the following is a speech i gave on friday to a group of 25 students in my speaking with confidence elective.
What I want to talk to you about today is an issue that has been close to the core of my reality for a very long time. It is one that I have been drawn to in media reports and in all honestly has occupied so much space in my mind that I have at times questioned my own sanity. It also happens to be a topic that no one really wants to talk about.
My name is Bryant and I experienced sexual abuse over a three year period between the ages of 6 and 9.
I do not see myself as either a victim of or as survivor of sexual abuse, but simply as one who has experienced it, all the while being acutely aware of its impact and how it has shaped the reality I have experienced.
I could talk for the next hour about the impact of this experience in my life, but that is not what I am here to do today. I am looking to start a conversation that will hopefully allow you to think about having a conversation which could move us as a society to have a larger conversation because in my experience as far as the subject of Childhood Sexual Abuse goes, we have either been not having a conversation or have been having the wrong conversation.
I have been looking at this issue for the past 20 years or so, and there are really only 2 conversations that I have noticed happening around childhood sexual abuse.
The first and smaller conversation is about helping people that have had this experience and while this is much needed, to date this has only produced a fraction of what is really needed and there have only been a meager amount of resources dedicated to helping individuals that have experienced this kind of trauma. That said, I have started noticing fairly recently that more attention is starting to be paid to early life trauma, as it is a catalyst to so many of the difficulties facing individuals’ from mental health to poverty to criminal justice issues.
The second and larger conversation that has been going on is about what to do with the perpetrators. The narrow focus of this conversation is about law and order, crime and punishment. How can we lock these individuals up for a longer time, how can we keep our children safe.
In large swaths of the globe there is no conversation happening at all. A little closer to home in North America there is the US approach of handing out 10 to 50 year sentences, which would often allow perpetrators to die in prison, thus removing their ability to harm more children. This though presupposes that the victim reports the abuse, the authorities investigate and a conviction is achieved. Canada also follows the crime and punishment model.
Exactly one year ago the Conservative government passed the Safe Streets and Communities act, which contained a previous bill, entitled, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, which increased the penalties for sexual offences against children.
I am a little at a loss to know how this will actually protect children, as sentencing only occurs after children have been abused.
This is where the conversation stops, there is no discussion about why individuals abuse children, there might be a conversation about how children could have been better protected, there might be a conversation about the systemic issues of the organizations that perpetrators get involved with for access to children and how they could have prevented this, but there is no conversation about the overall societal structural issues that I believe contribute to the sexual abuse of children.
About 3 weeks ago Theo Flury, a former NHL player and self-identified survivor of sexual abuse, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, “This is a great day for all survivors,” after the Supreme Court increased his abusers sentence from 2 to 5 years, which is a very rare occurrence.
Maybe because I don’t classify myself as a survivor, but it really wasn’t a great day for me. Don’t get me wrong but after watching perpetrator after perpetrator receiving little or no punishment over so many years, I was happy to actually see a sentence that seemed higher than the status quo, after being in a courtroom a number of years ago and watching my own abuser receive 2 years less a day for his third conviction, I am more than a little put off by our criminal justice system and its approach to dealing with sex offenders.
That said a 5 year federal sentence, equates to possible release after 20 months and no mandatory counseling while in prison.
As far as I can see the only mainstream conversation happening around this issue, is about crime and punishment.
We live in a society that states that it cares about and protects children, yet there has been no decrease in the number of offences against children.
We live in a society that believes that punishment for crimes committed, prevents crimes from being committed.
I have yet to see that as the case.
We live in a society that wants to pat itself on the back by saying that it values children, all the while sexualizing them, shaming them for being sexual and from my perspective doing nothing to actually protect them from sexual abuse.
Sure there have been many programs launched to let children know what others should not do to them, to allow parents an understanding of what to look out for in order to protect their children. But what are we really doing from preventing individuals that are sexually attracted to children, or looking to act out distorted power dynamics on children, from actually following through with their desires.
I don’t believe we are doing anything, helpful.
Fact: Pedophiles exist.
Fact: People that do not fall into the clinical classification of Pedophile, sexually
Fact: There is not a clear psychological understanding of why individuals abuse
Fact: Most therapists and social workers do not want to work with either potential
or convicted child abusers.
Fact: Criminal sanctions are not preventing Child Abuse.
Fact: The status quo is not helping to keep children safe.
So what do we collectively do to help children NOT have to experience this type of trauma?
The answer is that I do not know, but I believe that it does lay in asking the question and starting this conversation.
If we can stop for a moment and accept the above facts, we have started to walk in a new direction. We can start to move away from the erroneous conviction that harsher sentences will protect children.
We need to have this conversation in order to create a safe space where an individual that has these types of impulses can find a place to seek help.
We need to do more research into effective treatments that will help us as a society help those who would harm children seek treatment, BEFORE they commit this type of act.
We need to put more resources into helping those who have experienced sexual abuse heal and then share their stories, so that they can become empowered from their experience.
We need to talk about sexual abuse in a way that allows children to see what they intuitively know is wrong and happening to them, not become so bogged down by the confusion and shame of their experience that they cannot become their own saviors.
We need to talk about the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators are some one either inside the family or known to them, stranger abuse is actually quite rare.
We need to talk about how much we respect and honour our children, so that we are willing to put aside our feelings of discomfort and talk openly and honestly about the prevalence of sexual abuse.
The conversation needs to start now and by doing so we can admit that while so far we have failed to truly protect our children, we are collectively willing to accept our fallibility and find a new way of looking, thinking, helping and talking about sexual abuse.
By doing so, I feel that we can collectively heal both ourselves and our children.
Canadian Press, (2013, Feb. 15). Graham James jail sentence extended to five years.
The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2013/02/15/graham_james_jail_sentence_extended_to_five_years.html
Thompson, B. (2011) Childhood Sexual Abuse and Its Impact In Canada.
(Unpublished Canadian Social Welfare Essay). George Brown College, Toronto.
Thompson, B (2010 Nov. 24). words to heal, words to hear, words to ….. . Retrieved from