Bike-a-thon Breakfast, Cornwall
April 20, 2016
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to a talk about a subject which at all other breakfast meetings in the world might be the number one subject to avoid at all costs. But in this enlightened community, and among the staff, the board, the volunteers and supporters of the Children’s Treatment Centre in Cornwall, where child sex abuse is a subject of deep and central concern, I feel warmly welcome and I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story and share some views. Thank you.
On February 7th last year the Globe And Mail published an article I had written about my own story. It was called “The Boy Left Behind in the Dark”. It was about deciding to speak out as a sex-abuse survivor after fifty-three years of silence on my part, a momentous decision for me, arrived at with the help of my wife, with whom I had shared the secret when we were married, and an extraordinary pair of British police detectives named Joe and Andy. My wife, by the way, is here with me this morning, and she is the Hon Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
This morning I’m going to talk about the next step after speaking out, from confiding to a limited group of friends and family, to deciding to go public and write in a national newspaper, talk on CBC Radio and to Steve Paikin on TVO, make a speech or two and, yes, now speak to the Children’s Treatment Centre of Cornwall, Ontario.
From that article I received hundreds of generous and heartfelt replies, some from people who broke their own silence for the first time ever about their own experience, and I thank every single person who honored me with a comment.
At the same time, a few men I know, and there must be many more, said, okay, Peter, but it’s all a long time ago, you’re okay now, just get on with your life and forget about it. Their question was why on earth would I want to get up and talk about this stuff.
I hope that my comments this morning will help answer their question.
Of course, the global answer is that the only way to continue to bring child sex assault out of the shadows is to talk openly about it, lift the curse of silence off it, as we are seeing so effectively with mental health.
And that is the meaning for me of the title of this morning’s remarks, “Silent No More” for me. “Silent No More” for everyone.
I kept silent for 53 years. That is, until one September night in 2011, four plus years ago, when I saw a film, a documentary on TVO, and it changed everything.
“Chosen” is a feature documentary about the grooming of eleven year-old boys for sexual abuse at Caldicott School by three school teachers, including the Headmaster, in the 1960’s, and it won the British Academy Award in 2009. It was midnight, Carolyn was asleep, but I was restless and I turned on the TV to watch TVO’s documentary of the night. As soon as it came on the screen, I knew it was going to change my life, but not for the better, at least that’s what I thought at the time, and I would have given anything to stop it. I recognized the Victorian school buildings, and the ominous music and title “Chosen”, and I stood up in panic because something terrible and irreversible was about to happen. I didn’t have to wait long to see what that was. Within a minute or two a man in his fifties, a former student, looked to camera and said in a chillingly matter-of-fact tone, “I remember his smell, I remember the alcohol on his breath, I remember his genitals. He was fat, jolly, and had one shriveled testicle; and my first sexual experience was with him”. Wow. It was him. It was Hugh Henry. Like most abused kids, as I have learned, I had thought I was the only one, but someone else had shared my nightmare and he was in a film, on television, talking about it. It was a case of the power of film, the value of a public service like TVO.
At that time, I felt threatened by exposure. You see, just 4 years ago, I believed that if my secret became known, it would ruin my family, my friends would turn away, my work would be fatally compromised, my life would be effectively over. I kept quiet, and went on-line. I couldn’t find out anything about him. I was in turmoil. Two months later a friend sent a brief article from the Telegraph, Hugh Henry and the former headmaster whom I mentioned, Peter Wright, had been arrested and charged. It WAS him, and there were even more victims and it was public. I was caught from behind. I couldn’t outrun it any more. I had to stop and try to answer Carolyn’s astounding question when I told her that night. She said, “What are you going to do about it?”
At that point I did not want to do anything about it, but I told her I would investigate the options.
I’m not an investigative reporter, but the facts I unearthed at that time were transformative for me and changed my thinking about child sex assault.
Firstly, it’s a crime. Not just something that shouldn’t happen, that we tacitly let slide by, but a serious crime of personal injury as set out in the Criminal Code.
