As I was researching for this column, it occurred to me that the difficulty of writing about this subject may be part of the reason why child sexual abuse is still not really spoken about. It’s hard, disturbing work to study the evil that targets vulnerable children in such a despicable way.
Someone asked: “What was it about the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) that caused so many children to be sexually abused? Surely these perpetrators didn’t travel from Europe or become staff with the goal of molesting children?” To try to give a partial answer to the question, I will use examples and research from other organizations which I am more familiar with to shed a bit of light on how perpetrators operate.
Among the general population in Canada, one in ten Canadians report being sexually victimized before the age of 18, according to a 2014 Canadian Medical Association Journal paper. The Globe and Mail reported in 2015 that one in five students of IRS were sexually abused, so at a rate much higher than the normal population.
What we do know is that perpetrators go where there are children. Positions of authority and trust provide them with victims and the position to defend themselves. Perpetrators seek employment or volunteering opportunities where there are children. Therefore, we can safely assume that perpetrators sought out work at IRS. A few (from many) recent examples of this outside IRS include Canadian hockey players Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury being abused by their coach Graham James for years. The Boy Scouts had thousands of children being abused by their “mentors” over many years. Larry Nassar, a doctor for USA Gymnastics, is serving time for abusing hundreds of gymnasts in his care. Locally, SD57 recently settled two lawsuits involving teacher’s abuse of students. The sad reality is that to this day, like during the time of IRSs, organizations that serve children are targeted by perpetrators.
Another factor for the large number of children abused in IRS is that perpetrators usually have multiple victims. A 2014 Religion News article by Boz Tchividjian quotes the Abel Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study which found “…that pedophilia molesters average 12 child victims and 71 acts of molestation. An earlier study by Dr. Abel found that out of 561 sexual offenders there were over 291,000 incidents totaling over 195,000 total victims.”
Far away from their parents and family who could have protected them, these children suffered terribly and alone. Daily, we are seeing that there were people who called out the abuse they witnessed, but the leaders of the days and years these schools existed turned a blind eye to their cries for justice.
We cannot change the past but we can act today. Today we can grieve, investigate, and hold accountable those still living. Bringing the perpetrators to justice under our British common-law system would be a reason to still celebrate Canada Day.