NEW BREMEN – Dispelling the myth that “male children can’t be molested,” author and Olympic athlete John-Michaeal Lander spoke to the New Bremen-New Knoxville Rotary Tuesday morning about his personal experiences with sexual abuse in the sports world and how to spot the signs that your male child may be a victim.
Lander is currently doing a book tour to promote his new publication “Outcast: The Hollywood Years” and to raise funding to re-publish “Surface Tension,” his book on his years of sexual abuse while a competitive diver. His funding site can be found at Kickstarter.com under “Outcast: The Hollywood Years.”
Lander was frank with the Rotary members about how he reached the point of being sexually abused by many men involved in the sports field during his years as a competitive diver and the taboos involved that kept him from asking for help.
He said the situation can start in a positive manner.
“Imagine,”he said, “your child being an elite athlete, to the point they are looking at the Olympics. You have to make sure they have the proper coaches and team to support that.”
Professionally, he was succeeding, becoming a diver who competed at the World Games in 1979 at the age of 16.
He said his coach became his trusted mentor as he moved further to fulfill his dreams of becoming an Olympic champion.
“Everything he said meant the world to me.”
He said during the long car rides and shared hotels rooms, the coach formed a bond with him. He said the beginning of the abuse happens slowly.
“Just a touch on a shoulder and while he is praising the boy, the boy is falling more and more under his spell,” he said.
Isolation from family and friends also allows a predator to become the main person in a child’s life.
For example, he said his interest in diving rather than football in the village of Wayneville, Ohio, made him appear to be, in his terms, “a freak.” He said the community did not understand what being a diver meant, so did not talk to him about it. He was even isolated by his successes. He said a girl turned him down for prom after he competed at the World Games because people would be looking at him, not her.
Another isolating factor was growing up as part of a poor farm family, with an alcoholic father and a mother on diet pills. Lander said his parents were enamored by the perks Landers and the family were getting as he won more awards.
Landers pointed out in his presentation that if a child resists sexual advances, the opportunistic predator is unlikely to pursue that child, moving on to other potential victims. He said this is why parents need to keep an open dialogue with their children to both monitor changes in their behavior as well as assure each child that they should always talk to them about any situation.
Lander said, once he was initiated into the sex world, word spread in the predator community and he began getting calls and invitations to dinner from people who offered to be benefactors for his Olympics ambitions, but at a cost.
As an example, he said, “My sister suffered a terrible sledding accident and needed reconstructive surgery on her chin. Her surgery was done completely free of charge.”
That night, he said he spent his 16th birthday in a hotel room with the doctor who helped her. Landers said he thought it was his obligation to help his family.
He said it was not unusual for a Cadillac to pull up to his isolated family farmhouse to “take him out to dinner.”
“One night I felt I couldn’t take it anymore and told my mother I didn’t want to go,” he said. When he told his mother it was “because he touches me,” her response was to slap him across the face and accuse him of lying about an important man in the community.
“At that point, I realized nobody would believe me, so I stuffed it all down and began compartmentalizing things. Like puzzle pieces, trying to make sure they all fit.”
He added that, although he was now competing on the world stage things at that point, he felt something had been stolen from him, and began questioning his own sexual orientation.
He said there was a point when he attempted suicide by sitting in a running car in the garage. He aborted the attempt but said the pain never goes away.
Lander’s epiphany for writing his book “Surface Tension” came when, as a Stivers High School teacher, he was approached by a student who said he had a 35 year-old boyfriend who paid all the bills. When questioned, the student said his mother and grandmother were OK with that relationship. He said bells and whistles were going off in his head, but the school did not want to deal with the situation.
Landers said society doesn’t let us talk about sexual abuse.
“Especially in the sports world, questionable behavior among boys is a considered hazing, a rite of passage, or an initiation because of the belief that males can’t be sexually abused,” he said. He also said, in team sports, there is a bond among members that discourages reporting inappropriate behavior because it would disrupt team unity.
Lander also blamed the professional societies like USA Diving because they were “more interested in medals than students.”
Lander said one out of six males is sexually abused before the age of 18, with 93 percent knowing who the abuser is.
Besides representing the USA in international springboard diving competition and becoming a noted author of four books, Lander has become an independent representative for Arbonne International, has performed on “General Hospital” and “All My Children,” and was the lead in the independent films “All The Rage” and “Pilgrim.”
His book “Outcast: The Hollywood Years” records his years in the film industry, where he said sexual abuse is also common.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.