Penn State’s Biggest Failure

This past week we watched – with horror – as individuals attempted to use their positions of power and fame to broker deals to save their careers and reputations amidst the ruins of the lives of little boys. The sexual abuse of nine little boys was cited as the root of a scandal that has toppled the sterling reputation of Penn State in the happy valley of University Park, Pennsylvania.

We learned that for nearly a decade senior staff and university administrators at Penn State knowingly turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children in their athletic facilities. After receiving an eyewitness report of an attack on a 10-year-old boy, no one notified the police. Instead, the known offender was allowed to continue to run an organization that gave him unlimited access to children who became his victims.

No action was taken until 2009 when one of the victims disclosed the abuse and filed a report with police. The courage of this child led the Pennsylvania Attorney General to launch an investigation that uncovered more victims and placed a spotlight on the adults that failed to protect them – the adults that failed in their duty to report the known and suspected sexual abuse of children to the authorities.

An equally tragic aspect of this scandal has been the rallying and rioting of Penn State students in support of their “heroes”. A group of men who – through inactivity and agreed upon silence – collaborated in a cover up and enabled brutal violence against children. These students are worried about the lucrative careers that have ended in disgrace instead of the lifetime of healing ahead for each abused child. They have failed to recognize the terror these children experienced at the hands of a predator because people who had the power to keep them safe chose to stay silent.

The offender has been charged. The negligent staff and administrators at Penn State have been fired and some face criminal charges, but we know the harm to the children cannot be processed as swiftly or neatly. This investigation may be ending, but the children at the center of this case will need the support of their families and communities for years to come.

Now, in the wake of Penn State’s biggest failure, the question remains: what does it take for adults to put the welfare of children first?


Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

The Collision of the Personal and the Professional

Someone once told me that at some point our personal and professional lives are bound to collide. I chose to believe that it is possible – although often times difficult – to keep the two separated. My personal and professional lives collided recently, and I am forever changed.

Last Sunday evening I was talking with a person that I have long considered a close friend. I endured the displeasure of listening to him speak words that enraged me and caused feelings of physical illness with the hope that I might be able shift his thinking. However, the impossibility of sparking any change became evident when he made statements that revealed the distance that exists between our core values.

Here is some of what he said:

  • Children are sexually abused because of flaws in their characters that are targeted by sexual predators
  • Children are sexually abused because they are not strong, grounded individuals
  • Children are sexually abused because they come from families that are not strong or stable and the parents of these children are ultimately responsible for the abuse
  • Children must bear a share of the responsibility when they are sexually abused, and that responsibility is increased when they choose not to disclose the abuse immediately
  • Studies need to be conducted to determine the “type” of child that becomes a victim of sexual abuse

The shock of these words coming from someone I held as a friend has still not worn off. No matter how much evidence I offered to counter his arguments he continued to assert his beliefs – his very dangerous beliefs. He shamelessly minimized the criminal responsibility of anyone who harms a child. As a parent, he refused to recognize the fact that any child – according to reported statistics 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls by the time they are 18 years old – could become a victim of sexual violence. Moreover, he displayed the weakness of his character when he repeatedly stated that the most vulnerable in our society should be held responsible when they are sexually abused.

Children are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. The people children trust and love abuse them. People in positions of trust, power, and authority abuse children. Family members abuse children. Family friends abuse children. Strangers abuse children. The trauma of sexual abuse has lifelong effects and sexually abused children are NEVER responsible for the abuse.

I know this because I am a sexual abuse survivor.

The person I had this conversation with did not know that I am a survivor because it is not information I often disclose in my personal life. In my personal life, I talk around the edges of sexual abuse. This collision between my personal and professional lives has made me realize that hiding behind my work while shrouding my personal life in secrecy are no longer options. I cannot truly advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual violence if I cannot be truthful about who I am in all areas of my life because I choose to do this work because I am survivor. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, a part of this work is trying to eliminate the misinformation and myths that exist about sexual abuse and sexual abuse survivors.

Because of this person’s beliefs I can no longer maintain our friendship, but I am walking away with renewed purpose and the knowledge that I am stronger without it.

T. Bennett
Survivors Guide


Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Suspected Abuse and the Duty to Report

“Be careful of Clive.”

That was the warning to a young girl from her aunt who suspected that it might be unsafe for her to spend time alone with the man who had already been sexually abusing her for months. Her aunt did not confront the man. She did not discuss her suspicions with other family members. She did not report her concerns to the police or a child protection agency. She told the young girl to be careful, but did nothing more to ensure her safety.

