Deciding to Go Public About Sex Abuse

Ramsay Breakfast Remarks, University Club, Toronto
Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thank you, Bob.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to a talk on what Bob has said might be number one on his list of topics to avoid for a Ramsay breakfast. Thank you all specially for being here.

Bob and I have known each for almost fifty years; we both went to Trinity College School, I caught sight of him again as I toiled at the rock face of Canadian cinema, “A Screen Of Our Own” I call it, and we are each married to physicians and former medical partners, Dr. Jean Marmoreo and the Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett.

The genesis of this morning’s event in fact happened at Carolyn and Jean’s 40th Med School Reunion last summer when Bob and I each escaped from the clinical after-dinner conversation to the lobby and looked up from our Blackberries at the same time.

When Bob asked what I had been up to, I heard myself say, “Oh, not much, I’ve been a complainant in a child sex abuse case in UK and got a conviction against my coach/teacher but he jumped in front of a train two days before sentencing.” You’ll be pleased to hear I had Bob’s full attention.

But Bob was concerned and suggested I try writing an article about it. It took a while but I sent Bob a first draft and pretty soon he was leading the charge into David Walmsley’s office at the Globe. Bob and I agreed that, if the article happened to get published, then I would speak at a Ramsay Breakfast. It was, thanks to Focus section editor, Hamutal Dotan, and here we are. Thank you, Bob.

The article, “The Boy Left Behind in the Dark”, was about deciding to speak up after fifty-three years of silence on my part, a decision arrived at with the help of Carolyn with whom I had shared the secret all along, a lawyer experienced in the field, Marilou MacPhedran, and an extraordinary British police detective named Andy Alexander.

This morning I’m going to talk about the next step which was deciding to go public, from confiding to a limited group of friends and family, and police and lawyers, to writing in a newspaper, talking on a radio programme, and now speaking at a Ramsay Breakfast.

From that article of February 7th I have received hundreds of generous and heartfelt replies, some from people who spoke for the first time ever about their own experience, and I thank every single person who honoured me with a comment. At the same time, a few men I know, and there must be many more, have said, okay, go after the guy maybe ….but it’s all a long time ago, you’re okay now, just get on with your life, why on earth would you want to get up and talk about this stuff.

I hope that my comments this morning will also help to answer their question.

Of course, the global answer is that the only way to continue to bring 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 sunlight being shed on issues of mental health.

To explain my own motivation, I have to start, against all advice, by sharing with you some facts.  Although I’m not an expert or an investigative reporter, these are facts are transformative for me and have 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, with optional reporting, but a serious crime of personal injury as set out in the Criminal Code. I had to get that straight in my own mind before I could sign my witness statement about Hugh Henry. I had separated the really great guy, the rugby coach, from the sexual predator, but he was both, and he was hurting kids.

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, but because of the psychological and emotional damage it does. One of us nine complainants against Hugh Henry, Ian McFadyen, left Caldicott School at 13 and first had his stomach pumped for alcohol poisoning at 14. He spent the next ten years living rough, homeless, on the streets of Edinburgh. It was a life ruined by sex assault. If your car is stolen or your house is broken into and your things stolen, it’s a personal violation and you raise hell.  As I have been meeting more and more survivors, and seen the damage first hand, I’ve started thinking of it as a kind of grand theft: childhoods stolen, potential stolen, and sometimes even stolen lives.

I like what 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 Fleury and Kennedy.

Another almost unknown example is one I know firsthand as I have just produced documentary film about it. Anglican lay minister Ralph Rowe, a scout master and a pilot, who for fifteen years in the 70’s and 80’s, while ministering to twenty northwest Ontario First Nations fly-in communities, sexually assaulted an estimated 500 boys, which has contributed to the deaths of about a 100 so far. The film is called “Survivors Rowe”. We’re thrilled that it’s been selected for Hot Docs in late April, and it’s talented director, Daniel Roher, is sitting right there.

In North West Ontario, and Toronto, child sex abuse can kill.

We continue to hear about new cases, like Rotherham in Yorkshire, and our junior girls ski team, on practically a weekly basis.

Just one more thing, 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.

On the other hand, there is good news.  Many dedicated people and organizations are working around the clock to combat child sex abuse. Governments have put their focus on the justice system and on education, such as the brave new initiatives of the Ontario government to give children the language and vocabulary and information they need, yes, thank you. The non-profits are doing great work in upstream prevention as well as providing essential support to the victims and their families.

