were becoming. They reported their concerns to my head football coach and athletic director. While both he and I denied any inappropriate behavior in our “friendship," I could feel the walls closing in on me. I began to distance myself. During this time, he began grooming a girl a few years younger than me. They were exchanging inappropriate emails. Her sister found the emails and reported him. He was quietly fired from his job. The head coach and athletic director kept his firing very quiet and even helped him secure a job at a football booster’s company while he looked for another job. That action, of keeping everything quiet while assisting a predator to leave town, modeled to me how my abuse would be handled. It should be silenced. It wasn’t something to disclose. In letting him leave quietly while also securing him a job, my hometown showed me exactly how they would handle my sexual abuse allegations. I went to college and began to build a life for myself while distancing myself from the town where I was born and raised and the abuser who robbed me of my adolescence.
There were other attempts to disclose him as a sexual predator. Upon learning about my abuse from a person in my life in 2007, my parents returned to the head coach and athletic director to disclose the abuse. While “he lost sleep” over their disclosure, he did nothing to expose his former coach as a sexual abuser. When my mom heard that he was applying for a job in a school district a few years later, she wrote the superintendent of the school district to disclose him as a sexual abuser. She never heard back, but found out later that he was not hired. Later he was teaching at a private school in another town . My mom lost track of him after that disclosure for many years.
I love New Mexico. I love my hometown. But it is devastating to know that nothing was done to my abuser. While I dealt with years of emotional turmoil, pain, and uncertainty, he was able to continue teaching. When I was having my abuse weaponized as a character flaw by the few people I disclosing to, he was able to keep teaching and advancing his career. I had to live with the stigma of the abuse. He was rewarded with a thriving career.
I have persisted. I have used grit and determination to overcome my abuse. I have been a teacher for 13 years impacting the lives of children across the country. I came out as a gay man and married my husband in 2013. We adopted our two sons out of foster care and have given them a loving, nurturing, and stable home. I am proud of my life, but the self-doubt, self-loathing, and deep insecurity that was born out of my abuse at the age of 15 doesn’t go away. It is always there lurking in the shadows. As much as I wanted to ignore it and pretend it had no effect on me, I realized this year that I needed help. I started in-depth and comprehensive therapy to deal with my abuse. I now have the strength to accept and recognize myself as a sexual abuse survivor. I am now ready to report my abuser.
It has taken me years to get to this point. It has been a very long road, but I am left with many questions as I write this letter. How will the state I call home respond? How will the statewide educational department I worked for as a student teacher and teacher respond? How will a school district with nearly 4,000 student respond? Will they all take action or will he be able to continue his thriving teaching career with no repercussions for his abuse?
I am laying the foundation to tell my story and this is one of the first steps. I will no longer remain quiet about my abuse and I hope that my disclosure will not lead to another attempt to quietly sweep his behavior under the rug. He shouldn’t be able to continue teaching and I will do everything I possibly can to prevent abuse from happening to any other students under his jurisdiction.
I have a moral, ethical, and personal obligation to report him as my abuser. Now you have a moral and ethical obligation to respond appropriately to the information I have shared with you. In a world where many people, especially men, feel they should stay quiet about their abuse, I will be very interested in seeing how both the New Mexico Public Education Department respond the my disclosure.
Abuse is always lurking in the shadows. It lies deep in the dark surfacing when drawn to my bright light and then retreating before I can identify its existence. My path to writing my letter was a long one, but my abuse is there every step of the way. It is there to reaffirm every painful, insecure, and loathing thought or emotion created by the rocky parts of my past. It whispers in my ear “You deserve every bad thing that is happening to you”. “You are a terrible person.” “You are worth nothing”. “You will never be good enough for yourself or others.” “You will never matter to people in the way you want to.”
It was also drawn to the light that occasionally brightens my path. It emerges from the shadows right as my smile is brightest whispering familiar phrases of self-loathing and self-doubt just to remind me that I don’t deserve happiness.
My abuse was always lurking and I was unable to expose it because I had no idea why it was there. I wouldn’t allow myself to identify its existence. If I just kept gritting and pushing through my pain, I could out run it. I could out maneuver it. Year after year, I tried to believe this. Year after year, I kept falling short. I kept pushing and I did create an amazing life for myself. I became a skilled and innovative educator with distinguishments from companies such as Apple. I traveled and spoke at national educational technology conferences. I know in my heart that I am an amazing educator.
