Canada: Combatting child sex abuse


A former Canadian hockey player addressed U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with a message they would do well to heed.
In fact, Sheldon Kennedy’s message should be taken to heart by legislators everywhere.

Kennedy, the former NHL player who was one of the sexual abuse victims of former hockey coach Graham James, told the U.S. Senate subcommittee on children and families it’s important to “empower the bystanders” – those who have suspicions that children are being sexually abused.“Senators, you need to give all adults working with youth and all parents the tools to recognize and respond to abuse when it first arises,” Kennedy said at Tuesday’s hearing, which was intended to examine child abuse laws in the U.S.

The reason those tools are needed is that, just as it is difficult for victims to report abuse, it can also be difficult for people who suspect abuse to act on their suspicions. Kennedy explained pedophiles are counting on the fact that it’s hard to believe trusted adults could be involved in abusing children. The more glowing the alleged abuser’s reputation, the more difficult it is to accept the notion of abuse.

“In my case, my abuser was International Hockey Man of the Year,” Kennedy told the U.S. senators. “In Canada, that gave him almost God-like status. Sound familiar? The kids – and often their parents, too – looked up to him as a hero. This was someone who could make their dreams come true and he used that trust to hurt them.”

On the same day Kennedy spoke to the Senate subcommittee, the accused in the child molestation case that has rocked Penn State University made a court appearance, where he waived a preliminary hearing. Jerry Sandusky was a respected assistant coach with one of America’s most celebrated college football programs.

The scandal has so far cost the jobs of legendary coach Joe Paterno as well as the school’s president, and led to charges against two administrators who are accused of lying to a grand jury and failing to report the suspected abuse.

Meanwhile, Syracuse University’s basketball program is dealing with a similar scandal after two former ball boys accused a former assistant basketball coach of molesting them.

“In every case of child abuse – certainly in my own – there are people who had a ‘gut feeling’ that something was wrong but didn’t do anything about it,” Kennedy went on to say.

“Their attitude was: ‘I don’t want to get involved,’ ‘it’s not my problem,’ ‘he couldn’t possibly be doing that’ or ‘the authorities will take care of it.’ And that’s what pedophiles and predators are counting on. They are counting on the public’s ignorance or – worse yet – their indifference.”

If progress is to be made in tackling the problem of child sex abuse, the obstacles of fear and indifference must be removed. The abuse of children is a community issue and must be dealt with as a community. People who suspect abuse, as well as victims of abuse, must feel they will have support if they come forward with allegations.

“These issues carry fear,” Kennedy told the U.S. senators. “So if we can eliminate that fear and give people confidence to act on their gut feelings, you’re going to get a lot more of these parents and these coaches and these leaders and these teachers reporting and listening to our kids.”

That’s the way to combat this problem. Sheldon Kennedy knows what he’s talking about. Hopefully, U.S. legislators – as well as those in Canada – will listen to him.

Source: Lethbridge Herald