The Truth and reconciliation Commission was an important step acknowledging the horrific abuse endured by thousands of survivors of “Indian” residential schools across Canada. These institutions were established by the Canadian Government to “take the Indian out of the child” and there is no excuse for the atrocities these schools committed. What ended up making the news recently is that it was ruled that the stories must be destroyed after fifteen years, though individuals may have a right to see their personal stories archived if they choose.
As a survivor of abuse at the hands of Catholic educators, it is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this. I will attempt to do so here, in my blog – my archive of surviving abuse.
I first need to explain something that is bothering me. While it is important to understand the nature and scope of abuse towards the students of the residential schools, it is also important to understand that in Canada the abuse endured at the hands of Catholic private schools is also in issue that needs to be addressed. If you were to look at the news reports you may mistakenly conclude that in Canada the only victims of physical and sexual abuse by priests were people who attended residential schools, and once they were disbanded everything was resolved. The only news worthy reports of sex abuse against children in Canada appears to then shift to those abused by coaches. Yet in the United States the abuse scandal by priests is so large they made a film about it. What about every child? What about every child, male and female, of every race? Is not one child abused too many? How come Canadian media is not interested in the stories of children who were abused by priests? Because we don’t feel comfortable knowing the extent of emotional and physical collateral damage that has been inflicted upon our children. Survivors of sexual abuse often live their lives without ever disclosing it to their families. Sexual abuse is devastating. Imagine how horrific it is to a child who is unable to comprehend or understand why they are being targeted. One Bishop argued in court that a child of seven years of age is culpable if they are abused because they should know the difference between right and wrong. This argument disgusts me.
Let me explain something right here and right now. Imagine you are five years old – FIVE. Do you remember what the world was like when you were five? Here are some of my memories of being five – the feeling of the living room carpet against my chest while I watched Mighty Mouse in black and white on our television set – The smell of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s morning – The men of God who told me I was a dirty boy who had to be punished – being told God, GOD would punish me and actually kill my family if I ever told anyone what was happening to me – having my body manipulated forcibly by adult males for their sexual gratification – being punched, whipped, strapped, slapped, pushed, shoved, and raped in the name of God. Yeah, I am sure I was responsible for all of this.
If you have any empathy what I have written may be hard to read. If you really are curious what abuse feels like to a survivor of childhood abuse I suggest you read my original paper about abuse which can be found early on in this blog. Are children really culpable when they are abused? Is any group any more deserving of having their stories heard? Is any celebrity’s story of enduring abuse any more important than any other survivor? Am I allowed to share my story if I am not a famous sports star? In Canada it appears this way. And in Canada when a person tries to stand up to abusers, the survivor often takes the brunt of the outrage. I am tired of hearing “you should have said something”, or “why didn’t you do anything at the time?”, or “what did you do to provoke this?”.
In short, abuse sickens me. We need to listen to all survivors. And it is equally important to listen to the families of those who have been abused. They suffer from the news of abuse as well. They wonder what they could have done to prevent abuse. They worry that they did not see the signs, or that they turned a blind eye. This is often not true. We live in a society that does not like to hear about the truth of abuse or the lingering trauma it brings to survivors and their families. We would rather watch another funny cat video or a feel good story that makes us feel warm inside. We would rather shred evidence that prevents future generations from fully understanding what trauma people endured at residential or private schools.
If you want to really feel good inside, I suggest taking steps – no matter how small – to listening to people around you. Listen not only with your ears, but also with your hearts. Don’t merely sympathize – but also try to empathize. It may be hard to do, but you will find a deeper understanding of these issues I am writing about. If you’d rather not do either, then I am sure there must be another cute cat video just uploaded for your viewing pleasure. In the meantime here is a cute animal video for you about empathy and sympathy narrated by Dr. Brené Brown.