Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
It was long ago and it was far away, but for the one out of six American men who were sexually abused as children, the results are always present, deeply corrosive, and wildly contagious. David France talks to a few brave men—and the women who married them—who have shattered their silence, faced their traumas, and taken their first steps toward healing.
Donna Mertrud fell for Ray Skettini when she was only 17. A year older and the class clown at their Pequannock, New Jersey, high school, he had a chip on his shoulder, some people said. But he made Donna laugh. Three years later, when she agreed to marry him, Ray asked his family priest, Father James Hanley, to officiate.
From early on, Donna felt something was wrong. Among the "red flags" that kept popping up, she says, were Ray's irritability and his tendency to pace. And then there was his subtle but growing detachment from her. "When we got married, we really explored each other. We had fun," says Donna, now 50. "Getting to know each other, forming as a married couple and as a family, we bonded closer. But as weird as this sounds, the more we did that, the more he pulled away, emotionally and physically." Slowly their sex life dwindled. Sometimes she had merely to touch his shoulder when he'd freeze and draw back. Donna wondered if he was having an affair. Mostly, though, she just felt rejected, and this broke her heart.
"I knew he loved me. There are so many ways to show love other than sex—endearing things he would do," she says. "But my self-esteem really was depleting, because I thought, 'What's wrong with me?' It was something that I was very persistent about, trying to get to 'why.' There was a thorn in our marriage, and I needed to find out what it was." The more she challenged him about it, however, the worse things got. Ray, a surveyor and park ranger who often worked two jobs, would say he was tired or too busy to talk. "There was always an answer," she says, "but it never added up." Uncertain and lonely, she began to overeat—a groping attempt to feed her longing for intimacy, as her therapist would later explain. "So many people said to me, 'Donna, go have an affair!' But I didn't want that. I never wanted that. I wanted my husband back."
Little changed through nearly 25 years of marriage. Then in the fall of 2001, Donna returned to college to finish her degree in education. One course in particular, on the psychology of human relations, spoke directly to her. "I started realizing, 'Oh my God, there are names for the things I've been going through!'" Poring over her textbooks, she came to believe that her husband had been sexually abused. His behavior fit the pattern.
Confirmation, however, didn't come until one afternoon that spring. While Ray busied himself in the kitchen, Donna turned on The Oprah Show and found several young men talking about having been abused by their priests. She stood in stunned silence when she recognized one of the offenders: Father James Hanley—the same priest who had performed their marriage and two years later baptized their first child.
"Then I heard this tiny voice coming from the kitchen," she says.
It was Ray, barely in a whisper: "I guess I'm not the only one."
The shock was so great it capsized Donna, and she dropped to her knees in the living room. "The pieces of my puzzle started falling together," she says.
It took another few days before Ray told her what had happened when he was 12, how Hanley had pretended to give him an education in sex, demonstrating each lesson on the boy's body.
We Hear You!