This person did not fulfill her duty – the duty of an adult to protect a child – and that young girl became a survivor.

In Canada, each province and territory has a Child Protection Act* because children cannot protect themselves. According to each Act, if a person has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a child is in need of protection that person must report the suspicion and all information to the local police or child protection agency. This responsibility extends to all adults. Even if, wrongly, we choose to believe the responsibility falls more heavily on the shoulders of anyone who performs professional or official duties involving children. Even if, in some cases – because of the nature of the job – a child may feel safer disclosing abuse to professionals such as:

  • Health care professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and family counselors
  • Educational professionals including teachers, school principals, guidance counselors, early childhood educators (ECE), daycare staff, and youth and recreation staff
  • Religious officials including ministers, rabbis, and other members of the clergy
  • Law enforcement professionals including peace and police officers
  • Social workers
  • Lawyers

Every person has the duty to report if he or she suspects the abuse of a child. There are no exceptions.

So, what are some of the things from which a child requires protection?

  • Neglect: the failure to provide adequate care and/or supervision
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse: revealed in children as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, and/or delayed development
  • Physical Abuse: injury inflicted by a parent/caregiver or another person; or resulting from neglect or lack of supervision
  • Sexual Abuse: when a child is sexually molested, sexually assaulted, or sexually exploited by her or his parent/caregiver or by another person; or the parent/caregiver knows that there is a risk of sexual molestation, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child

The Child Protection Act of Ontario states that if you suspect a child requires protection, to fulfill the duty to report you must make the report directly. You cannot rely on another person to report abuse on your behalf. In fact, anyone who fails to make a report is guilty of an offence.

We know that children cannot protect themselves. The key principles of each Child Protection Act – the promotion of the best interests, protection, and well-being of children – are there to remind us of this. Therefore, if you suspect abuse, fulfill your duty: report it. You may protect a child from becoming a survivor.


* Written with excerpts from the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11


Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Support for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse

The province of Ontario has recognized the need to provide services tailored to male survivors of sexual abuse. The government’s plan includes a 2-year investment of $2.2 million to establish dedicated services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Starting in early summer 2011, male survivors of sexual abuse will have access to an integrated network of services and support through 45 agencies across the province. The agencies will work together to provide training, public education and other professional development services to ensure male survivors of sexual abuse receive the supports they need.

These agencies will co-ordinate the delivery of specialized services for male victims including:

  • individual and group counselling
  • peer support
  • residential services
  • telephone and e-counselling

You may see the complete list of Service Providers here:

Survivors will also have access to a new 24 hour, toll-free phone number that will provide crisis and referral services.

The government emphasized that this initiative complements a wide range of existing services that male survivors of sexual abuse can access, noting that The Men’s Project in Ottawa will receive funding to continue to work in the area of men’s services to male survivors of sexual abuse in the Cornwall and Ottawa areas.

A provincial advisory committee of experts is in place to ensure services across the province are rolled out smoothly and effectively, and are responsive to the needs of survivors. Members of the provincial advisory committee include:

  • Dr. Fred Mathews, psychologist and research and quality assurance project lead, Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
  • Arthur Lockhart, professor of justice studies at Humber College and founder of The Gatehouse
  • Dr. Peter Jaffe, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario
  • A representative from Findhelp Information Services and a representative from each of the four regional partnerships
  • A member of the Office for Victims of Crime
  • A representative from the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat

If you have questions or concerns about these services for male survivors of sexual abuse, you may contact the office of the Ontario Attorney General

Toll-free: 1-800-518-7901
Toronto: 416-326-2220
Teletypewriter (TTY) toll-free: 1-877-425-0575
Teletypewriter (TTY) Toronto: 416-326-4012
Mail: Ministry of the Attorney General, McMurtry-Scott Building, 720 Bay Street, 11th Floor, Toronto, ON  M7A 2S9



Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide


The Agonizing Last Words of Programmer Bill Zeller

I have read this letter and I understand it in a way that chills me to the marrow of my bones.

Bill Zeller

Bill Zeller’s last wish was to have his final words shared with as many people as possible, and as survivors of sexual abuse, we believe this wish must be fulfilled.

People everywhere need to understand the extent to which sexual abuse harms an individual. They need to understand how the lack of societal recognition about the heinous nature of this crime causes survivors to retreat from society and human contact in a way that makes the victim appear to be the source of dysfunction. They need to understand how the fear of lack of support from family, friends, and trained professionals in the aftermath of disclosure drives survivors away and buries them in inescapable darkness. People need to understand that survivors of sexual abuse live with the effects throughout every minute of every day of their lives and there is no miracle or epiphany that will make what happened instantly “go away”.