I suffered through some pretty bad relationships. My first real relationship was when I was 20. He was 41. Even then, I couldn’t connect the dots. He wasn’t a bad guy, but I always knew there was something not right about the relationship. I kept trying to leave but kept getting pulled back in by the perceived comfort of this man’s life and love. He knew of my abuse or “relationship” as he called it, but he said nothing. He didn’t shake me and say: “you were abused Jake. This was not ok.” Instead, he let his anger and heartbreak guide him to use my abuse as a character attack against me a few years later. He said my “relationship” with The Coach showed that I had absolutely no character and that there is something wrong with me.
My next relationship was a turbulent one. It was a relationship that left me bankrupt both literally and emotionally. He used every one of my insecurities to control me. He was able to see into the shadows and form an alliance my abuse. I was 23. He was 42. He knew of my abuse but weaponized it against me. He would be sympathetic to draw me back into the relationship then use it viciously to break me down. He was a damaged individual. I was a damaged individual. The relationship was about creating wreckage and not about love. I use to blame this man for all the insecurities and rage brewing inside me, but those emotions were already there when I met him. He just knew how to use them to control me. The line of self-hate goes right through him to my abuse. It doesn’t stop at him.
My husband, Derrick, is the perfect example of the right person coming into my life at exactly the right time. He is caring, kind, compassionate, and solidly a good person. We have built a pretty amazing life for ourselves. We traveled the world. We became Dads. We have had so many wonderful experiences building a life together. However, I have always felt that the scales were never tipped in my favor. I came into this relationship and marriage as the damaged person. He was so responsible and stable and it created a dynamic of feeling like I was extremely lucky to have him. That I wouldn’t have assembled my life back together without his help. He never made me feel this way. I felt this way. My abuse was always attracted to any light shining upon me and there was so much light in my life. It was brutal to never be able to fully enjoy the experience. In my mind, I never deserved it. I couldn’t settle. I was always on the defensive. It became exhausting. I almost left our marriage last year for a myriad of reasons, many of which stemmed from my abuse. The insecurities, anger, and sheer exhaustion almost lead me away. But in the final moments, I knew that I needed to fix myself and not run away. My family was worth fighting for and I couldn’t let my abuse steal my light anymore.
One of my proudest accomplishments is being a Dad. Our journey to parenthood has been an amazing story. A story that could fill many pages. We adopted both our boys out of the foster care system which is a gut-wrenchingly frustrating journey, but one that ended with our amazing sons Dillon and Jerry. They are the light of my life. They are the purpose that drives me. Parenting has taught me so much more than I could have ever known. I am so grateful for my boys and our journey to each other as well the life we have created. I want to step into the light so I can cherish and be present in every moment with them. Time is precious. Life is precious. I want to slow time down so I can enjoy every beautiful moment. For this to happen, I need to find strength and peace with the abuse I endured.
Even though I have become more comfortable speaking of my abuse with my loved ones, I still struggle to accept my abuse and see myself as a survivor. Even when it comes to telling my friends, I always hesitate. I don’t want to burden them. I don’t want to create awkwardness. My healing is a central part of my life now, but I still want to hide it away. There has been a few times where I took the leap, but it took effort. I found myself in vulnerable and honest conversations with close friends and would think to myself “this is a powerful time to share your story”. It makes me think back to the high dive as a kid. It would take so much bravery and boldness to climb the ladder to the highest diving board on the platform. When I would get to the end of the diving board and look down, my confidence would waiver. Many days I would turn around and climb down a platform to a more comfortable height. Eventually, I would hesitantly walk to the end of the highest diving board, take a deep breath, and jump.
While I have taken the metaphorical jump into disclosing my abuse a few times, writing my letter, actually putting it down in writing, was the last few steps to the end of the diving board. Now I am ready to jump. I want to jump into a new world where I don’t have to hate myself anymore. I want to live in a new world where I can be present and enjoy each passing moment in my crazy beautiful life.