And secondly, it’s a crime not just because we are so horrified at the idea of a man with a child, or an adult with a minor, or an older minor with younger minor, but because of the psychological and emotional damage it does. One of us nine complainants who was abused by Hugh Henry, Ian McFadyen, left Caldicott School at 13 and first had his stomach pumped for alcohol poisoning at 14. He ran away from home and spent the next ten years living homeless on the streets of Edinburgh. It was a life ruined by sex assault by Hugh Henry. I’ve started thinking of it as a kind of grand theft: childhoods, life potential, and sometimes even lives, stolen.
Kirk Makin said in his Globe & Mail article of Oct 5, 2013: “Sexual assault is a crime like no other. It’s a violation of the self as well as the body—an assault on trust, on privacy, on control. It’s also an offence with an after-life: a sense of bruising shame and guilt.”
We have seen the results in the famous Maple Leaf Garden scandal in which one of the victims in adulthood jumped to his death from the Bloor viaduct. And other hockey stories, such as Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy.
Another almost unknown example is one I know about as I have just produced documentary film about it. Anglican lay minister Ralph Rowe, also a scout master and a float plane pilot, ministered to twenty northwest Ontario First Nations fly-in communities, and during a fifteen year span in the 1970’s and 80’s, sexually assaulted an estimated 500 boys, which has contributed to the deaths of about a 100 of them so far. The film is called “Survivors Rowe”. It was selected for prestigious Hot Docs Film Festival last year and was recently broadcast on, where else?, TVO.
So in Toronto, and North West Ontario, child sex abuse can kill.
And thirdly, I was affected by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics reports that almost 9,000 sexual assaults against minors across Canada are reported annually representing 5% of cases; 95% are not reported. That makes about 175,000, or almost 500 a day. 500 children every day. And those children become 80% of the prison population in Canada today.
I was still just as worried about the consequences, but I told Carolyn that I had decided to come forward and speak up, if not for myself, then for the kids that those numbers represent.
I called the Thames Valley Police who had jurisdiction. I hung up twice. On the third try I left one of those messages we wish we could get back. Detective Constable Andy Alexander called back, and after a professional and friendly conversation, when he asked me, “When you were at boarding school, were you sexually abused by Hugh Henry?” my 11 year-old self still couldn’t speak. It took minutes of dodging before my 65 year-old self was finally able to get control and say, “Yes, yes I was.” Andy said, “Right, sir, that’s the worst part over with; it gets easier from now on.”
I’m not sure it got any easier, but I then made a harrowing witness statement, which lead to three charges being added to the docket on my behalf, and those helped with the guilty plea and conviction of Hugh Henry.
By the way, I had a big problem signing my statement. I didn’t want to turn in the man I had admired and protected, too, for fifty odd years. I guess I couldn’t separate the really great guy, the rugby coach, from the sexual predator, which I was beginning to realize, he was. When I confessed my dilemma to Andy, he said, “Let me tell you, Hugh Henry is not a really great guy”. That hit home, I had never heard that before, and I realized that whatever the case, he was a pedophile who had acted on his predilections and he had hurt a lot of kids. I signed.
But there is good news. Many dedicated people and organizations are working around the clock to combat child sex abuse, and that’s why we are gathered here this morning. Governments have put their focus on the justice system and on education, while the non-profits are doing great work in upstream prevention as well as providing essential support to the victims and their families. Nowhere is that being done more critically and effectively than here in Cornwall.
Unfortunately, I know more about the actual event itself. From my own story and lived experience as a survivor I’d like to illustrate how three important initiatives could have made a difference to my fellow complainants and me back then in the Fifties and Sixties.
These three are:
- Child Efficacy, giving children the information and confidence to say no, to yell fire, to take off;
- Adult Efficacy, Mandatory Reporting, people in positions of authority around children must report suspected sex abuse
- Early Treatment of Abused Children
First, here’s what happened.
