Michael Skinner has represented male child abuse survivors on Oprah, spoken to the National Press Club, and been a keynote speaker at a conference presented by the United Nations and the State Department at Georgetown University on the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and adults. He’s also been the advisor/consultant to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) at the national level, helping to implement trauma informed care.
Skinner’s professional credentials don’t come from academia. He and his siblings underwent severe and prolonged abuse in Massachusetts decades ago. Two of his siblings took their own lives. He maintains that what is often termed “mental illness” is in many cases the result of events so cruel they attack the sense of self.
Q. You’ve paid a high price for the abuse you suffered as a child. Are you comfortable addressing that?
A. The biggest hurt is how it disconnects you from yourself and from others. Trauma disconnects us. Society doesn’t want to hear about sex abuse and that just creates another level of disconnect. You can’t heal in isolation. As a child you feel you’re at fault, so you have deep shame. As you get older and speak out, society reinforces that shame. Don’t say anything. It’s in the past. Forget about it … and yet many survivors think you’re courageous for speaking out. You’re wounded, but you do heal. Peer support is crucial. I’ve learned that I’m not mentally ill. I’ve had trauma and abuse in my life. I’ve suffered mental health injuries.
Q. Can you comment on the strong “Aha!” experiences you’ve had in the journey of uncovering what happened to you?
A. I’d never thought about myself as a survivor of childhood sex trafficking, even though I’d spoken about and presented on the topic. I was about to be introduced to the National Press Club when Christine Dolan, the investigative journalist, said “Michael. You were trafficked. Your parents brought you to other people’s homes.
You were brought to a church.” I’d never thought of that.
“Stranger danger” is a diversion. Yes, there have been high-profile cases where someone has been abducted and it’s gotten all the press it deserves. Find that child. Find that teenager. But that’s a small percentage when you look at who’s actually being abused out there.
Q. Is the popularity of books such as “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” which has been on bestseller lists for over five years, indicative of how childhood trauma is both misunderstood and grossly underreported?
A. Yes and yes. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve attended enough conferences to hear people with alphabet soups after their names talk about how illnesses are misdiagnosed. It’s really trauma. I’m aware that some folks have serious illnesses, such as bipolar or schizophrenia, but even then, if you pull back the layers in their lives, you’re going to find trauma. If we looked at and we weren’t afraid of that, it would help the healing.
I like to quote author and USC psychiatry professor John Briere: “If we could somehow end child abuse and neglect, the 800 pages of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) would be reduced to a pamphlet in two generations.”
Read the entire article – NH Business Review – Q&A INTERVIEW with Michael Skinner, Advocate for Survivors of Child Abuse