By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Stewards of Children is a three-hour session on child sexual abuse prevention being offered free of charge Apr. 12 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. The program is being conducted by Little Warriors, and the Town of Morinville’s Family and Community Support Services Department (FCSS) will be picking up the tab for those community members interested in taking the program.
Stewards of Children will teach adults the signs and symptoms they should be looking for that show a child has been sexually abused as well as how to handle a disclosure, should a child reveal to an adult they have been sexually abused. Participants will be instructed in the proper way to report a disclosure to authorities.
“I think anyone that has children in their life should take the program,” said Little Warriors Founder and Chair Glori Meldrum. “The research shows that for every one person that we train, it protects 10 kids.”
The 1988 Badgley Report provided statistics that showed one in three girls at an average age of 12 and one in six boys at an average age of four are sexually abused. Given those high numbers, which Meldrum said do not include child pornography or human trafficking, Little Warriors believes the Stewards of Children program is an important preventative measure in fighting child sexual abuse in Canada.
“It’s a massive problem,” Meldrum said of abuse. “You can’t pick up a paper across the country in any market and there’s a story. Whether it’s Graham James just getting two years of a sentence that he’ll be out by February. It’s a massive, massive problem right across the country. It’s in the news every single day.”
Meldrum and her organization feel penalties for child sexual abuse are too lenient in Canada, a point illustrated by disgraced hockey coach Graham James recent two-year sentence for abusing players in his care. “I think it’s disgusting,” Meldrum said. “What Canadians need to realize is that the average sentence for raping or molesting a child is two to three years. But in Canada it’s usually a third of what you serve. So when I heard he got two years and he’s serving six months, I wasn’t surprised because that’s what the laws are.”
While the statistics on the numbers of children sexually abused and the small amount of time abusers spend in jail are alarming to Meldrum’s organization, other statistics are ore concerning and motivation for wanting as many as possible to take the Stewards of Children program. Meldrum explained 95 per cent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by people who personally know the children they abuse. “The offender has usually gained the trust of the parents to get access to the child,” she said. “That’s the scary stuff.”
For Meldrum, protecting youth from those who would rob them of their innocence is a personal mission in life. A victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather, who Meldrum said was a serial child molester, she knows all too well the importance of protecting children from abuse. “It’s a volunteer thing for me because I was one of those kids,” she said of her organization, which began four years ago. “I lived at my grandfather’s house and I was sexually abused from the time I was eight to 10. I have to do whatever I can to help these children.”
Part of that help will be to create a long-term treatment centre for victims of child sexual abuse; something she said does not exist in Canada, although there are three centres to help rehabilitate sex offenders in Edmonton alone.
“I’m going to build the first treatment centre, and it’s going to be called the Be Brave Ranch, for kids that have been sexually abused,” Meldrum said. “Right not I’m trying to raise $3.1 million to create all the programing from scratch and buy the facility.”
While that goal is still some time away, Meldrum’s organization will continue to offer the Stewards of Children program to communities in the hopes of equipping community members with the tools to prevent other children from enduring what she experienced as a child.
Free session in Morinville
The Morinville session, taking place at the Community Cultural Centre Apr. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m., is free to adults wishing to take the program. Morinville’s FCSS department will cover the $30 registration costs provided people register in advance.
FCSS Coordinator Amy Dribnenky hopes Morinville residents will take advantage of the opportunity. “I think it is an important program, especially for anybody that deals with kids or has any kind of involvement with kids,” Dribnenky said. “I want to make sure anyone that is interested in the program has that option and the ability to come to it.”
Dribnenky said people are familiar with how much recovery is needed for those who have been sexually abused. “By giving adults the tools they need to recognize it, it’s just so important,” she said. “FCSS is about preventing, preventing social breakdown and creating resiliency.”
Little Warriors believes program participants will come away with an understanding of the facts on child sexual abuse, knowledge of how it happens, the certainty adults are responsible for the protection of children, and an understanding of the proactive role youth-serving organizations need to take to better protect children and educate the community about child sexual abuse.
The program includes an interactive workbook for each participant containing the full program curriculum, an accompanying DVD, and the opportunity for discussion about important issues in sexual abuse prevention.
Dribnenky said those interested in registering for the program can call her at 780-939-7832, and she will set them up with Little Warriors. She may also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.