As a son of a Canadian officer in the Royal Air Force, I was sent to a British boarding school at nine. At the end of my first year when I was a home-sick ten year-old I thought I was lucky to come to the attention of the popular sports coach and French teacher, Hugh Henry. My goal was to make the school rugby team of which Hugh Henry was the dynamic coach. He would tackle some of us on the lawn before supper and teach us to tackle him; once on the ground there would be laughing and rolling around and his hands would get down the back of pants. Oops. Then there was unneeded individual French tutoring with more pawing and hands getting now down the front of pants. I was paralyzed. There were drives in the car, there were fish and chips and chocolate bars. I was being groomed and then I must have been chosen because, when I was eleven, I returned from summer vacation to find I had been moved out of the dorm with my friends and into a tiny loft room by myself above the hall that served as the school’s gym, chapel and assembly hall. He said I was lucky, everyone wanted this room, and he had put a word in for me.
He usually arrived when the pub closed, smelling of booze, and I would wake up fighting for breath and his tongue in my mouth. He would feel me up and masturbate. That was where I felt left behind in the dark, that no-one knew where I was, or would ever find me. That part lasted about three months.
The next term I would be called to his bed sit room, usually in the late afternoon, and he would perform what the police in UK call simulated sex, which is between the child’s thighs. This chapter lasted another three long months. My marks went down, I became withdrawn, and I completely lost my voice.
Until one day when he called me to his room as usual, I didn’t go. I hid in the furnace room under the playground. When I went to supper, he was incensed, but I realized I had some power of my own because he couldn’t really do anything about it without risking discovery. It was over.
I was too young to know what he was doing, I didn’t know what to do except to endure it. I didn’t know I had any rights or could say no. He had all the power. I knew it that it was deeply wrong, that I was somehow complicit, that if I told an adult I would be blamed rather than rescued, that I was isolated, and that I had big secrets.
Mandatory Reporting and Adult Efficacy.
Mandatory reporting by professionals who work with kids who suspect child abuse is the law in Canada, but I am also referring to all adults, to each and every adult.
One time, as I fled down the hall from Hugh Henry’s room, the school matron, or nurse, whose office was right across the hall from Henry’s bedsit, called after me, “I didn’t hear much French going on in there.” I was stunned. She knew, but she didn’t do anything.
Who knows when a child is being sexually abused? I think there are eyes that see but look away again. People know but prevaricate. We say, “What do I know, that amazing teacher/coach couldn’t be doing that; anyway, these things something happen, it’s just one of those things, no real harm done, right; anyway, it’s not my place to say anything, what if I’m wrong, what if I ruin someone’s reputation, and what about mine?” Even though these are real and human excuses, none of these reasons have anything to do with the children themselves.
June Callwood said, “Once you witness an injustice, you are no longer an observer but a participant”.
The third is the early treatment of sexually abused children, which, I have learned is a specialty of the Children’s Treatment Centre of Cornwall, and that breaks the silence immediately and the shame and guilt can be dealt with before it festers over the years and becomes a psychological disaster for the victim. I wouldn’t have had to compartmentalize it for fifty or so years and Ian McFadyen perhaps wouldn’t have been driven to a life on the streets.
That is good news, too.
I became the oldest of the nine complainants in the Crown’s case against Hugh Henry. That means I was the first one chronologically. Of course there were dozens more as we now know. But imagine if the matron, or the Headmaster, had been able to speak up then. We could and should have been saved. If I had been able to speak, could I have saved Ian McFadyen and the rest of them who followed me? Of course, I don’t know, and don’t worry, I don’t take that burden on, I have enough to deal with, but I don’t want to miss a chance like that again.
Now that I have finally said, “Yes, yes I was”, I don’t intend to go back into the shadows. My message is Silent No More, and that’s an invitation I extend to everyone.
A man spoke up in a film and inspired me to do the same. Four years ago this would all be unthinkable for me. But now I have gone public with the unbelievable understanding and encouragement of hundreds of people, and I include all of you here. You have already made it so much easier for me, and I hope I have made it a bit easier for some others. I feel the warmth of your support; it’s an honour to be here. Thank you for what you do to address this issue. Let’s talk openly about child sex abuse, and let’s stop it.