Abuse Scars Never Go Away

Toronto Sun [Canada]
August 8, 2006

The past two weeks have produced a distressing flurry of news about sexual abuse and misconduct:

Peter Whitmore, a pedophile who has been in and out of jail since 1993, was charged again with abducting two prairie boys in a dramatic manhunt that ended in a 10-hour standoff.

A 21-year-old Kingston man was accused of using e-mail and instant messaging to lure more than 100 girls in at least two countries into performing sex acts in front of a camera.

A retired Chatham priest pleaded guilty to sex-related charges involving dozens of girls, decades ago.

A former Parkhill teacher pleaded guilty to using a computer to lure a young pupil, about to enter high school, to an encounter in which he sexually exploited her.

The first two stories have received a lot of attention, but the latter two are just as troubling, as they expose abuse (in one case, many years ago) by someone in a position of trust.

In a report to the Crown in the case of Chatham serial abuser Rev. Charles Sylvestre, psychologist and violence prevention expert Peter Jaffe outlined what, increasingly, are being understood to be common reactions by such victims, even many years or decades after the crime occurs.

They experience poor self-esteem and problems with trust, especially physical intimacy. In many cases, they display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that include flashbacks and nightmares. Many feel guilt, some abuse alcohol or drugs, and depression is common.

None is unchanged. For the victims, there is no going back; there is no spot remover to eradicate the stain on their lives.

In all societies, trust is a vital part of life. When trust in a minister, coach, teacher, parent, spouse, friend or acquaintance is broken in such an intimate way, it can rarely be restored.

How then do we train our youth and ourselves to develop an instinct for real trustworthiness? There's no foolproof method. But surely a start lies in the notion that sexual exploitation, misconduct and betrayal are zero-tolerance offences.

Today on Page 22, John Muise of the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness ( explores in a guest column several ways we can make our laws better reflect our revulsion for such offences and bring more justice to our treament of the victims and offenders. The reforms he recommends — like some of the charges in these crimes — are long overdue.


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