Editor’s note: The names of the male abuse victims in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
IDAHO FALLS — It was a day like any other when Ralph Hertz walked into a restaurant during his lunch hour 18 years ago.
While he was ordering his sandwich, a woman who appeared to be in her late 30s approached him asking if he wanted to feel her breasts.
The woman said she had just gotten surgical implants and was eager to show them off.
“You should feel them,” Hertz recalls her saying.
“No. I don’t want to,” he replied.
That’s when Hertz says the lady grabbed his hand and put it on her breast.
“I pulled my hand away so hard I actually broke one of her nails,” Hertz tells EastIdahoNews.com.
About two years prior to this incident, Hertz remembers the day his stepmom got drunk, stripped down to her underwear and started coming on to him.
“She started unzipping my pants and I pushed her away and left the house,” Hertz says.
He came back when his dad came home from work. Hertz recalls his mom and dad having an argument and then all of a sudden, being told by his dad he wasn’t welcome to live there anymore.
Both of these incidents, Hertz says, were completely unsolicited and unwanted. As a married man years later, Hertz maintains a cordial but distant relationship with his stepmom.
As for the woman in the restaurant, he hasn’t seen her since. The memory of what happened is a secret he’s kept inside all these years.
“Who would believe me? That’s the first thing that comes to mind,” says Hertz. “Second, what reason did they have for doing that? I can’t answer that. So I can’t provide answers for other people who are going to ask questions. More than anything, I feel embarrassed that it even happened.”
Hertz spoke with a therapist when the embarrassment became too much to deal with.
“I remember the chuckle that came out of his mouth when I mentioned it,” Hertz says. “It really turned me off to therapists in general.”
The therapists dismissal of Hertz’ feelings made Hertz feel invalidated as a man.
“A woman asks you to touch her breasts — you should feel honored by that,” Hertz says of the therapist’s perspective. “But I don’t.”
Ben Wells is the facilitator of a men’s support group offered at Addiction and Trauma Recovery Services in Idaho Falls called M-TREM — Men’s Trauma Recovery Empowerment Model.
Wells tells EastIdahoNews.com about 40 percent of the men attending the group are victims of sexual abuse. We asked to speak with members of this group. All but one said no.
We reached out to other local crisis centers to find other adult male victims of sexual abuse. Center employees told us there were not any reported cases.
Nationwide, only one in five reported cases of abuse involve a male victim, according to Wells. The reason cases of abuse involving male victims seldom get reported is because of what Wells calls “male messages,” or societal or cultural messages that communicate incorrect ideas about what a man is supposed to be. Some of these messages say men are supposed to be tough, that they need to make lots of money or that men should be sexually dominant over women.
“The No. 1 message men (in M-TREM) hear is, ‘Males are tough. Men don’t cry.’ So, if a man says he’s been abused (the general attitude in the world) is, ‘Well, stick up for yourself,’ or ‘You’re a man. Deal with it,'” Wells says.
Helping men identify and recognize these male messages is an important part of the group meetings, Wells says. When men hear these messages and internalize them, Wells says it can be damaging to their identity and their relationships.
“It’s so hard for men to break free of those (messages). We try to understand those and get past them,” says Wells.
Hertz says not having anyone to talk to made him feel isolated, which prompted him to join a support group last October called Tribe of Kyngs.
Tribe of Kyngs
Richard Paul Evans, the author behind bestselling titles like “The Christmas Box,” “The Walk” and the Michael Vey series, formed Tribe of Kyngs several years ago to help men find more meaningful, joyful and powerful lives.
The purpose of the group, Evans says, is to provide a shame-free, bully-free environment for men to talk about life, build relationships with other men, and feel respected and valued.
“It’s certainly given me a safe community to talk openly, something I haven’t felt in a long time,” Hertz says.
The group is open to men 18 and up from all walks of life. They meet together on a regular basis to learn from and help each other, have fun, and do service projects.
‘The war on men’
“There is an ongoing war against men and it is completely ignored by the media,” Evans said in a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com last December.
