Dr. Jason Peck, a psychiatrist and sleep expert, is doing what not so long ago would have been unthinkable for a man who claims he was sexually abused as a child:
Peck is speaking out.
So much stigma is attached to child molestation that men who bring charges often dont want anyone to know their names. From the day it happened, Ive tried very hard to push away the dark, terrifying, and sickening memories fearing what would happen to me or my family if I spoke out, said Peck, now 45.
But as the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded at Penn State in the fall of 2011, Peck felt compelled to go public. Who better, he thought, to put a victims face on such an horrific crime than a medical doctor married with two children, a nice house and a solid reputation?
Who better to stand up to an alleged abuser and say, Im not scared of you any more?
For a man to speak out candidly would have been unthinkable not that long ago, said psychologist Mary Gail Frawley-ODea, co-director of Presbyterian Psychological Services and a nationally-recognized authority on sexual abuse. Women began talking openly about sexual abuse during the womens movement of the 1970s. But Frawley-ODea said it took the sex scandals surrounding the Catholic church and Penn State for men to feel comfortable stepping forward.
It liberated more men to feel that this is something that happens and they can talk about it, Frawley-ODea said. She said that as many as one-third of all women worldwide and 20 to 25 percent of all men are sexually abused before age 18.
Nobody wants to believe it, she said. We want to think its some dirty old man in a subway grabbing a kid. Its doctors, lawyers. Its priests. Its ministers. And, occasionally, though not often, its a woman.
Peck claims it was a neighbor in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
A father figure to him
In a lawsuit filed in Ohio in December, Peck named his attacker as William Airey, then head of the Moose International fraternal and service organization.
Airey, 71, retired about a week after the suit was filed and Moose International barred him from contacting students at the organizations residential care facility. The Moose fraternity is shocked by this allegation as this is not the Bill Airey we know, the nonprofit said in a statement.
Airey could not be reached for comment. In a court document, he denied the accusations.
Peck was 12 at the time of the alleged abuse in 1980, and lived with his mother and sister across the street from Airey. Pecks parents were divorced and his father lived in Colorado.
Airey became a father figure, Peck said. This was a person I really trusted. I looked up to him.
Peck said he and other neighborhood boys gathered in Aireys basement to watch movies and eat snacks. He said Airey took them to dinner. Once Airey took him, his mother and his sister to the symphony.
He and Airey also shared a special ritual, Peck said. My bedroom window faced his house and so in the morning he would flick the lights on and off on his front porch around 6:30 or 7 a.m. and he asked me to flick my lights so we could say Good morning.
In the lawsuit, attorneys Seth Langson and Leto Copeley alleged that Airey was grooming Peck for sexual abuse. Langson, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, including four pending against the Catholic church, said predators ingratiate themselves into their victims lives to gain their trust.
You make them feel like theyre special, Langson said. They will be less likely to resist abuse. They wont understand that what youre doing is so wrong because they view the person as a very trusted friend. Or, in the case of a priest, they often view them as a representative of God on Earth.
According to the lawsuit, the two incidents of abuse, molestation and exploitation happened on Moose-related functions.
During the summer of 1980, Peck said, Airey drove to New Orleans on business for the organization and took along Peck, Pecks sister, Aireys daughter and Aireys nephew and niece. Peck said they stayed in a hotel suite and he slept on a fold-out couch in the living room.
Airey came back late one night, Peck said, smelling of alcohol.
It was dark. He gets into the bed and gets real close behind me. I was facing away from him. He puts this big heavy arm around me, and he starts groping me up... I kept grabbing his wrist and moving him away.
Peck said Airey persisted until Peck blurted out: What are you doing?
Airey apologized, Peck said, and told Peck he had mistaken him for his wife (who wasnt on the trip).
Peck said he felt confused by what happened. But because he trusted Airey, he said, he rationalized that Airey was drunk. It wasnt until the next event that I realized what he did in New Orleans was wrong.
The second alleged abuse
The second incident occurred on a Moose-related trip north of Columbus, Peck said. That time, he said, he alone went with Airey.
