Chris de Serres talking about My Name Is Project and how to participate:
She turned to the teleprompter, looked out into the sea of men in the audience. Each of us held a large childhood picture in our arms. “It’s hard to see all of your pictures,” she told us as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
Then taping began…
For the next three hours I grieved amongst a group of 200 men who were all survivors of child abuse. Some at the hands of strangers, most by adults we knew and trusted. Most of the men here today, and Oprah, were abused by more than one adult. Some were abused by other children, and some went on to be abused into adulthood.
Many of our abusers lived complete lives, free from incarceration. Free from having to answer for their horrific acts. They live in your communities.
When I wasn’t crying I was trying to stay present, in this moment. But I often did what I do whenever my trauma approaches. I disassociate. I felt myself watching the studio of men from a safe distance even as I was sitting in the middle of it.
Oprah began the discussion with Tyler Perry, a film producer who recently disclosed his personal history of abuse. I could see this audience of 200 men collectively unhinge itself. I saw men all around me crying and exhibiting incredibly pained expressions of grief. I felt like I was at a funeral for a close friend. I saw old men crying inconsolably, just like the little boys who died in their hearts.
There was a man sitting across from me. His face was bunched up so tightly and he hunched over again and again sobbing. All I wanted to do was walk across this studio and give this boy some reassurance.
I looked down at the picture sitting on my lap, then turned it face down. It was too painful to see that boy’s false smile. Like a pulse, the words of Tyler Perry kept slicing through my heart. “I felt like I died as a child.”
If Oprah would have allowed us to hold up a picture of any child I wouldn’t have held up my own. I’m still alive. I can look into the eyes of my baby daughter. I have a beautiful and supportive wife waiting for me at home. No, I would have held up a picture of my best friend Eddie. When he died, the police report indicated that he hung himself with a bed sheet. They said he “suffered from depression” or that “drug use contributed” to his death. The newspaper never says “he died from child abuse.”
Eddie had a beautiful daughter of his own. She was just a child when he passed. Now we are both the caretakers of his memory. I will never have the priviledge of having his quick wit and infectious laughter fill up my soul with life. We were once just two abused kids, just trying to make it through. Now he is gone and I am here.
The studio was filled with lights and cameras. The film crews shuffled around, doing many things all at the same time. Oprah was the calming presence in the middle of it. She looked us in the eye and in her eyes I could see an underlying message to all of us men. Just stay with me a little longer.
I struggled to keep my eyes open. The exhaustion was so great my body was shutting down.
Twin brothers, about my age, got up from the front row and joined Oprah in the center. They began to disclose the story of their abuse. Molested by priests for 13 years. I felt this anger and rage fill my body, every hair rising up. I looked around at the other men in the audience and saw a reflection of outrage. These boys told their mother, but they weren’t believed. So the abuse continued.
I looked up, from time to time, at the cameras around me. One camera stood directly at me for the entire taping. I wondered if my face would be broadcast. I wondered about all the people in my life who didn’t know. Imagine the shock if you just turned the channel on the Oprah Show one day and saw your son, brother, nephew, friend, or uncle sitting in that audience. Would you mourn for him? Would you wonder who his abuser was? Would you believe him? Would you reach out to him and offer support? What if you were his abuser?
Towards the end Oprah opened it up to questions. My body became a tangle of pins and needles. I had something to say. We all had something to say. I saw a man in his 50’s stand up to speak and wondered how many decades he had waited to finally say something here. There would never be a moment like this again for any of us.
We filmed two shows that day and were only barely scratching the surface of all that went on. I think Oprah saw this so she let us speak. The Q&A session was never aired. I’m not sure that it mattered.
Before I knew it I was in a bus heading to the airport. There were so many guys I wanted to say goodbye to but never got the chance. But I had nothing left to muster. So I buried my head into a pillow on the flight back.
From flying to Chicago, filming two episodes of The Oprah Show, and flying back to Seattle, it had all happened in less than 48 hours. Even now, i’m still recovering from that short and great impact on my life.
One thing I realized is that when we hold secrets we hold back a piece of ourselves. We deprive our friends, family, and spouses from the true joy in our hearts. They can never know our stories unless we tell it. So many men and women went to their graves having never told anyone.
