Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two disappointments, many heroes

Two events have monopolized my heart and brain space this week.

First, the ridiculously-insulting sentencing of Graham James for the child sexual abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt (also Greg Gilhooly, although those charges were stayed as part of James's plea bargain).  Second, the excitement of the NDP leadership race and the inspiration of one Nathan Cullen.

I'll start with the latter, for I suspect (as do my regular readers, I'm sure) the former will have me going on for a while.  :-)

Don and I had thought of signing up for the NDP so we could vote this weekend, but... between our usual procrastination, fuelled (or un-fuelled, I guess) by a lack of enthusiasm for any of the candidates (although I had been really impressed with Romeo Saganash, he dropped out of the race before the registration deadline), we never quite got around to it in time.  Wouldn't you know it, a couple of days after the deadline had flitted by, people started sending us video clips of Nathan Cullen's speeches.  Ah... if we could turn back the clock...

What a breath of fresh air this guy is!  Eschewing all the cynical politics-as-usual-these-days crapola, spreading a positive message, down to earth, open to new ideas...  I found myself getting excited about politics again for the first time in ages!  And hopeful.  Hopeful is good.  Fresh, exciting, inspirational.  Which of course made it look like he didn't have a chance.  :-)  But over the last month or so, the word was spreading, the joy was spreading, people were getting similarly engaged, and he was working his way to being one of the top contenders.  Truly remarkable.

I found myself, in the last week, hoping for big surprises.  Hoping that the slow and powerful surge which had brought him so far was enough to push him to the top.

I was, unfortunately, disappointed.

Cullen, however, showed no disappointment -- and well he shouldn't.  He got further than anyone thought he would, introduced new issues to the membership, ran a classy campaign, and earned high, high praise and admiration from some of the party's "elite" -- most notably, the CBC News panel of Olivia Chow, Stephen Lewis and Pat Martin.  As Peter Mansbridge said, he may not have won this race, but he's one to watch in the meantime, and could easily be the next leader.  And he sure has the ear of the party now!  Maybe that's the reason why he was reported to be the last candidate still on the dance floor at the after-party.  :-)

So -- thank you, Nathan Cullen, for reviving my interest in politics, and giving many of us hope for the future.  Congratulations on making it so far, and being such a huge influence and inspiration.  You are making a difference, and are a big hero.

OK, that's the latter disappointment and hero.

The former one is so much more difficult...

As Graham James's own brother stated: "[Wall Street swindler Bernie] Madoff is in jail for 150 years for stealing people's money.  Graham stole much more than that from his victims -- their childhoods, their lives, their dreams -- and just got a few years.  To me, Bernie's crimes pale in comparison."


What the $&#* was Judge Carlson thinking?

Apparently, she believes he'd "been able to manage his desires because he has not reoffended since being released from jail for previous sex offences in the late-1990s" [source: CBC]

Uh... are you freaking kidding me?!?  First of all, all the Canadian court system knows is that no new crimes have since been reported to the Canadian court system in the last decade -- which kind of makes sense, since he's been LIVING IN ANOTHER COUNTRY since he was released from his first sentence.  And, as is shown time and time again, it usually takes several years, if not decades, for victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward.  I'm also not certain that the awareness or laws in Mexico are any better than the still-pathetic laws in Canada (I mean, seriously, if James had been growing a few pot plants, his sentence would have been longer than he got for destroying a few lives!!!)

Secondly, he's already told the Canadian court system himself that he still prefers young boys, so it doesn't really sound like he's stopped being a danger to young boys at all.  And next time he leaves the country, he'll probably go to one with even more ridiculously lax laws about child abuse.

Thirdly, if you read ANY of the literature, it becomes quite clear that by the time a man has sexually assaulted this many children, there is virtually no chance of him ever being rehabilitated.  He's not ever going to stop being a danger to society.  Giving him a longer sentence isn't about punishment, it's about harm reduction.