All of a sudden in the middle of the night in a dark hotel room, he was on top of me in my bed, Peck said. I was absolutely terrified. I froze and tried to leave my body mentally and acted like I was asleep.
The lawsuit claimed Airey sexually abused him.
Peck said someone recently asked him how he could have let it happen.
I didnt let it happen. People think of me as this doctor, somebody who has clout in society, a man in control, Peck said. You have to remember I was 12 back then, and he was probably in his mid- to late-30s. I was probably 5 foot 3, 5 foot 4, and 110 to 120 pounds. This guy was 6-4 and 220 pounds. I didnt have the ability to stop it without fearing I was going to get injured or hurt.
As they drove home the next day, Peck said he gathered the courage to speak out when he recognized familiar landmarks. I knew that if I had to jump out of the car I could find my way home, he said. I told him how sick he was, what a terrible thing he did, that I would never talk to him again.
And he never did.
I feel fortunate compared to some of the victims in the Sandusky case who were victimized multiple times, Peck said. I had something to fall back into, a loving, close-knit family.
Always with him
Peck didnt tell anyone for years, which is not unusual. Perpetrators often threaten their victims, Langson said.
Peck said Airey told him it would harm Pecks family if he revealed their secret, and Peck worried his mother might lose custody of him and his sister.
I decided early on to stuff it away, not to talk about it. I was embarrassed about how it would make me look as a 12-year-old kid. I didnt want to be labeled as the boy who was victimized by his neighbor. I constantly filled my life up and kept busy. But it has always been with me.
While in medical school in Rochester, N.Y., he said he drove by a Moose Lodge on his way to the hospital every day and he said his wounds reopened. He said he took about a year off, saw a therapist and confided to his mother and his fiancé.
Peck attributes the break-up of that first marriage in part to the alleged abuse. He has since remarried.
Thirty-three years later, he said he still has trouble sleeping and suffers from nightmares. He has issues with trust and intimacy.
The boiling point
Peck moved to the Charlotte area in 2003 to start a sleep clinic at Mecklenburg Medical Group.
I was working all these hours, taking care of my family, taking care of my patients, trying to build this sleep medicine division, but I was really blind to the fact that I needed to take care of myself, he said. The boiling point is when Penn State came out.
He remembers hearing Theoren Fleury, a former professional hockey player, talk about being abused by a coach. If a hockey player, the epitome of a tough guy, could speak out, so could he.
I felt like using the weight of what I hope to be a reasonably solid reputation somebody who is not just there to sue this guy for money it might help other people come forward, Peck said.
He said he took a leave of absence from his job and met with Langson, who specializes in sexual abuse cases. They Googled William Airey and discovered that Pecks childhood neighbor had become the director general of Moose International.
That was the moment that I knew I had to speak out, Peck said.
His lawsuit asks for compensation for extreme emotional and psychological injuries and for the cost of therapy and lost wages. But Peck said he didnt file the suit for money. He filed it because Airey, in his role as chief executive officer of Moose International in Mooseheart, Ill., was in close contact with vulnerable boys.
A time to heal
The lawsuit claimed that in 1996 and 2007, Moose International investigated Airey for alleged sexual misconduct with children, but took no action.
A Moose spokesman said he had no knowledge of whatever may or may not have occurred. Asked if he could find out if anyone else knew about possible investigations of Airey, he replied, I will stick with what I just said.
After the lawsuit was filed, Peck was interviewed on national Fox News and his story was picked up online and in newspapers. He was taken aback, he said, by online comments faulting him for not speaking out sooner and accusing him of being out for money. But it gave me insight into what people think. Not everyone is going to think youre a brave, good guy. People will be skeptical. Its funny, people immediately attack the victim.Langson said they also heard from other men who allege they were abused by Airey.
We are evaluating their claims, Langson said. Theres always a difficulty proving these cases because they are almost always crimes without witnesses. But in every case we try to find evidence to corroborate the clients accusations and investigate the defendant as thoroughly as we can.
Peck is in therapy again and no longer with Mecklenburg Medical Group. He said he hopes to re-establish a medical practice in this area. For the time being, he said he is doing what he wishes he had done years ago: Striving to heal.