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Kansas City man encourages others who've been sexually assaulted to ‘tell their story’

Nik Shuliahin
Approximately one out of six men are sexually assaulted by parents babysitters and other authority figures, but often keep it to themselves.

"We need to hold each other up," says one Kansas City man who was assaulted by his priest. Others tell their stories in a new Netflix documentary shot in Kansas City.

Brian Heydon was sexually assaulted as a kid.

Now a licensed counselor in Kansas City, Heydon grew up in a Catholic family. In the 1960s and '70s, he said, the religion was a place for child predators to thrive.

"The dynamic is you are indoctrinated into a faith that you don't question," said Heydon. "The priest, we call him father, and he's the gateway to our salvation. He's so powerful. You don't question him, no matter what."

Heydon and his family moved to St. John Francis Regis Parish in southeast Kansas City, where, he said, the priest began to groom him. Heydon described a moment where the priest showed up to his religion class and told him he'd earned a gift: the job of answering phones at the rectory, where the priest lived.

"And he didn't ask me, he told me," said Heydon. "But again, you don't question these guys."

Heydon said it took 20 years to come to terms and fully tell the story of his experience, but he stressed the power of sharing one's story.

An estimated one out of six men are sexually assaulted by parents, babysitters or authority figures such as priests, but often keep it to themselves.

"I don't think you're free from your story, unless you can tell it," Heydon said.

Other men tell their stories in "Procession," a Netflix documentary set for release on Nov. 19, which focuses on six men who all suffered abuse from priests. The documentary was inspired by a Pennsylvania grand jury's findings that church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by hundreds of priests for decades. Much of it was filmed in Kansas City.

Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.

"I think there is a very stereotypical way that we represent sexual violence in our society, and those stories really dictate the narrative," said Victoria Pickering, director of advocacy at Kansas City's Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOSCA).

"They also impact survivors directly as to whether or not they feel comfortable coming forward," Pickering said. "Men often times have that perception that what happened to them wasn't valid or wasn't real."

Pickering's organization holds weekly men's support groups and works with men who have experienced sexual abuse and assault.

Heydon's road to healing has been long. Since turning 60, he said he has found that his fear has gone away and he is over the despair the Catholic Church put him through.

"I grew up so Catholic, and everybody I love is Catholic, but I am over that hierarchy that throws people away," said Heydon. "Men need to tell their story and we need to hold each other up. I think in doing that, you are finally free."

  • Brian Heydon, Licensed Counselor, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Victoria Pickering, Director of Advocacy at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, Kansas City, Missouri
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