The 3-1/2 year sentence he previously received had him out of jail after 18 months.  This new 2-year sentence will have him back out in September.

Even if you thought there was a modicum of a chance of rehabilitation, you can't undo several decades of severely abusive behaviour with only six months of attempted rehabilitation -- and, you know what?  I haven't seen any mention or evidence that he will be receiving any treatment intended for rehabilitation.  (Please correct me if I'm wrong, because I would like to see a glimmer of hope that the Canadian justice system has any concept of what it's doing when it comes to cases of childhood sexual abuse.)

OK, silver lining, Lyss, find that friggin' silver lining...

Well, at least he got sentenced to SOMETHING.  That's more than my father got (he never had to even make it into a courtroom, thanks to the mighty intimidation techniques of my Great-And-Powerful-Oz grandfather), and more than many kids' abusers have gotten.  Baby steps.

Also heartening, the public reactions to the sentencing have been loud and angry.  Even if the courts don't get it, the public is starting to wake up to the horrifying destruction of lives that childhood sexual abuse brings.  Big steps.

And a bunch of rough-tough-macho-superstar hockey players have had the strength and bravery to come forward as victims, thus making it easier for the young kids of today to admit and acknowledge their own abuse (anecdotally, my various contacts in the field have noted a surge in disclosures by males in the last few years -- likely not because more males are being abused than they were before, rather, because more males feel it's ok to seek help).  They have put a very public face on a very private crime.

I have been rather disgusted reading some of the comments below the articles (I know, I know, stop reading the comments, already!), claiming the only reason this is news is because the victims are famous.

Well, yes, it's too bad that it takes a famous person to come forward for anyone to pay attention, but GEEZ, people, don't criticize Fleury, Holt, Gilhooly, Kennedy, et al, for being famous victims.  They weren't superstars when the assaults took place -- the sexual abuse hurt them just as much as it would have hurt anyone else.  For crap's sake, read and listen to their victim impact statements!!!

Others (don't read the comments, Alyssa, don't read the damned comments!) criticize them for not speaking up earlier, insinuating it's some sort of publicity stunt now.  Uh, SERIOUSLY?!?  It's not like they decided as kids to let themselves be assaulted and raped so they could become famous for the abuse a few decades later.  Do you people even have two brain cells to spark together?  And if you aren't taking them seriously now that they've proven their credibility in court, why the hell do you think they'd have been brave enough to come forward when they were teenagers?!?

I sooo have to stop reading the comments.

These asinine comments, and the judge's ridiculous-excuse-for-a-rational-sentence are all further examples of how people's reaction to the abuse is often harder to get over than the initial abuse.  Maybe because these asinine reactions don't ever stop, and can nail you in the gut when you least expect it.

As I've said before, I've managed to get myself to a point where I've "gotten over" my father's abuse -- it wasn't easy, it wasn't quick, it certainly isn't complete, if my damned dreams are any indication, but I've been able to move past it, and get on with my life.  I've even managed to find some compassion for the man, which I have to say, I find pretty impressive.  :-)

Without making excuses for their choices or behaviours, the statistics indicate that the vast majority of pedophiles were sexually abused themselves.  It is becoming more and more apparent that the "game changer" of who goes on to be abusive as an adult depends in great part on the reactions and support network they have upon disclosure.  I do not know for sure what happened to my father.  I have a theory, cobbled together from what little evidence has been allowed to slip through the cracks of my heavily-fortified-firewall family members, but I will never know for sure.  I do know for sure that he wouldn't have had much of a support network, even if he had ever chosen to disclose (again, not a clue). Needless to say, I do know he was right-royally messed up, definitely treated abusively, though not necessarily sexually, with perhaps some mental health issues that went undiagnosed -- how many healthy people see giant coke bottles chasing them home?  I think it's safe to say that, on a messed-up scale of one to ten, he was a twelve.

Which does not make what he did to me acceptable, but it does make it understandable.  I'm still angry that he chose to continue the pattern instead of seek help, but I can also see how his parents (his father, anyhow) would have fought him every step of the way, even if he had sought help.  It sucks, and I'm still angry as hell at him and what he did to me, but I can no longer hate him, or wish him harm.  (OK, I kind of hope there's an afterlife, so that some of the good dead relatives will spend the rest of eternity kicking his ass, but... only until he gets the message and repents.)

The people I have way more trouble forgiving are the ones who *didn't* see coke bottles chasing them home.  The ones who had all their wits together, saw what was going on and didn't do anything.  The ones who helped cover it up and deflect the blame to an eight-year-old.  The ones who wouldn't help me upon disclosure, but did enlist me to protect my younger sister -- yes, the grown-ups wouldn't protect either of us, but it was this child's responsibility.  The paediatrician who diagnosed me with V.D. (the same one my father had), and thought I must have caught it in the highly-chlorinated swimming pool (even though my sister and I took baths together in non-chlorinated water and she didn't have a thing) -- I can only assume it's because people in the 70s thought child abuse only happened on the wrong side of the tracks, so they weren't looking for it in fairly affluent and powerful family.  The ones who handed me self-help book after self-help book so I'd stop being "so moody."  The church leaders who had counselled me, but completely lost their memories when my grandfather started donating big-ticket items to the parish.  The people who insist that my childhood must not have been so bad, because I never ran away to become a crack whore.

OK, I don't think crack existed back then, but you get the point...

Disclosure, even as an adult, even decades later, is difficult.  You open yourself up, make yourself vulnerable to a whole new level of abuse, while having to re-live the abuse of the past.

Yes, Fleury and Holt and Gilhooly and Kennedy and the others are receiving, for the most part, praise for their bravery in coming forward.  But I'll let you in on a little secret: one abusive comment can render the other one-thousand useless.  Because those abusive comments are exactly what keeps people silent in the first place.

You don't need to blame the victim, the victim is still blaming him- or herself just fine, thank you very much.  Even those who have done as much of the grunt work as I've done will still catch ourselves thinking "oh, if only I'd thought of talking to... or saying... or doing... or..." on a regular basis.  If only we'd been super-heroes, we could have protected ourselves -- why didn't we try harder to fly or be made of teflon?

We don't need a judge to put our abusers away for a mere six months in order to get the message that the damage done to us wasn't really that big a deal.  We get and give ourselves that message every day.

It would be very easy for these men to now shuffle off and disappear behind the scenes, never to speak of this again, never to open themselves up to such abusive comments or ridicule or shame.

But they're NOT.

Each of them is continuing to speak up, to push for change -- not for themselves, not as a P.R. stunt, but to make sure that this stops happening to the kids of the future.  Some of them have started foundations, some of them are using their stature to influence politicians, some are speaking to organizations, some are just speaking.

And that's why they are heroes.

They can't change their own past, they can't undo the damage done, but they can help prevent it from happening to others.  They are putting their own stories, their own pain, their own images on the line to help others.

You don't need to fly or be made of teflon to be a superhero.  All you need is a will and a voice and a desire to make the world a better place.

Yes, this week had two disappointments for me.  But it also reminded me that there are a lot of superheroes in this world.  And for that, I am infinitely grateful.


  1. Wow, Alyssa, what an amazing thing you are doing. Can only admire you for what you have achieved and survived.

    I used to play cello professionally, and am getting back into it after 8 years and no cello. It's a journey too - but nothing like yours.

  2. Welcome, Alfred -- and thank you so much for your comments!

    I'm going to have to pop over to your blog and read about your return to the cello. That is quite a journey, indeed! So glad the cello found its way back into your life, though (yes, I may be a little biased...)

    I do actually blog about music from time to time -- current events seems to have me on a bit of a one-track-mind right now, but the music will be coming back -- it always does. :-)

    Nice to meet you!