photo credit to Johny Warkentin, Champlain College student
Former NHL start, Sheldon Kennedy spoke at Trent University on October 9 as the 2013 Champlain Students’ Choice Speaker to a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty staff and community members, including a contingent from the Peterborough and Lakefield Police who investigate sex crimes.
As Mr. Kennedy quietly entered the Great Hall, a man walked up, shook his hand and said, "thank you for saving my life." For victims of child sexual abuse, having a figure like Sheldon Kennedy as a renowned spokesperson means more than most of us can imagine.
Mr. Kennedy revisited the challenges he addresses in his book, Why I Didn't Say Anything, including the shame he felt and the silencing of the voice and spirit he felt since he was first abused by his junior hockey coach at the age of 12.
Drew Hampel, former athletic rep and current cabinet speaker for Champlain College, introduced Mr. Kennedy by saying, "as Canadians, we dream of the life you led as an NHL star, but few of us imagine or experience the nightmare it was."
Questions from the crowd ranged from discussion of the effects of abuse, drugs, and alcoholism on the environment of the NHL to why Mr. Kennedy had not sought to make the NHL take responsibility for what happened to him.
Indicating that he is still and always be on the road to recovery for the abuse he suffered and its aftereffects, he responded “sure there are times when you want to see somebody locked up for a hundred years or for heads to roll in management. But those kinds of things don't really solve the problem. It's been almost 15 years since I first reported what happened to me, and the past 15 years of talking to people, and educating means that it's now hard to imagine that it could happen again in hockey. We understand better now how to protect kids, and to make people responsible for the kind of respect we all deserve."
The Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, Student Affairs staff, and members of Trent Active Minds were on hand at the event in order to provide a supportive environment and to facilitate service to any members of our community directly affected by issues raised in Sheldon's discussion.
Having transformed his own experience with abuse into positive action, Kennedy continues to carry his message through his organization Respect Group, which provides empowering online education for youth serving organizations, schools, and the workplace. The Respect in Sport program has trained over 150,000 coaches in the prevention of abuse, bullying, and harassment.