So I think of all the people in the past who weren’t given the opportunity to grieve. I think of my abuser.
I am not sure what happened to him. I don’t think he will ever tell us. I know what he took away from me. There were men his age in that audience. These men were born from a generation even further entrenched in the silence. Their presence brought me hope.
I do believe that men who tell are the exception, not the rule. That is what made this Oprah special a very unique experience. We have always been told that boys don’t cry. Yet they always do.
These men stood together, in front of millions, despite our society.
These men stood with a powerful female advocate.
I am not sure of the long term impact of these shows, but what I do know is the extraordinary effect the show had on the lives of the men. We are telling our family and friends for the first time. We are confronting our abusers. We have started campaigns to combat abuse. We are going into therapy. We are telling our stories.
200 of Oprah’s Men. I am proud to call myself one of them. They say that one motivated soul can affect change on an entire society. Imagine what 200 can do. Imagine if we all finally woke up and began to really talk for the first time.
We’ve had great interest in the My Name Is Project and are waiting with much anticipation for you to submit your survivor video stories in support of this project.
Recently I had the priviledge of participating in the Oprah two-part event on male survivors of child abuse. The first show aired last Friday and began with an emotional opening where the entire audience of 200 male survivors held up pictures of themselves at the age when they were first abused.
It was a powerful moment, standing amongst all those men, holding up a picture of who I was before my life changed so traumatically.
(Wo)Men Speak Out has an idea based on that powerful moment on Oprah. We are working on a new video montage which will hopefully include pictures of all of you. We all have our individual stories. But we have a collective story of abuse that is worth telling to everyone who has felt trauma in their lives, and to those who haven’t.
So this is a call out to ALL SURVIVORS. If you are interested in participating in this montage, send us a high resolution picture of you holding a picture of yourself at the age of your abuse under your chin. Also, include the age of abuse and you can optionally include your name as well. We will collect all of the submissions and create a video montage telling a shared story of abuse.
We need as many submissions as we can because we want this to show the magnitude of abuse and at the same time the human face of survivorship.
Also, keep your personal video submissions coming in. We need to create our video community of survivor stories to inspire all of our brothers and sisters who are right now suffering in silence. The only way we can do it is with your stories.
Thank you for participating in this project. Break the silence. To live.
Chris de Serres
It’s been a few years since I first posted the video My Name is Chris on Youtube. I wanted to create a snapshot of my life. I have been silent about my abuse for over 2 decades and this video is my admission that it has affected almost everything about me. I wanted that happy childhood dream. But I finally knew that there was nothing I could do to take my childhood back, to wipe away the abuse. I couldn’t even pretend anymore that the abuse didn’t exist.
So I made My Name is Chris, and I cry just a little every time I watch it. Recently I had the privilege of taking part in a two-part Oprah special on male survivors of child abuse. Oprah wanted an audience of 200 male survivors to show a face to the millions of men who are abused and never talk about it.
Shortly after the filming I received an email from Jarrod Marcum Noftsger. He was among the 200 men. He wanted to let me know that My Name is Chris helped his recovery. In fact, he made is own version of the video, called My Name is Jarrod, as a way of coming to terms with his own horrific abuse.
There are millions of survivors out there who want to tell their stories. Yet, we feel isolated and unable to express the deepest pain in our lives. The My Name Is Project is there to provide a survivor a way to express it.
So our project is simple:
1. Create your own My Name is… video. There are many programs to make nice montages. I made My Name is Chris with One True Media. If you have any production questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m no video wizard but i’ll do my best to help. I want your video to be as representative of your voice as much as possible.
2. Post your video on Youtube as a “response” to My Name is Chris. Our video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYBkMzQrknk. This way, we stay connected and others can see all of the videos in the project stream.
Click here for a quick tutorial for those who aren’t sure how to add a video in response to ours.
3. Feel free to incorporate what elements you want from My Name is Chris, but your video should have the taste of your personal experience to it. We want to learn about your personal adversity and growth. It can be happy, it can be sad. As long as it is real we want it to be a part of this project.