Bill Zeller did what survivors of sexual abuse do every day: keep a secret.

We hope that sharing this secret in the wake of his death will create a powerful ripple of awareness in the world about the darkness that can exist for survivors of sexual abuse.

Read the letter: The Agonizing Last Words of Programmer Bill Zeller

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide


Filing a Police Report

You have made the choice to file a report about the sexual assault or sexual abuse you have experienced.

Going forward here is some information that we believe will be helpful as you face what may be a difficult experience, especially if you have never been inside of a police station or had any previous contact with the police.

First, and most important, you have the right to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for your personal dignity and privacy1 by any and all of the individuals you interact with while filing your report.

Second, you have the right to request that the interviewing police officers and any other officials present are of the same gender2 as you (female or male), so that you feel comfortable while filing your report.

Third, your interview with the police will be recorded in three (3) ways: written notes, audio recording and video recording. Do not be intimidated by this process. The audio and video recordings are necessary to have a living account of what happened to you. These recordings may be used as evidence at a later date. At the end of your interview you may be asked to confirm your account of the incident(s) by signing a copy of the statement you have made.

If you are reporting a case of historical sexual assault or long-term sexual abuse, it is important to know that you may be asked why you waited to file a report. Do not be discouraged by this question. Remember that there is no statute of limitations for reporting a sexual assault or sexual abuse in Canada. You are filing your report now because it is the right time for you do so.

Also, if you are asked by the interviewing officer(s) to provide corroboration of this crime, it is important to know that under the Criminal Code of Canada you are not required to provide corroboration. Where an accused is charged with an offence of sexual assault or sexual abuse no corroboration is required for a conviction3.

Fourth, at the end of the interview request the case number for your records. You should also request the names and badge identification numbers of the interviewing officers. This information will be on their business cards. You will need all of this information when you make follow up inquiries about the progress of your case because you have the right to have access to information about the progress of criminal investigations4.

Finally, before you leave the police station request information for support services because you have the right to have access to information concerning services and remedies available to victims5. These services may be available through Victim Services or other agencies within your community. These agencies will either provide you with or help you to locate the emotional and psychological support services you may need as you move forward.

Below you will find the reference notes for the information that has been tagged in this posting.


Points 1,2,4,5 are taken from principles in the Victims’ Bill of Right. They are principles (1),(4),(3) and (2) respectively.

Point 3 is taken from the Criminal Code of Canada which states:

Corroboration not required under the Criminal Code of Canada 274. Where an accused is charged with an offence under section 151, 152, 153, 155, 159, 160, 170, 171, 172, 173, 212, 271, 272 or 273, no corroboration is required for a conviction and the judge shall not instruct the jury that it is unsafe to find the accused guilty in the absence of corroboration.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 274; R.S., 1985, c. 19 (3rd Supp.), s. 11.

The following Criminal Code offences may apply in sexual abuse situations:

  • Sexual assault (section 271)
  • Sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (section 272)
  • Aggravated sexual assault (section 273)
  • Incest (section 155)

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

What Now?

You or someone close to you has survived a sexual assault or long-term sexual abuse.

What now?

If you live in Canada, the most important thing for you to know is that there is no statute of limitations for reporting a sexual assault or sexual abuse. In more precise terms, there is no maximum period of time, after the event, that legal proceedings based on those events may be initiated.

So, if you were sexually assaulted or sexually abused 1 hour ago or 20 years ago you still have the right, within the Canadian criminal justice system, to file a report about the incident(s); and to have the person who assaulted or abused you brought to justice.

You can file a report at your local police station.

When you take the step to file a report you need to prepare yourself emotionally and psychologically for what is about to unfold:

  • Ask your family and close friends to support the choice you have made to file a report
  • If you have a family doctor that you trust, speak to her/him about what has happened to you. Ask for a referral to a counselor or therapist that can provide you with the necessary support services, which may involve individual or group therapy
  • If you do not have a family doctor visit a local medical clinic in your community to get a referral for support services
  • Contact a rape crisis centre or hotline in your area
  • Ask your local police to put you in touch with the Victim Services representative for your area

Survivors Guide will provide you with links to agencies and services that may be able to assist you with making your choices, and we welcome suggestions from other survivors.

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide