Trail of abuse leads to sorrow

Former NHLer and child advocate Sheldon Kennedy isn’t angry that those around him didn’t do more about the sexual abuse he suffered by his mentor and hockey coach.

Former NHLer and child advocate Sheldon Kennedy isn’t angry that those around him didn’t do more about the sexual abuse he suffered by his mentor and hockey coach.

After Graham James pleaded guilty to sexually abusing Kennedy and two other players and he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in 1997 there were many who said they suspected something was very wrong with the coach. But no one stepped up to do anything.

Graham would later be sentenced to two more years — raised to five on appeal — for abusing others, including former NHL star Theoren Fleury.

Kennedy said it’s not anger but sorrow he feels for the people of Swift Current, Sask. where he was abused when playing for the Swift Current Broncos.

“I see the damage Graham James has done to that town.

“I see the shame and the guilt that was left in that town because they didn’t have the tools to know what to do,” Kennedy told a Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta audience at their spring general assembly in Red Deer on Saturday.

“Even though they knew something was wrong they didn’t know how to handle it.

“They didn’t have the tools to know what to do when their gut’s telling them something was wrong.”

“Our goal is to give people the confidence to act on their gut.”

The Calgary-based Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre takes a collaborative approach to child abuse by bringing together under one roof police, Crown prosecutors, psychologists, mental health workers, social workers.

The centre handles 100 cases a month, which represents only the worst 15 per cent of cases reported to the province.

Through the centre, suspected cases of child abuse are investigated and convictions pursued when appropriate. Victims receive treatment from a therapy team that helps with self esteem, addictions issues and the many other debilitating effects of abuse. Victims are also taught how to avoid becoming victims again.

The centre also focuses on prevention, education, training and research. Programs such as Respect in Sports teach sports coaches how to spot and respond to signs of abuse.

Respect in Schools takes the same approach with educators and has been launched as a 4,000-participant pilot project.

Kennedy said the key to dealing with the increasing tide of child abuse is to respond to it in a consistent, simple and collaborative way.

“The whole point is we need everyone pulling on the rope together,” he said.

The centre’s approach works and he’s confident its approach will be adopted by others.

“It’s going to be a model that will go across the country, no question.”

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