The Bristlecone Project: Men talk about sexual abuse as a child and how they're coping.

Bill Martin spent the first four years of his life in foster homes. He was adopted and then was sexually abused by multiple offenders.


All images from The Bristlecone Project, used with permission.

Like most victims of sexual abuse, he struggled with an inner voice that told him he was broken and damaged and would say, “Did you ask for any of this?” To which, he’d respond, “No, I didn’t ask for any of this. How can you?! SEVEN years old!”

He now finds solace in the ocean and in playing the piano.

Bill is part of a group called The Bristlecone Project that aims to tell the stories of men who survived sexual abuse as children and have come to a place where they can talk about it and help others heal.

The statistics are staggering — yes, staggering. I can use no better word to describe it.

According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before age 18. (And 1 in 4 girls, though this project is specifically about males.)

That's 21 million men who walk around with the shame and guilt of having been sexually abused as a child.

It’s sometimes harder for men to process their own abuse, especially when young, because it kind of touches on the concepts of maleness and masculinity that our society has foisted upon us. “If I were a real man, I would have fought them off!” is a frequent refrain that men who’ve been through it have been known to think.

The Bristlecone Project aims to let men who have been through childhood sexual abuse tell their stories on their own terms.

There’s already a sizable collection of photos and personal stories on the website, but the bigger goal is to create a series of short videos where these men express themselves, what they've lived through, and how they survive.

Powerful? Damned right.

Mark Godoy Jr. was abused at age 8 by an older cousin. He told his parents despite the abuser's threats, and fortunately, it ended.

He still retains some anger and self-blame from those days, however, and has channeled some of that into his art. He also speaks to high schools about his experiences, which helps him heal and provides an opportunity for those kids to begin healing.

Mark's story is exceptional. Many people don't come to terms with their abuse, which is why this project is so important.

Check out the Kickstarter for The Bristlecone Project.

The makers are seeking $50,000 to produce the videos and get them housed somewhere on the web where they can be accessible to everyone.

More in the clip below:

Finally, just know that this is hard stuff for anyone to process. If the stories or images above leave you feeling the need to talk to someone, go to 1in6.org, which is the organization making the videos, and you can get 24/7 online support.

And, as always, if you're feeling desperate or like you might be likely to harm yourself, there's also the suicide hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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