You Made Me This Way by Shannon Molloy

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was handed down in December 2017.  For many people, it was perhaps the first time that the extent of child sexual abuse in trusted and respected organisations was exposed.  The Royal Commission conducted 57 case studies and received statements from thousands of survivors and from family members, carers, supporters and others.

But behind those who provided statements are many more thousands of victims who have not yet been able or willing to disclose their abuse.  One person who has is the author of this book Shannon Molloy who was abused as a five-year-old child; but not, as is so often the case, by a parent or relative or even another adult, but his eight-year-old friend.  It was many years before he was able to disclose the abuse – which occurred over an extended period of time – to his psychiatrist.  He was seeing the psychiatrist not specifically about the abuse but at the insistence of his partner because of his ‘tendency for self-destruction and [his] horribly immature and unsustainable way of dealing with [his] emotions’ [32].  And as the psychiatrist unpacks the abuse, the author sets out the emotions he constantly experiences – feeling ‘ugly, stupid, unworthy, unlovable, fucked’ [42].  The tragedy [used advisedly here] about these emotions is that they are so often shared by every other survivor of child sexual abuse.

Shannon Molloy decided that he needed to find out whether what happened between him and his friend – given their ages – was actually sexual abuse.  Then by accident he begins his journey towards the answer.  In his adult role as a journalist, he is sent to interview Luke in relation to a story about Polished Man a campaign benefitting child sexual abuse victims.  Luke is in his late thirties and he shares with Shannon his experience of sexual abuse.  When Luke was eight-years-old, a seventeen-year-old boy targeted him and began to abuse him.  The impact of the abuse was manifested later when he was in his twenties – deep feelings of shame and guilt which led to self-destructive behaviours including a serious suicide attempt.

Through the book, harrowing stories of sexual abuse emerge from the men with whom the author speaks.  Their experiences range from Joey who at seventeen was abused by his uncle five or six times in the space of a weekend.  Twelve months later, Joey suicides.  Then there is Chris aged fourteen and with his school class is on an excursion in a local park.  He goes off to the toilet and is confronted by a man in his twenties with his penis in his hand.  Returning to the toilet block some days later, he is confronted by an older man who introduces him to other men who take turns to abuse him.  For three or four years, he is a sexual plaything for these men and others like them.  On the cusp of adulthood, he realises what is happening and escapes.  Like so many other victims, he experiences overwhelming shame, guilt and sadness in equal measure.

The experiences of these men are heart-wrenching to read.  They share a deep sense of betrayal whether by a friend, an uncle, a stranger, or a trusted friend of the family – in each situation, the closeness to and trust in that other person was destroyed when the person reached out and sexually touched the boy.

Interspersed with the first-hand experiences of the survivors to whom the author spoke are interviews with experts like Michael Salter – an associate professor of criminology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales.  In an article in 2015, he throws light on the question why many victims of child sexual abuse take so long to come forward.  Studies consistently demonstrate that most child victims do not tell anyone when they are children.  Reasons for this include their relationship with the perpetrator, the level of shame the victim feels, and the degree to which they blame themselves for the abuse.  This last reason is sometimes one which the perpetrator will turn back on the victim as in: you wanted me to do this; you enjoyed it; and you came back for more.  There is also the very real risk that the victim will not be believed or not heard or ignored.  According to Salter, the negative and shaming reactions to disclosure ‘significantly increase the risk of mental illness and distress in the victim’ [74].

Carol Ronken – previously an associate professor at Griffith University and more recently director of research at Bravehearts – informs the author that ‘one in five children will be affected by sexual abuse in some form’ [62].  She explains that one reason for male victims not speaking out is that the abuse is perpetrated by another male which raises in the mind of the victim questions about his masculinity, for example: was I ‘selected’ because I am gay?

But despite the sometimes-overwhelming feeling in the reader of heartache for the victims, there remains some hope for their future.  After his broad ranging interviews with survivors and experts, the author concludes:

my story, but especially the stories of the men I’ve met through my journey, shows that … there is so much capacity for healing and finding some sort of peace [335].

Shannon Molloy’s courage in confronting his own sexual abuse and seeking out a process for healing – and sharing both the abuse and his journey – cannot be denied.  Nor can the courage of the men who were prepared to speak with the author and allow their stories to be made public.  It needs to be noted though that their names and any identifying locations have been changed to protect their privacy.

You Made Me This Way is at the same time both heart-wrenching and uplifting as it progresses through the disclosures and the individual responses to the resultant trauma and pain.  Some – like Joey – did not survive but many others did.

The final words must be the author’s – ‘Protecting children from sexual abuse is everybody’s job’ [339].

You Made Me This Way


by Shannon Molloy

HarperCollins Australia

ISBN 978 146076 186 1

$34.99; 352pp




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