The topic is taboo, surrounded by stigma and shame. People don't often talk about childhood sexual abuse, a silent and devastating epidemic, but a staggering number of men live with the lasting effects every day.
According to reports, one in every six men was molested as a child. For the first time in television history, 200 male sexual abuse survivors stand together to lift the veil of shame. Each man holds a childhood photo of himself at the age when he says the abuse first began.
Actor, writer, director and producer Tyler Perry knows exactly what these men have gone through. Tyler says he was sexually abused by multiple perpetrators when he was a child. The abuse began when he was just 5 years old.
Tyler says it feels like a weight has been lifted since he first spoke out about his painful past on The Oprah Show. "I'm hoping that in talking about it, that it's helping a lot of other men to be free, because there are so many of us who don't say anything," Tyler says. "The pressure lifts every time you talk, every time you are able to help someone else."
Oprah shares the same hope for survivors who suffer in silence. "We prayed before coming out here that those of you who are watching who have never told anybody, that you will be able to at least speak the words," she says. "Because in speaking the words, you release the shame."
When identical twins Patrick and Kevin's parents sent them to Catholic school, they assumed it was a safe environment, but what they say happened there has haunted the twins for more than 30 years.
Patrick and Kevin were in third grade when they became altar boys and a priest began to single them out, they say. "He'd pull us out of class and say, 'I need the twins to do a Mass or a funeral,'" Patrick says.
At first, Kevin says he and his brother were excited to get out of class and receive special treatment. "We thought he was like the second coming," Kevin says. "[We thought], 'This guy's doing us favors,' but later down the line, we realized why."
This priest wanted the 8-year-old twins for more than just serving at Masses, weddings and funerals. Patrick and Kevin say the priest began sexually abusing them. "It started with just simple spanking," Patrick says. "I'd go over his knee, and he'd casually touch our private parts."
The twins say the abuse escalated during the next 13 years, and the priest began molesting them five to seven times a week...sometimes twice a day. As the abuse became more frequent, they say it also became more horrific.
With tears in his eyes, Patrick says he remembers being forced to watch the priest sexually torture his twin brother. "I could see the fear on his face, the pain, the anguish. That struck a chord with me, and I said to myself, 'I would always be the one to go first,'" he says. "I was watching him spank my brother, bend him over his knee, hit him with a paddle and penetrate him with his candle."
Patrick says the priest knew their biggest weakness—their love for each other—and he gave them a choice. "I think, in his mind, he said: 'Well, I can get off either one of two ways. Either I can do it to them or they can do it to each other,'" Patrick says. "He knew that we didn't want it done from him, so 90 percent of the time we would choose each other."
This wasn't the worst part of the twins' 13 years of hell. One time, Patrick says other priests joined in and gang raped him and Kevin, duct taping their mouths and hands, and penetrating them. "I can remember smelling alcohol on their breath," Patrick says. "[They] held us against our will."
Oprah says many sexual abuse survivors, including Patrick and Kevin, were targeted and groomed by their perpetrators. "It was never your fault," Oprah says. "The predator goes after whoever he thinks he can take, literally, and grooms you specifically."
Looking back, Patrick says he thinks he and his brother were targeted by the priest because they weren't the smartest or most popular, and they were known for being mischievous. "People always second-guessed us," Patrick says. "I think he took it upon himself to say, 'These are easy targets.'"
Patrick and Kevin say the priest would call them out of class or tell their parents they were needed for a Mass or wedding on the weekends, but those stories were lies. "We knew what was going to happen," Kevin says.
"Every single time," Patrick says. "It was just a matter of how severe it was going to be, how long it was going to be, how quick we can get it over with."
One day, Kevin says he tried to tell his mother about the abuse he and his brother were suffering. "I went to my mother and said to her, 'This priest is going to put us in our birthday suit,'" Kevin says. "But, like my brother said, we were both troublemakers, so people really didn't know when to believe us, so our mother just brushed it off."
"I wouldn't say she dismissed it," Patrick says. "Maybe [she] second guessed it."
The abuse continued for years after Kevin's conversation with his mother, but the twins say they don't blame their parents for not believing them—their parents didn't believe a priest would do such a thing.
Over time, the sexual torture became part of the twins' daily routine. "You go to school and come back and do your homework or slip in a little abuse during the day during school or after school," Patrick says.
Patrick and Kevin say they began using drugs to numb the pain. Then, they say they became dependent on their abuser because he gave them money after sexually molesting them.
"He was getting us out of class; we were getting money at age 13, 14—$20, that's a lot of money to a young person," Kevin says. "He kind of shut us up after that. ... We were liking the money coming in."
"Do you see now, though, how that was all a part of the manipulation?" Oprah asks.
"Absolutely," Patrick says.
The twins didn't have jobs, but their parents noticed they always had money to buy nice clothes and jewelry, which raised suspicions. To find out what was going on, Patrick says his parents tapped the home phone line and recorded conversations between the boys and the priest.
