Mother-Son Incest: Hidden in Shame and Rising

"I was sneaking money and stealing coins and running down to the pay phone and begging, 'Please come and save us,'" he said. "She eventually did but was reluctant because she was afraid."

After a court battle -- his mother unsuccessfully sought custody -- Milligan lived for a time with his sister, immersing himself in books and trying to catch up.

He had missed so much school that he could only read at a third-grade level.

"I could tell time and tie my shoes, but I struggled through my first book, Dr. Seuss' 'Green Eggs and Ham,'" he said. "I read the whole summer and pored though every book I checked out of the library. By seventh grade I barely passed, but I never quit. I kept trying and trying."

Panic Attacks and Intimacy Issues

But the abuse took its toll. Until he was 16, Milligan had panic attacks and wet his bed, seeing countless child psychologists and therapists.

But by the time he was asked to leave his sister's at 16, he was an A student and involved in athletics.

Though he drifted out of foster homes and shelter with friends and priests, Milligan eventually went on to college and later graduate school.

"To this day the one question people ask is why I survived," he said. "I don't know, maybe there was something bigger and better than all of us and I tapped in to it. But I remind people it doesn't come without its problems."

As an adult, Milligan now needs medication to sleep and still has chronic nightmares, as well as anxiety attacks. "I find myself carrying around a paper bag, but I've managed to avoid the pitfalls of any addictions," he said.

Some men who are abused by their mothers become hypersexual or addicted to pornography, others avoid contact altogether.

Milligan, too, struggles with intimacy in relationships. His first marriage ended in divorce, but he has since remarried. "She is a wonderful woman and working with me in therapy."

Milligan's "happy ending" was watching his son from the first marriage -- "the sweetest, most gentle young man" -- recently graduate summa cum laude from college.

"If there is any indication of success, it's not me or the fact that I graduated from college or writing a professional position," he said. "It's my son -- he has never known violence, only love."

But his own attitude has also fueled Milligan's recovery. "I wanted to focus on the possibility of change and perseverance," he said. "I honestly don't know why I chose to read instead of doing drugs."

With good treatment, many male victims like Milligan do survive, according to Nancy Cotterman, director of the Broward County Sexual Abuse Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I don't think they ever forget, but there are many who become empowered adolescents and adults."

What's lacking, say experts, is public awareness of mother-son abuse.

"We have the laws we need, the professionals in every profession and a tremendous network of highly trained and capable individuals in the U.S. to respond to sexual abuse," said NCAC's Newlin. "The greatest challenge is that it is such an ugly subject that most people have a hard time wanting to pay attention to it"

For free, confidential, 24/7, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or go to the online hotline.

For more information go to the National Children's Advocacy Center .

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