4. Email Chris along the way with your thoughts, experiences, and questions and to let us know that you have contributed to the “My Name is…” project.
Our goal is to create a community of “My Name is…” videos which tell the collective stories of abuse and trauma in our communities. The short term goal is 50 before the end of 2010. 50 videos. Men and Women. Together. Starting with My Name is Chris and My Name is Jarrod. We need 48 more before January of 2011. We can only do it with your voice.
Sharing your story is the greatest gift you can give to another survivor. When I made My Name is Chris I was only trying to heal from my pain. Imagine the impact our collective montage of stories will have on survivors who need to hear that they are not alone and that their pain matters.
We can only do this with your help.
Chris de Serres
It’s always a measure of a real community when they hear about news of abuse. How will they respond when they learn their community may not be as safe as they thought? Will they react defensively then eventually begin the real discussion? Or will they never have that real discussion? Ideal communities consist of well-intentioned individuals who advocate their way of life and will address safety issues directly and productively. But we know that not all communities are ideal, so we must work with what we have.
As a public speaker I am never truly surprised with the mixed reaction I sometimes receive in the communities I have spoken in throughout the years. Whether it be at a church. Or a college. Or a corporation. There are always some who wonder “why are you here, speaking to us about abuse? This doesn’t happen in my backyard.”
Yet it does.
If abuse didn’t occur in your community I would be doing something else. I would be rock climbing. If I had my choice I could retire early and rock climb for the rest of my life. But I work in abuse for two reasons: I am a male survivor of childhood abuse and because IT’S HAPPENING in your community. When abuse, and all attempts to hide it’s presence, in our communities ceases to exist, then I will happily retire and move on to a happier profession. Until then, you can guess where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.
The tendency of the ‘not in our community’ types is to attack the messenger. To scrutinize their every word. To attempt to break them down and discredit them and all they say. WSO has been under scrutiny more than a few times. We come to expect it. This is the defensive reaction. Yet, it’s our hope that the real discussion takes place at some point. Maybe not when I come to your town to talk about abuse. Maybe later that day. Maybe a week later. Maybe a year.
But at some point if we can get you talking about abuse in your community then we are happy.
Growing up as a boy, nobody talked about abuse in my community. Actually that’s wrong. No parents or adults talked about abuse in my community. My childhood best friend was one of the few souls who told me that he was abused. He was 16 years old at the time. Oh, and my classmate and his little brother who lived next door told me of their sexual abuse. They were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time. Also, my other friend who was beaten bloody when he was 5. He was 15 years old when he told me.
Adults don’t want to talk about abuse. Kids do. But they are too scared. They don’t have a safe person to tell. They don’t have a safe place to go to tell it. For those children who haven’t been touched by the scourge of abuse you, as an adult, are doing a grave disservice to them by pretending it doesn’t happen in all communities, all societies, all cultures, and among all religious faiths.
For all intents and purposes, my family was what one would consider a model family, with model parents, in a model community of people who cared for their children. That model community was a complete illusion.
As an adult, I went back there, to that model community. I spoke with many of my old friends from model families. I told them that I survived abuse. It was only then that I learned of their abuse. At the hands of their fathers, mothers, uncles, neighbors, and teachers. Admissions from the most shocking places and from so many who I never would have suspected. We were all harboring that secret, and our community wasn’t talking.
As a speaker, I rarely set foot in a venue filled completely with ‘not in our community’ types. Usually there is one survivor in the audience. Often in our Q&A sessions we will get skeptics who don’t believe in our message, who don’t believe in our statistics, who can’t stand our presence because talking about abuse in their community is felt as an indictment on them. Then a friend of there’s stands up and announces that they are a member of this community and they were abused. All it takes is one to quiet a room. One courageous soul.
So if you believe that abuse doesn’t happen or is too overblown or too minuscule to really matter in your community, invite me to come speak. I have a feeling you may be in for a surprise.