That's when Patrick and Kevin's mother and father finally discovered the truth.
Patrick and Kevin are now grown men, but the years of torturous abuse they say they suffered continues to affect their lives. "I cry every day inside knowing what could have been, what once was, what was taken from me—the innocence," Patrick says. "The potential to be somebody else."
Today, Patrick is a married father of two, but he says his past makes it difficult for him to trust people...especially anyone who interacts with his sons. "I'm a very bitter man," he says.
After being molested, Kevin says his life spun out of control. "Drugs, alcohol—it sounds cliché," he says. "I've had my hiccups. I'm not perfect, but it's a struggle every day. It's the story of my life in every aspect that you would think of. I'm still learning to deal and still trying to get past the abuse to this day."
Statistics show that 90 percent of child molesters target children they know. In Chad's case, the perpetrator lived in his house and shared his last name.
When Chad was just 7 years old, he says his biological father began to sexually abuse him. "It seemed to me like every time my mother would leave the house that the abuse would happen," Chad says. "It started off more with him just having me touch him, but then it did progress to oral sex."
For seven years, Chad says he was regularly molested by his father, sometimes as many as four times a week. Over time, the victimization made Chad question his sexuality. "My first sexual experience was with my father, and obviously, I didn't like what was happening," he says. "But the feeling...that's why most men feel so shameful is because the fact that it feels good to their body."
When Chad was 17, he finally found the courage to tell his mother and sister about the abuse, but he says they didn't believe him at first. "I don't know what was worse: the abuse itself or the aftermath of just feeling abandoned by your whole family," he says.
Chad, now 30 years old, says the abuse he suffered as a child makes it hard for him to trust people, especially when it comes to relationships. "I had a marriage gone bad, and it was more so to my having issues with trusting, feeling good enough, feeling worthy enough for somebody," he says.
Chad says his ex-wife didn't find out about the abuse until after they were married. "She stuck around longer than I think most women would have," he says.
Sick and tired of ruining his relationships, Chad decided it was time to confront his father. In 2010, a year and a half since Chad last saw his father, he went to his father's home and told him he was there to talk about what happened. "He didn't want to come in the house, and then I threatened to yell it through the neighborhood," Chad says. "Finally, he came in and sat down, and I had brought a list of everything: how it's affected me, what he did."
Oprah Show producers contacted Chad's father, who admitted to molesting his son.
When the abuse was taking place, Chad says his mother was sometimes in the house. One time, he says, she was even in the same room. "I remember a specific time we went to Myrtle Beach," he says. "We stopped at a hotel on the way home, and her and my sister were sleeping in the bed right next to us."
Chad says he wonders if his mother had an inclination that something was going on. "There was times where she would walk down the stairs, and he jumped up, kind of pushed me away," he says. To this day, Chad's mother is still married to his father.
Now that he's a father of two, Chad takes steps to keep his children safe. He says his sons are allowed to spend time with his mother, but they're never allowed to be alone with his father. "My mom knows that if she picks the kids up from my house to take them to go get something to eat, she doesn't go back to the house with him," Chad says. "They will never spend a night there."
Chad has been to therapy and taken steps to put his past behind him, but he says he still holds a lot of anger inside. "The problem is I take it out on the wrong people," he says. "I still have a lot of resentment. I've tried to release some of it—and I think I have—but it's not completely gone. Not at all."
"I hope today is the beginning of an open door for you," Oprah says. "I hope it is."
Dr. Howard Fradkin, a psychologist who has worked with more than 1,000 male survivors of sexual abuse, says people aren't aware that one in six men are sexually abused because these men are so ashamed, they don't speak out about it. "[Men] are supposed to be in control," Dr. Fradkin says. "We're supposed to be strong and powerful."
Some boys feel shameful because they experience an erection when they're molested, but Dr. Fradkin says that's just the male body's natural reaction. "It's not about having pleasure," he says. "It is something about just feeling, 'Oh, wow, I'm getting some attention. ... They picked you out because you're vulnerable, because you need the attention, you want the attention. They pick you out and they take advantage of you. They do terrible, awful things."
Oftentimes, Dr. Fradkin says these vulnerable boys keep going back to their abusers. "You become loyal to the molester because they've engendered your trust in them. You still think it won't happen again," Dr. Fradkin says. "It won't be done to you again. This time it will be different...and it never is."
Over time, victims learn to believe the lies their perpetrators tell them. "[Like] telling you that they love you, they care about you, this is for your own good," Dr. Fradkin says. "This is because they want to nurture you and protect you."
Tyler agrees. "If you've never had that—never had love, never had affection—it's much easier for them to do that," he says.
Tune in next Friday, November 12, as some of the women and partners in these 200 men's lives join them to talk more about the fallout of sexual abuse. Plus, Dr. Fradkin talks about the lifelong impact that childhood sexual abuse can have on its victims.