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Why Jailing my Sex Abuser Won't Help

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I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. From the time I was 11 until 16 years old, a family friend trapped me in prolonged abuse. Over the last 15 years I have disclosed the abuse to my family and friends, sought many hours of counseling, and this past Christmas Eve reported the assaults to the police, who are currently investigating.

UPDATE: The police have finished their investigation. Last week my perpetrator was charged with five counts of sexual assault and appeared in a Saskatoon courtroom.

Last month, Graham James was convicted of sexually assaulting Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt in the 1980s and 1990s when they played for him in the Western Hockey League. The two-year sentence handed to James by the provincial court is being appealed by the Manitoba Department of Justice.

These events have sparked a heated debate in our country, toward which I have mixed feelings. James' publicity helps shine a light on how we can overcome this social ill, but that these debates are largely fueled by retribution saddens me.

There is too much emphasis on the need for tough sentences, and not enough focus on two equally important areas: victim services and offender rehabilitation.

"There is no sentence this court can impose that will give back to Holt and Fleury that which was taken by James," said Judge Catherine Carlson said during sentencing. She is right.

Three weeks ago I submitted my victim impact statement to the police and shared it with my friends and family. One friend wrote "I suspect my instinct to tar, feather, and execute may not be the most helpful response." He is also right.

An eye for an eye leaves victims without services and offenders without rehabilitation. Let's shift our attention.

Imagine a group of 100 kids who were abused as children. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, it's estimated that at best 10 of these kids will report their abuser to the police, and that five will see their abuser tried and convicted in court. What about the 90 kids who never report? Or the 95 kids who never see a conviction? Justice or not, all victims need access to services.

Depending on the province there are varying levels of support for victims. In Ontario, an individual who is actively bringing a case against an abuser or has obtained a conviction can use the Ontario Victims Services Secretariat. But this leaves 90 of 100 kids without help. By contrast, the Saskatchewan Association of Sexual Assault Services has a network of organizations that offer services to all victims in the province.

I have paid thousands of dollars for professional help. My counselor in Toronto charges $150 per session. I am fortunate to have private insurance to cover some of the cost and an income to pay for the rest, but many are not as fortunate.

It's essential that all survivors, regardless of where they live, have access to the professional help they need to live a full and healthy life.

Unless abusers die in prison, they will eventually be released. Locking them up forever is one solution, but it's unrealistic. According to Canada's Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview it costs $110,000 per year to keep a male inmate locked up in a Federal Penitentiary. That's $220,000 for Graham James' most recent conviction.

How much are we spending on his rehabilitation?

During James' 1997 prison spell -- 18 months for abusing former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy -- he received 32 hours of rehabilitation. If his treatment costs $150 per hour, then we spent only $4,800 for his rehabilitation. This is paltry when compared to the costs of his incarceration.

While convicted abusers are likely to reoffend (based on academic papers and interviews I've conducted with criminal lawyers and counselors, the average abuser has between 30 and 150 victims), we know that ongoing professional rehabilitation is the key to lowering the risk of re-offence.

The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, also known as Bill C-54, proposes modifications to the Criminal Code of Canada. If passed, the bill will increase the current mandatory minimum sentences (MMS) for child abusers.

Supporters argue that increased MMS will help communicate social disapproval, deter offenders, and prevent future crime from occurring by removing the convicted offender from society. Unless we are going to find and jail every child molester for life, I suggest we start pressing our government for a serious rehabilitation program for convicted abusers.

Given the choice, I would rather see my abuser serve the current MMS of 45 days, freeing up tens of thousands of dollars otherwise spent on his incarceration on his rehabilitation (both in prison and after release), over simply serving the proposed increased MMS of one year and being released without any rehab.

Bill C-54 does not go far enough. It does absolutely nothing to provide help for those suffering in silence with the pain of past abuse nor does it impose minimum rehabilitation standards for abusers. It's a rare occasion when politicians listen. But listening they are. The public has been calling for mandatory minimum sentences for child molesters and the politicians have responded accordingly.

Normally I would say this is a good thing. However, in this case we've hit the bullseye on one target and left two other important targets untouched.

Next time you catch yourself ranting about the absurdly low penalties for childhood sexual abusers, be sure to heap some scorn on the lack of victim support and offender rehabilitation. While you're at it, contact your MP about the short-comings of Bill C-54.