Our Little Secret: Confronting the Epidemic of Child Sexual Abuse in Canada // Review

By Steed, Judy | Herizons, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview
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Our Little Secret: Confronting the Epidemic of Child Sexual Abuse in Canada // Review

Steed, Judy, Herizons


Interviewing Judy Steed about her new book Our Little Secret is not enjoyable. It is instead a chilling experience to listen to an author talk about nearly vomiting as she watched child porn movies as part of her research. She describes a video confiscated by the Toronto police in which a six-year-old girl is held up to the camera as a man assaults her vaginally and anally while yet another man forces the child's head from left to right so that two more men can alternately insert their penises into her mouth. "Her eyes were dead and vacant," she says.

Incredibly, what Steed rightly terms "a living record of the abuse of children" has been illegal only since 1993. She has no patience with those civil libertarians who would defend the torture of children on the grounds that it constitutes freedom of speech.

"Children," she says, "have no freedom of speech, they are silent."

Currently a features writer at the Toronto Star and recipient of numerous journalism awards, Judy Steed has written a book which forces the reader to accept the reality of the sexual exploitation of children in Canada. She insists we understand that child molesters are rarely easily visible monsters. Instead, the man who fondles you little boy is more likely to be his teacher, coach or choir master than he is some Quasimodo of sexual aberration; the man who rapes your little girl is more likely to be the charming man to whom you are married, rather than the unwashed indigent in the back alley.

This is a book that makes us look at the fact that our society puts more money into fighting drug abuse than it does into preventing and dealing with the sexual abuse of children. And there are statistics here that none of us wants to deal with. For example, Toronto Police Detective Wendy Leaver points out that the average pedophile abuses 300 to 400 children over a 15- to 20-year period before he's caught. If he is caught.

This is a book which mercilessly pushes us to confront the fact that it is sometimes the parents themselves who, entangled in a web of denial, become the dupes and enablers who permit the abusers to go undetected for so long. Indeed, in the case of choir master John Gallienne of Kingston, we have a man who became a social leader in the community, a man who would pour his guests an excellent wine and, later, slip away to molest their sons between courses at dinner parties.

We read about case after case in which employers excused and minimized the abusive behaviour of their employees even after complaints were made. We see colleagues who turned a blind eye and friends who denied responsibility. Few listened to the children.

And that, says Detective Leaver, is the key. "You want to know how to stop the sexual abuse of children?" she asks. "Stop ignoring kids. If we can educate parents to listen to children, we can stop it."

Why do adults doubt the children? Dr. Marcelina Mian, pediatrician at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, gives as an example the attitude of many parents when presented with the possibility that a teacher has abused their child. "I'm an intelligent person with good judgement," thinks the horrified parent.

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