I’d like to identify three ways in which they are doing just that: Child Efficacy, giving children the information and confidence to say no, to yell fire, to take off; Mandatory Reporting, people in positions of authority around children must report suspected sex abuse (it’s the law in Ontario); and the treatment and therapy of sex offenders.

From my own story and lived experience I’d like to illustrate how important those three initiatives are and how I believe that they would have made a difference to my fellow survivors and me back then in the Fifties and Sixties.

As a son of a career officer in the Royal Air Force, I was shipped off to a British boarding school at nine. At the end of my first year when I was ten I thought I was lucky to come to the attention of the popular sports coach and French teacher, Hugh Henry, when I hit some runs in a cricket match. That led to a ride in his car back to school and some hands on roughhousing. My goal was to make the school rugby team of which Hugh Henry was the boisterous coach. He would tackle some of us on the lawn before supper and teach us to tackle him; there would be laughing and rolling around and his hands would get down the back of pants. Oops. Other staff, including the headmaster, sometimes looked on. Then there was individual French tutoring with more pawing and hands getting now down the front of pants. Then at eleven there was the tiny loft room he got me moved into alone above the school chapel and assembly hall. He usually arrived when the pub closed, and got into more serious abuse.

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. Between the child’s thighs. My marks went down, I became withdrawn, and I lost my voice.

Child Efficacy: I didn’t 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. All I knew instead was that it was deeply wrong, that if I told an adult I would be blamed rather than rescued, that I was isolated, that I had big secrets.

Mandatory Reporting: One time, as I fled down the hall from Hugh Henry’s room, the school matron, whose office was right across the hall from Henry’s bedsit, called after me, “I didn’t hear much French going on in there.” She knew! But she didn’t do anything. Who knows when a child is being abused, when the ski coach is abusing the young skiers?

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, it’s not up to me 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 one is about reducing the chance that child sex offenders will reoffend.

I didn’t know what Hugh Henry was even doing let alone why, and I have discovered to my amazement that the psychologists and the researchers today really don’t definitively know, either.

The Prime Minister said last fall in this respect that some people do terrible things but we don’t care to know them or know why they do what they do, as long as they are put away for a long time so they can’t hurt anyone else.

But I think we DO want to know them and why they do what they do; we MUST know. Governments don’t want to be seen to be funding such research, but it must be done so that we can intervene before the trouble begins, or put in place the support that makes it much less likely that they will harm anyone else.

Pedophiles have nowhere to go. Dr. Lisa Doupe here in the city runs a clinic devoted to the treatment and therapy of sex offenders. She believes that such therapy is working, that the behavior can be changed though treatment and support.

That is good news indeed.

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, but I don’t want to miss a chance like that again.

I kept silent for 53 years. That is, until one September night in 2011, three plus years ago, when I saw a film, a documentary on TVO–yes, isn’t that great?–and it changed everything.

“Chosen” is a feature documentary about the grooming of eleven year-old boys for sexual abuse at Caldicott School in the early Sixties, and it won the British Academy Award in 2009. Early in the film a man in his fifties, Mark Payge, looks straight into the camera and calmly described his abuser in physical detail. It was Hugh Henry. Like most boys, 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 TVO.

At that time, I believed that if my secret became known, it would ruin my family, my friends would turn away, and my work would be fatally compromised. Two months later, Hugh Henry and another teacher Peter Wright were arrested and charged. He was named, it was public, and I had to turn face it and answer Carolyn’s question, “What are you going to do about it?”

After three anxious days, I called the Thames Valley Police who had jurisdiction. I got voice mail. 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 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 five minutes of dodging before I was finally able to say, “Yes, yes I was.” Andy said, “Right, sir, that’s the worst part over with; it gets easier from now on.”

Now that I have finally said, “Yes, I was”, I can’t go back into the shadows; essentially, my message is not just about me, but all of us. We just have to get more comfortable with talking about it.

A man spoke up in a film and inspired me to do the same. Three years ago this would all be unthinkable to me. But now I have gone public with the understanding and encouragement of all of you here. There’s a lot we can do together about this. You have already made it so much easier for me. I feel the warmth and love of your support, and I thank you so, so much.

Thank you.

List of  Child Abuse Prevention Organizations
The Gatehouse (Toronto)