He said men are mocked and marginalized by society to the point that many men feel disposable. Suicide rates among men, he says, are five to six times that of women.
Evans became aware of this trend during a recent trip to a men’s retreat in Star.
“I learned that half the men in the room had attempted suicide, and not one of them had a friend. They were completely isolated,” Evans said.
After returning home to Utah, Evans says he realized this was the norm for men all around the country.
The “war on men” is now hitting close to home, Evans says. The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this month an official at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention received a complaint about Evans after he hugged a fellow panelist at last year’s Salt Lake Comic Con.
The question of whether hugging is appropriate in the workplace is a talking point resulting from the rise of the #MeToo movement last fall, the same Tribune article reported.
The #MeToo Movement
The #MeToo campaign was created to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. The social media hashtag created last October has since gone viral. Many people have now come forward, primarily women, sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Many women feel liberated by the movement, saying it represents a “nationwide reckoning on sexual abuse.”
Sarah Scott grew up in Idaho Falls. Between the ages of 9 and 14, she was sexually abused by her stepfather. She feels #MeToo is helping people’s voices be heard.
“I think more people have been open and honest about (their experiences) and are more willing to share their stories because they are realizing others have been through similar things. I think it’s awesome that people are finally talking about it.”
As a young woman being abused, Scott recalled feeling completely alone in her situation. Feelings of fear and shame prevented her from telling someone what was happening.
After four years of dealing with the trauma of the abuse, Scott finally broke her silence.
Just last year, Scott remembers going to a restaurant with her friend. Her stepfather was seated in the booth next to theirs. She and her stepfather made eye contact, and Scott quickly left the building.
“I never want to see him again,” says Scott.
‘Masculinity is bad’
Noting the number of men facing sexual allegations, some are arguing masculinity itself is a negative trait.
PJ Media reported in April the University of Texas launched a new program called “MasculinUT” that treats masculinity as if it were a mental illness.
The program suggests men who are encouraged to “act like a man” or fulfill traditional gender roles like being “the breadwinner” or “successful” become a detriment to themselves and society.
“Traditional ideas of masculinity place men into rigid (or restrictive) boxes (which) prevent them from developing their emotional maturity,” the program states.
Marci Nelson, a recent graduate of marriage and family studies at Brigham Young University-Idaho, noticed a similar attitude among women during a recent trip to the United Nations. She went with her class to observe the international conversation about gender roles.
She told EastIdahoNews.com the majority of women felt any added pressure men felt as a result of #MeToo was justified.
“Many men are just going to have to be strong and deal with it,” they said, according to Nelson. “Women have had to endure these feelings for decades.”
Despite Scott’s feelings toward her stepdad, she says she is moving forward with an untainted view toward men. She says she knows not every man is bad, and so does everyone else.
As for Evans, he says Tribe of Kyngs is an organization that doesn’t let culture tell men how they’re supposed to act.
“Men will hug each other. It looks like a hug-fest sometimes because there is real camaraderie. It’s a fascinating culture that’s developing on its own,” says Evans.
“Everyone will focus on the one man who had an affair because he is high profile,” tribal leader Briton Hill said during a Tribe of Kyngs meeting. “But the vast majority of men are good. That’s what we’re here to show. Our actions will speak louder than (society’s) words.”
And it seems to be having an impact.
Enrollment is growing to include a worldwide membership, even gaining the interest of a few high-profile individuals in its own right. A renowned CEO of a Fortune 500 company, who Evans did not name, participates in the group, as well as business blogger Dr. Benjamin Hardy.
The group currently meets in Murray, Utah. Evans says six cities around the nation and two other countries have requested tribes of their own.
Although Evans is optimistic there will be a tribe in Idaho Falls eventually, the group is not actively looking for places to start one.
For now, Evans says, people can come to them through their website.
Dealing with backlash
When the tribe was formed, Evans says he received a lot of negative backlash from feminist and hate groups.
