Survivor Story: Joe

Following his adoptive parents’ divorce, Joe began spending more time with his Boy Scout leader. When he was 13 years old, Joe’s troop traveled to the Gettysburg Battlefield with his Boy Scout troop for a jamboree. “My scout leader sexually assaulted me in his tent,” says Joe. His scout leader would continue to abuse him for the next three years.

Two years into the abuse, Joe was diagnosed as “mentally disturbed” by a health professional and placed in a new school. The new environment wasn’t enough, and he struggled to deal with the effects of the abuse. After incidents of sexual assault or abuse, men and boys often face unique challenges due to social norms about gender roles and masculinity.

Joe eventually turned to drugs and got in trouble with the law, having numerous stays in prison. During one of these stays, Joe’s father and grandfather came to visit him. It was then, nearly 40 years after the abuse began, that he told his family what happened.

Sexual assault survivor Joe poses with his dog, who is an important part of his recovery process.Joe speaks openly about being affected by the stigma associated with being a survivor of sexual assault and living with mental health challenges. “Mental health struggles are lifelong issues for someone like me,” says Joe.

During his time in prison, he diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Media portrayals of PTSD, as well as the lack of understanding from his friends, made it all the more difficult for Joe to deal with. When he couldn’t find the support he needed in friends and family, he turned to his pets.

“[I love] my dogs because they accept me and love me,” Joe says of his red-nosed pitbull and black labrador.

As Joe grew to understand PTSD and bipolar disorder better, he felt more comfortable sharing his story. By talking openly about how the abuse affected his life, Joe was able to move his life in a more positive direction.

“I set myself on a path to improvement and have never stopped,” Joe says.

Read more about Joe’s story at The Bristlecone Project from 1in6, an organization dedicated to supporting adult male survivors of child sexual abuse.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE and, y en español: