Surviving Child Sexual Abuse in Sault Ste. Marie: What We Don’t Talk About

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Editor’s Note: The names of son and mother have been changed to protect the identity of the child. The events that ‘Marc’ and ‘Kayla’ experienced occurred in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Six month old Marc was propped up next to his father who was sitting on the couch masturbating to a porn movie. That’s how Marc’s mom, Kayla, found them when she stumbled half asleep into the darkened living room. Kayla scooped up her son and initiated a divorce process the next day. Despite Kayla’s articulated, as well as warranted, concern about Marc’s safety in the care of his father, the Courts granted him joint custody- one week on and one week off.

“I don’t know how long the abuse went on or what was happening,” Kayla quietly shared. “When he was two years old he began talking and telling me about his Dad touching him. When he was two and a half, his grandfather brought Marc to the hospital for swelling on his penis. The hospital said that the swelling was because of excessive touching and that would only happen if someone was masturbating Marc.”

The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) was contacted but the matter was quickly disregarded. CAS’s decision to blow off the complaint was made even more shocking by the fact that Marc’s father was currently under investigation for two charges of sexual abuse towards two young relatives. While the investigation was ongoing, Marc’s father was only permitted supervised visits with his son. Tragically for two year old Marc, his father lived with his parents and the Courts believed that grandma and grandpa would be suitable contenders to oversee the week long visits.

little boyThe charges against Marc’s father were dropped and his unsupervised week-long visits were reinstated. For the next three years a distraught and young Kayla continued to file reports with CAS and the police. “But I was treated like a jealous ex-wife and Marc wouldn’t speak to them about the abuse,” recalled Kayla. Though they wouldn’t learn about it until Marc was a bit older, the little boy was experiencing a condition known as selective mutism– a complex anxiety speech disorder that causes the child to clam up in situations and among people where they feel uncomfortable, scared or overwhelmed.

The routine of Kayla reporting and Marc not talking led CAS to infer that Kayla was putting her son up to a stunt to smear her ex-husband. CAS advised Kayla that if she continued to press the matter they would seek legal charges against her.

“I’m being told by my son that he’s being abused by his father and I’m told by the Courts that I can’t stop visits and I’m told by CAS if I even say anything or acknowledge that my son is being abused that they’re going to take me to Court. It was a pretty stressful situation.”

Ten months passed and Kayla and her second husband felt helpless in their silence. In February of 2011, Marc now 5 yrs. old, returned from his week-long visit with his father and told his mom that his penis was sore because his father had been touching him. “Me and my husband didn’t know what to do. Do we report this with the chance that Children’s Aid will be threatening again? Do we not? Do we keep dealing with it by not saying anything? We ended up contacting the police and Children’s Aid and it was the first time that Marc actually opened up and gave a statement. They were actually able to get charges. It was a nightmare.”

One might think with CAS and the authorities finally on the little boy’s side, justice for Marc would inevitably be found in the Courts. Not even close. The Crown prosecuting the case did not believe the statement of a young child was sufficient evidence to move the case forward.

“I was so mad. I was bawling. The investigating police officer went to CAS and was like ‘ok, we need you guys to step up and get things going through the Court system because if you don’t he’ll be able to have access to Marc right away’. The only thing that stopped his father from having access at that point was the charges. So that’s when CAS took him to Court.”

Three years later, a trial date is still pending. CAS has taken Marc’s father to court to remove his access and are seeking sole access to be given to Kayla. Unable to qualify for legal aid and unable to afford a lawyer, Kayla is representing herself in court.

Marc is 8 years old now, and for the past three years, has chosen to not attend supervised visits with his father at CAS. His last supervised visit with his father at CAS resulted in his father fondling Marc’s penis beneath a backpack that was resting on the little boy’s lap. “Marc didn’t tell CAS what happened. He didn’t want his father to get into trouble,” remarked Kayla.

Though Marc is safe from his father today, the 8 year old suffers from the mental injuries acquired by years of sexual abuse. Self-inflicted harm, aggression towards his young siblings and a recent diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression prompted Kayla to reach out in Facebook support group for parents of children who have been sexually abused.

It was here that she learned about Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch -a national, charitable organization based in Canada committed to the awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse. Little Warriors is a best practices facility, pulling together the most tested and true modalities of therapy –play therapy, yoga therapy, equine therapy, music therapy, art therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, EMDR therapy, and put them all together in one intensive environment. The program works with youth 8 – 12 years old.

Kayla, at her wit’s end not knowing how to help her young son, filed an application for a spot in the program. Just weeks after applying, during the Christmas holidays of 2015, it was confirmed that Marc had a place waiting for him at the Ranch located in Edmonton, Alberta. On January 4th, 2016 Kayla and her husband made the drive from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Pearson’s International Airport, tearfully kissed their little boy good-bye and sobbed as he boarded the jet to head west.

Glori Meldrum, Little Warriors Founder and Chair

Glori Meldrum, Little Warriors Founder and Chair

Glori Meldrum, Founder and Chair of Little Warriors, is a survivor of child sexual abuse. Between the ages of 8 yrs. to 10 yrs. her grandfather raped her. Glori lived with her grandparents and her abuser’s access was convenient and frequent. Glori’s mother did her best with limited resources, the family was very poor. The cops and social workers didn’t believe that Glori’s grandfather was capable of sexually abusing children and he went on to abuse many more children before he was finally charged in his 80’s. He was sentenced to two years of community service.

Not having access to supportive services meant that Glori didn’t receive care for her mental injuries until she was an adult. The experience of not having those supports as a child prompted Glori to take up her own research. She discovered a significant gap in intensive programing for children who have been sexually abused.

Little Warriors got its’ start about 10 years ago but it’s just been a year and a half since the charitable organization has been able to bring their children on site for 200 hours of intensive therapy for a period of one year. About 50 youngsters between 8 yrs. and 12 yrs. have graduated from the program.

The program is outcomes based and the only one of its’ kind in North America. Little Warriors has partnered with the University of Alberta to measure the recovery of children who attend the Be Brave Ranch program and the clinical trial phase is just wrapping up. The results of the trial will be announced on May 4th, 2016 in Edmonton, Alberta.

therapy room

Be Brave Ranch, therapy room

The operation of the facility is thanks entirely to donation but Glori acknowledges that government funding for children in care would be helpful. With a suffering Alberta and B.C. economy- where most of the donations come for this national facility, Glori admits that the lack of government support has been disappointing. “The government should own part of this in getting these kids healthy. It’s the least we can all do. I lost a lot of my life being very sick and I don’t want the kids like me spending twenty or forty or sixty years getting healthy, and some people never getting healthy. We owe it to the kids to give them whatever they need to recover from this.”

Glori and the Board of Directors have actively petitioned the government for support in the past but the trade-off was too dear. “The government wanted us to give them access to the screening for the program. We will never ever give away our screening. It will be our program. We will make sure that the kids that attend are safe, we have extra security protocols in place and we trust our experts. We’ll always keep those ethics and that transparency. I love being innovative and entrepreneurial and doing things the right way.”

The 2003 report, The Economic Costs and Consequences of Child Abuse in Canada, draws on Canadian data from 1998 and breaks down the economic costs of violence –including sexual, against children into six major areas: Judicial, Social Services, Education, Health, Employment and Personal costs. The costs range from those assumed by the government to those assumed by the individual. The annual cost of violence against children in Canada in 1998 was nearly 16 trillion dollars -$15,705,910,047.

Glori expressed frustration that provincial and federal governments have not directed money into programs and interventions for young people that are outcome based. “We know that child sexual abuse costs the government billions a year. If you really want to reduce prostitution, drug use, alcohol addiction, gambling- all that stuff, take a look at what we are doing for our kids. Get in there, get them the help, get them the intervention, prove that it works. The government needs to fund things that work and they need to financially support not-for-profits that show the outcomes. In May, I think things will really turn around when we announce our clinical trial research.”

Be Brave Ranch, family lounge

Be Brave Ranch, family lounge

Reducing the effects of PTSD is a primary focus on the Be Brave Ranch. PTSD is a common diagnosis among children who have been sexually abused. “We work really hard to unroot PTSD. PTSD is a precursor to a lot of not good things in life like addictions and poor mental health. We put a lot of focus on decreasing PTSD and increasing trust, self-esteem and self-love. The longer PTSD is left unaddressed the more issues these kids are likely to have. But if you can address it when they are young, they’ll have less consequences and impact from it later in their life.”

Related to the mental well-being of children and adults alike who experience PTSD or any other mental injury, an exacerbated Glori urges that talking about mental health isn’t enough. “I really do encourage that we talk about mental health and what Bell is doing with Let’s Talk is great, but do you know what’s fascinating? We don’t talk about where mental health comes from. It comes from somewhere, sometimes it’s inherited. But the conversation that we need to be having is that other people are causing poor mental health- whether they’re raping or molesting kids, or beating their spouses. Childhood sexual abuse is often the root of poor mental health. So there’s all this talk about mental health but we’re not lifting up the rock and talking about the dirty things that happen to cause mental health issues.”

Be Brave Ranch, cozy library nook

Be Brave Ranch, cozy library nook

With candor Glori adds, “I mean, I suffer from PTSD. I’ve got severe anxiety and a panic attack disorder that are managed, but that’s what I ended up with. I didn’t get those things because I was born with them. I got them because my Grandfather raped me for two years. That’s where all my stuff came from. I want the conversation to shift so that we can shine a light and start talking about what is causing mental health issues- not that it is just an issue. We need to talk about mental injuries and what caused them.”

Saying good-bye to one another that January day was an extreme act of courage for Kayla and Marc. Both had been traumatized by Marc’s sexual abuse and after various services had let them down so often, it is remarkable that Marc and Kayla were able to trust the staff at the Little Warriors facility.

“I was extremely nervous and second guessing myself up until he left. I wanted to be there with him to support him, but I couldn’t afford to go, or leave my other children. I knew it was going to be worth it though. Things were getting bad at home, he wasn’t even talking about his issues with me anymore. He bottled everything inside and every once in a while exploded. He was angry every day, becoming aggressive towards himself and siblings. He was struggling with focus in school. I knew something had to be done,” admits Kayla.

“I also spoke with other moms who had previously sent their children to the Ranch about my feelings, his feelings, how their children had improved. That made my decision to send him so much easier. They felt nervous just like me, but when their child came home, the improvement they noticed made it all worth it. I watched the Be Brave Ranch videos with Marc probably one hundred times. We both spoke on the phone with one of the therapists, I emailed back and forth with one of them. She always answered any question I had.”

Glori Meldrum (third from right) and a compliment of Little Warriors staff

Glori Meldrum (third from right) and a compliment of Little Warriors staff

Glori, the Board of Directors and the staff at Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch are sensitive about the safety concerns of children and the diligence required to keep them from further victimization. Safety policies include: lock down of the entire site; ‘open door’ policy for parents; screening of children for violent or sexually aggressive behaviour; criminal checks for all staff; video cameras on site; and pairs of staff working together at all times.

“Let’s be candid, ninety-five percent of assaults against kids are never reported to authorities,” remarks Glori. “The big thing is to mitigate or eliminate that risk. That’s why we never have kids alone with one person. There’s always multiple adults present, a child is never left alone with one adult. We’re doing more than what the standard is.”

Kayla was also reassured by the bedtime phone calls she had with Marc every night. “I noticed a difference on the phone- he was happier and maybe there were some bad days when therapy was difficult. But for the most part he seemed happy …kind of like himself.”

Marc was most fond of equine therapy. “He was working with a donkey named Pedro. Trust was a big thing- he had to learn to trust Pedro and he had to gain the trust of Pedro to be able to ride him. While he was there they put on a play that incorporated Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colours’. When we picked him up from Pearson’s Airport when he came back from the Ranch, that song came on the radio and he started to sing along. I started crying because it was just so beautiful, so emotional.”

Since his return Marc is having more good days than bad days. “The Ranch came at a good time. Now he’s happy and wanting to play with his siblings and read books. He’s not angry, he hasn’t had any violent outbursts. There’s still issues we need to work on but the Ranch has been helpful with that too. They recommended options for building his confidence, like after school activities, and taught him how to self-soothe when he’s hurting.” Marc will be returning to the Ranch this summer for  a two-week visit. And he can barely wait to return.

Wanting to give back to Little Warriors Be Brave Ranch in some way, Kayla has rallied a group of volunteers who are organizing a “Be Your Own Inner Hero” Pancake Fundraiser Saturday, February 20th, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Garden River Community Centre. Tickets for adults are $10 and $5 for children. You can purchase tickets at the door or pre-order tickets through Facebook by clicking here.

“It’s the little art shows and pancake breakfasts that keep us alive,” remarked Glori.

Kayla laughed for the first time recalling Marc’s reaction to the fundraiser. “He’s excited. He asked if his therapists were coming to the fundraiser. He was hoping they were. Everything he says about the Ranch is positive.”

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Statistics cited in this article can be found on the Little Warriors website by clicking here.

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