“We had men come at the beginning who would tell their wives or their girlfriends about us and they (the women) would freak out, as one man said, ‘very irrationally in a way I’d never seen them respond to anything,'” Evans says. “It’s important for people to realize that this is not an anti-woman organization. In fact, some of our biggest friends are females. These men love their wives. They love their daughters. They love their sons.”
Evans says women who support their husbands and who see the marginalization of men in society are more apt to defend the men in this group than the men are to defend themselves.
“There’s a tremendous amount of love and respect that takes place here. Anyone who would say otherwise is someone who belongs to a hate group,” says Evans.
Traumatic side effects
As Tribe of Kyngs continues to grow and have a positive impact on men around the world, M-TREM has proven to be a tremendous support for men in east Idaho.
In the last five years, Wells says he’s seen an increase in the number of sex abuse cases involving male victims being reported. He cites awareness as the reason for the increase.
“We’re making efforts to help people understand what abuse is, what trauma is, that there are resources within the community to help you and that no one is immune to it,” he says. It can happen to anyone.”
Abuse almost always comes from someone close to the victim, Wells says, and can come in many forms.
“The recovery process involves first understanding what abuse is. (Most people think of) abuse as fighting, screaming, or yelling. But it can also be passive-aggressive — not talking to someone or cutting them off emotionally or from affection,” says Wells.
“In this group, we learned to identify the different forms of trauma,” says M-TREM member Jacob Payne. “(My first wife) had affairs and used that as a way to hurt me, and then in my current marriage, what I would call neglect.”
Exercising control over another person, Wells says, is a form of abusive power. The lasting impact of this behavior can cause varying levels of trauma in the victim’s life, says Wells.
“Trauma can be a single event or a series of traumatic events that are repeated over time, causing an individual to become overwhelmed with painful, frightening or loathing emotions,” according to the Addiction and Trauma Clinic.
Payne began taking pain pills as a way to cope with his feelings of betrayal. It quickly spiraled into an addiction to cocaine and methamphetamine.
Entering rehab at Addiction Trauma and Recovery Services last August led him to M-TREM.
Since Tribe of Kyngs was formed, Evans knows of eight men who planned their suicide and were ready to die. The change in them, Hill says, has been worth every effort.
“Men have been conditioned to isolate. When men isolate, (they) turn to addiction,” says Hill. “Once we no longer get any sort of pleasure, happiness or feeling from the addictions we’ve created, we kill ourselves. We are saving men’s lives and helping them realize their lives are worth saving.”
“If we fail, thousands of men will die,” Evans says. “Our young boys will die. That is what is happening. The pendulum needs to come back. There needs to be something here, and this is the first wave.”
Payne says he’s learned a lot from attending M-TREM and the counseling sessions he and his current wife have taken together.
“A lot of it has to do with my attitude about things and the way I perceive them,” he says. “My stress tolerance has gone way up. I’m able to cope in a much healthier way.”
Payne says he also finds more satisfaction in fulfilling his wife’s needs and focusing less on his own. Their relationship, he says, has come a long way.
Above all, Payne says the perspective he has gained about manhood is most important.
“In a relationship, we think one person has to be in control. That doesn’t work. (Men and women) need each other. We’re designed to be a pair.”
Perpetuating the male stereotype is damaging and destructive, he says, and the solution to reversing society’s attitude about men begins in the home.
“We have to allow our sons to cry when they’re hurt, whether that’s because they stubbed their toe or because they were rejected by a girl. (We also need to teach them) that a woman is not an object to be lusted after, they are a companion to be loved,” he says.
Without a father in the home, Payne says there is no way for a boy to learn how to treat a woman or what a relationship with them is supposed to look like. Being a man, according to him, ultimately has nothing to do with being tough, the size of your wallet or how many times you have sex. But he says it has everything to do with the way you live your life.
“Being a man means following in the footsteps of Christ: to care for others and serve them,” he says. “Another qualification is to have a (good) legacy to leave behind.”