Chris de Serres
christopher @ womenspeakoutnow.com
I was up late last night trolling the internet for abuse in the news. I noticed a disturbing number of articles in the last few days involving child abuse cases with home schooled children. It peaked my curiosity and so I started looking around for more information on the topic of home schooling and links made previously to reported cases of child trauma. What I came up with was both interesting and thought-provoking. Highlighted were arguments of parental entitlement to regulate their children’s learning as well as a noticeable lack of community concern for the hidden lives of some such children, until after the abuse has already occurred. It made me think about my own education growing up, abuse and parental entitlement of children.
According to Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., author of Facts on Home schooling, there were an estimated 1,700,000 to 2,100,000 children (grades K-12) home educated during 2002-2003 in the United States. Home schooling appears to still be the fastest-growing form of education in this country.
Like many statistics, these numbers are based on those children that are actually reported to the government, which got me thinking about all of those children that go unreported and possible abuse cases that are easily missed. In reality, it’s hard to know how widespread abuse might be with children who are home schooled because the government doesn’t have a competent system in place to keep track of them.
I am not a product of home schooling. Like many, I grew up in a system that was federally regulated. If I didn’t show up to school for the day, you can be sure that our house got a call from the principles office to see what was going on and why I was not there. I was accounted for. This is not the case for children who are home schooled. There are no attendance lists, no phone calls home and no uniform monitoring of their safety. A perfect environment for abuse to flourish undetected.
Now, I can hear the naysayers commenting already. They may argue that home schooling and child abuse are two separate issues. While there are children who are abused by home schooling parents, children are not abused because they are home schooled. Agreed. However, where there are no rules or regulations, there is a greater risk for abuse of children to go undetected.
How do we as a nation protect parents’ rights to raise their own children while the safety of these same children in the home? In reality, home schooling will never be taken off the table and admittedly; there are countless children who are home schooled who flourish in such environments. However, I believe that we need stricter guidelines for home schooling practices.
Children who are schooled outside of the home have a better chance of someone, whether a friend, teacher or community member recognizing signs of abuse and reporting it to the authorities. A child beaten and abused at home, does not have the same advantage.
Like it or not, child abusers who home school are less likely to be caught than parents who send their children to regular school. Home schooling can be an isolating environment, where violence can go unnoticed from the public eye. A bruise or fearful demeanor seen by a teacher, who are mandated to report, can easily be hidden when a child is kept at home. Access for children to resources that would educate them on abuse, it’s prevalence and assist them in finding help would remain out of reach. Day to day monitoring of children and their overall welfare is put in the sole hands of caregivers who if they so choose to abuse, have full access to children, without ever being questioned. One case I read established that a girl who was home schooled by her parents, was later found murdered a full year after her murder because authorities didn’t even know she’d been missing. If this same child had been missing a year from a regulated system, her disappearance and murder may have been avoided by early detected. The system is not perfect by any means, but there are advantages to regulated schools that a home schooled environment lacks when it comes to keeping our children safer.
There is no lock tight panacea to this issue, however we as a community should have a greater voice in how our education is regulated. A proposal for regulation could be to mandate and include home schooled children’s physical exams for review and that children be visited by social service representatives throughout the year to evaluate their physical and mental wellness. I also think that parents who are homeschooling should have more stringent guidelines if they choose to be their children’s sole educator.
Home schooling is currently regulated by individual states and many of these have a limited mandate for parent credentials. This in itself is perplexing to me, as I cannot think of another such important profession that would allow students to be taught without the proper training to do so. The question as to why this is acceptable for our nation’s children remains unanswered.
Additionally, I believe that parents choosing to home school their children should have required training in the areas of child behavior, discipline, safety and development and resources in their community that they may not otherwise know of. Perhaps, a step in the right direction in an effort to protect parental as well as children’s rights. What’s your take on the issue?
We have received quite a bit of feedback on this blog, much of which we couldn’t post because it involved inappropriate personal attacks and insults. This blog was not intended to enter the debate of home schooling vs. standard schooling. It seems this debate is very polarized and involves some extreme reactions that lead many commenters to ignore the issue of this blog entirely for their own agenda. We are now aware that there is a big debate in the UK on this very subject, but please understand our blog has absolutely nothing to do with that debate.
We ask that you approach with an open mind and if you are too intimately attached to the issue of home schooling please address your comments to the appropriate forum.