So I wrote my letter and prepared to send it to the people who will help bring my abuse and my abuser out of the shadows and into the light that will expose them both. There will be no more lurking. Their time is up.
There is this misconception, at least to me, that gay men are more like women than men. That we are highly emotional, high strung, and at times hysterical. While we quite often relate well with woman, mostly cause we listen to them (I’m looking at you straight guys), I can assure you that gay men, at least those who identify as cis-gender men, are still men in so many respects. For me, I have struggled to show vulnerability for fear of becoming emotional. I have always tried to tough out struggles and chalk it up to having the grit developed by my immense, powerful, and brawny XY chromosomes. I bring all this up for a very specific reason.
I am a survivor and thriver of sexual abuse, and/or sexual manipulation, from a very trusted adult from my hometown and childhood. I am the victim of a pedophile who was a very skilled groomer, so much so that I spent 18 years blaming myself for our “relationship” and convincing myself that it was something that I had always wanted. I was the one to blame. I was the one that should feel all the shame. So I covered it up for years, owned all the terrible feelings about that time of my life, and “gritted” through it, you know, like the prototypical male would in this heteronormative world.
Male sexual abuse is not something we talk about as a society. With the #MeToo movement creating a powerful narrative about women victims of sexual abuse resulting in powerful social changes, there is no real movement with male sexual abuse victims. According to 1in6.org, an organization designed to help men deal with sexual abuse: ‘Many things qualify as “unwanted sexual experiences,” even if at first a boy or man was grateful for the attention. It could include an experience that a man may not be ready to label as “sexual abuse” or “sexual assault,” or even understand how it might have been. Healing can begin when a man recognizes the possible connection between those experiences and common consequences – consequences that can include rocky relationships, lost jobs, self-destructive behaviors, depression, and even violence.”
This is my story. This is me owning my story again. Taking it back. And hopefully showing that growing from vulnerability is a powerful, brave and quote on quote “manly” things to do.
I can still remember the first varsity football touchdown I ever scored. I was a sophomore who made the varsity team as a backup receiver and special team player (lets just say I made more tackles on the kickoff team than touchdowns that year). We were playing in Las Vegas, New Mexico and our team was up by 50 points in the second half, garbage time as football fans call it.
The backup quarterback called a fly down the sideline. I ran to line. Checked with the ref that I wasn’t offsides. Listened for the snap count, and then flew down the sideline. I remember the ball flying through the air. I remember catching the ball in perfect stride. I ran into the end zone and completed a memory that has stayed with me forever.
My memory is not like the ones of so many former football players who relive those moments to rekindle the memories of a carefree adolescence. My memories are more complicated. I relive those memories with regret, insecurity, and shame of the path I was lead down after that amazing childhood moment on a fall night in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Artesia is nicknamed Titletown. In 2017, the Artesia Bulldog football team won their 30th State Championship. Football is the heartbeat and pulse of my hometown, population 9,000 or so, in the southeast corner of New Mexico. Almost every boy grows up wanting to be a Bulldog. We spent our early years playing touch football on the grass burms of the stadium with the plastic footballs the cheerleaders threw when the Bulldogs scored touchdowns as that year’s crop of hometown heroes took down whichever rival they were playing that week. We had our high school fight song memorized before we could read and dreamed of the day we could burst through the giant paper banner painted by the cheerleaders. We wanted to sprint down the field and be part of the dog pile, an Artesia Bulldog tradition, where every players dives into a giant pile of football players at the 50 yard line as the fight song soared and the crowd roared.
I have all those memories. I became a starter on the varsity team, a legacy player who’s brother was an all-time great wide receiver. I ran through the giant paper banners. I jumped on the dog pile. I scored other touchdowns. I took my helmet off at the end of games and participated in sweaty, passionate renditions of our fight song in front of the home crowd.
But those memories are so tainted. Tainted by the fear and insecurity of being gay in a very conservative town. Tainted by the actions of a coach on the very team I had dreamed about playing on for my entire life.
Yes, a coach on our famous football team took my adolescence from me. It still brings up so many complicated and damaging feelings about myself. Did I want this to happen? Is it somehow my fault? But as time has passed and I have grown into the man I am now, I realize now that telling this story, owning this story, will be the final steps I take to closing that chapter of my life. I want to take back those memories. I want them back. I no longer want them to be muddied with the actions of this coach, teacher, and man who had influence over me in a time where I needed someone to help me answer questions I couldn’t answer for myself. I want those memories back from a man who took advantage of a 14 year boy right in front of a town so obsessed with football, the Bible, and small town values that no one found it at all weird that he always made close friends with teenage kids.
He was skillful. The more I learn about pedophiles the more I learn about how they take advantage of their victims. He befriended me. He came over to play video games. He made the lewd jokes. He became my ally and in my eyes a friend. He made me part of this family. He took me on trips all while taking from me something I can never get back. I still look at this comment on my 6th grade yearbook “Hope to see you this summer. Maybe we can catch a ball or a girl. He also referenced the Palamino, an all-nude strip club in Vegas that he would often talk to me about that year. I was 11. I have learned that is called grooming. I still remember his play to get what he really wanted from me. When I was 14, he came over to play a game of Madden and made the bet that whoever lost had to perform a sex act on the other person. He lost. From that point, there was no turning back. My hometown became a road map of where we would meet up for encounters. I became an expert liar, but people in the community were completely aware that we were closer than we should be, but these people focused on me and not him. The common comment I heard was that I was befriending this coach to secure my starting position on the football team. It was always about football in Artesia. I was made to feel as though I was odd and strange. Why didn’t I hang with kids my own age? Why was I always around him?
Where were my parents? I was the third child being raised in a what is perceived as a small, safe town. It wasn't uncommon for kids to be out all day, as long as we were home by sundown. My dad was always involved in his own hobbies and had never been given a reason to distrust the town he served as an Episcopalian minister. My mom was living her dream of finally getting her Master’s degree and was gone a lot. I don’t blame them in the least. It is so easy to attack the parents in these situation, but I know that this all part of why I was targeted. My parents trust of the town and their own dreams were part of the vulnerability that this man saw. Plus, my parents did advocate for me. They met with the head coach of our football town, a legendary figure in the state, to share their concerns about our relationship. As you are probably guessing, there were no actions taken against him. My parents let me know of the meeting which just took my shame to another level, and once again my denial was enough to ease their worries. After that, I did start to pull away because it was all getting so complicated.
This was after my senior football season. I still remember when our team lost our last district game, missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Our small town was in mourning, but I went home and danced around the kitchen elated. This nightmare that was football was finally over. My intentions would no longer be questioned and the town could begin to focus on next year’s team and their budding group of stars.
Once my parents went to speak to our head coach about my relationship with this coach, I was able to build some distance. When I pulled away, he noticed. We were still friendly but I was focused on college applications and planning for the next chapter of my life. He befriended a sophomore girl, a former student of his, during this time. I didn’t know of their budding relationship but I would find out later that they communicated mostly through email. This girl was very close to her sister who discovered a pretty explicit email exchange between the coach and this young girl. She altered her parents who alerted the school. The coach was quietly let go.
He reached out to me, devastated, and I was actually there when he packed up his classroom. I don’t remember feeling jealous or upset about his relationship with this other teenager. What I do remember feeling was fear. I feared that people would connect the dots and finally figure out what was happening between us for the 3 years prior. The town would know and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if they found out what we had been doing.
However, the head coach and the school protected the coach. They kept the nature of his leaving low-key and secret. The impression was given that the coach quit for personal reasons. He was even able to quickly find work with a big time football boosters company while he looked for other teaching jobs. We were close in my final months in Artesia. He even took me on a cruise with his wife as a graduation gift. Yes, my family let me go on a cruise with them because it almost came as a relief to them when they heard murmurs of the true reason he was let go. It was a female student, not a male student. The coach couldn’t be gay or bisexual, so we were in the clear.
The coach eventually was hired to coach and teach in another town and his family moved away right before my graduation. I couldn’t wait to be out of Artesia. I moved Senior Week and was already employed at two jobs in Albuquerque when I returned for graduation. It was time to move on. I still saw The Coach off and on through my freshman year in college. I was busy with school, but I visited him a few times and he would call when he was in town at coaches meetings. I came out when I was 19 and at that point I was ready to truly move on. I let the relationship with the Coach fade, wanting to just forget that chapter of my life and try to move on.