So here’s the take home message. We are not against home schooling. It’s quite popular in this country and very successful on a number of counts. However, with no regulations, no safeguards (however flawed) an abuser can, and will, take their children out of regular school and be under very little scrutiny doing it. We know because our organization works with the victims every day. So we applaud those home school parents who take their role seriously and make sure their kids are integrated into society. But to say that there should be no regulation, no safeguards, no checks what so ever is an environment that those who choose to abuse can thrive in. Like it or not, we parent our children, but we don’t own them. A child has every right to be protected by their communities, from their communities, by their parents, and from their parents.
A number of comments questioned why we would want to change the existing system to ‘save a few kids’. In our organization, every child counts, and we are committed to saving every one. The statistics tell us that 1 out of every 4 girls, and 1 in every 10 boys, are sexually abused before the age of 16. So that’s more than just ‘a few kids’.
Thank you for all the productive comments and lively discussion.
Chris & Ophelia de Serres
I never liked Corey Haim. Growing up I used to see him and his buddy Corey Feldman in movies and on TV, usually acting obnoxious in some way or other. Smug. Brash. Cocky. Just a few words to describe this duo. They were The Corey’s. Teenagers given too much money and fame too fast. As a teenager myself growing up in the 80’s they had everything that I wanted. Money. Girls. Fame. But like them or not, they were a product of the 80’s, and I own the Coreys every bit as much as I own the 80’s as my teenage formative years. So Corey Haim was a part of my generation.
You often wonder what makes these young stars so wild and crazy. I used to wonder if Corey Haim was always like that. In a manic state, floating from party to party, girl to girl, gig to gig. Somewhere it all stopped, and we didn’t hear much about Corey Haim anymore. It was almost like he just got swept under the rug of Hollywood, like so many child actors are. He hit the peak of his life before the age of 18 years old. How does one go on living knowing that the best has already past them at such a young age?
I thought that this was probably Corey’s struggle. You hit it big, then you are yesterdays news. What do you do with the rest of your life now? I didn’t know that there was much more to this story.
A few years ago A&E aired a reality show called The Two Corey’s. It reunited Corey Haim with his old pal Corey Feldman after all these years. Cameras followed them around as they were making what was supposed to be their triumphant comeback filiming the sequel to the classic vampire flick The Lost Boys.
From the opening episode it was apparent that time hadn’t been very kind to Corey Haim. He was unemployed, slovenly, and an addict. His behavior was erratic. He couldn’t keep himself together. Corey Feldman struggled to find a way to keep his friend afloat. In the end, his drug-induced anxiety led to Corey being almost completely written out of his last comeback movie.
Now Corey Haim is dead. Probably because of a drug overdose, but probably from so much more.
I scoured the internet to see what people were saying about Corey. One media source cited Corey’s 2007 Nightline interview where he admitted drugs hurt his career. Or his 2004 Sun interview where he admitted that he smoked his first joint on the set of The Lost Boys. Another outlet offered how his cocaine use led to crack. In his Larry King interview in 2007 he explained how he was “a chronic relapser for the rest of (his) life.”
All of these reports coming out covering his prescription medication and drug abuse, as if this was the explanation for why Corey is no longer here. I couldn’t believe how we all missed it completely.
The answer to the question of why took me back to the The Two Coreys. In one episode, they decided to see a therapist together. Corey Haim and Corey Feldman shared a terrible secret. An adult friend of Feldman’s raped Corey Haim. A friend Feldman kept around after knowing what he did. During the therapy session you could see the pain that this had caused Haim.
Just for a brief moment I understood what underlied this cocky and obnoxious persona I resented back in the 80’s. The drugs only masked the deeper pain that none of us male survivors ever want to deal with.
But Haim did deal with his trauma in the only way that men know how. In 2008 he explained, “It’s something that will be addressed in my inner soul for the rest of my life, and it’s something that truly affects me . . . It’s just like, it happened, it’s over, and move on. Let’s move on to the next subject.”
But he never could.
Corey Haim, the Lost Boy, passed on March 10,2010. A drug overdose is suspected as the cause of death.