Bring child sexual abuse ‘out of the shadows’, says O’Brian

Peter O'Brian speaks to the audience Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at the Children's Treatment Center Bike-A-Thon Plus Kickoff Breakfast in Cornwall, Ont. O'Brian came forward with his account of being sexually abused as a boy at a UK boarding school. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – With many people enjoying breakfast across the nation, Peter O’Brian says children being sexually abused is probably the “subject to avoid at all costs.”

But O’Brian, the guest speaker at the Children’s Treatment Center Bike-A-Thon Plus Kickoff Breakfast, told the audience of roughly 600, the only way to battle abuse it is to talk about it and “bring it out of the shadows.”

Sexually abused by teacher Hugh Henry at a boarding school near London, England in the 1950s, O’Brian decided to come forward about his ordeal after seeing the film Chosen on TVO – a film about abuse of boys at boarding schools.

O’Brian had been at the school when his father was a Canadian officer in the Royal Air Force.

Recounting the horrific events for the audience Wednesday, O’Brian detailed how he had been groomed by his abuser and after refusing a request to come to Henry’s room at the boarding school, only then did he realize he “had some power of (his) my own…I didn’t know I had the right to say no,” he said.

Following that break in the cycle of abuse at the boarding school he was sent home to Canada.

Looking back on what happened 50 years later, like many victims of abuse, O’Brian kept his “huge secrets” bottled up thinking it would ruin his life and family if it was exposed. He also believed that coming forward would have led to victim-blaming – that he would be “blamed rather than rescued” and that he was alone believing that he was “the only one.”

O’Brian came forward four years ago at the age of 65 – roughly five decades after the abuse had happened.

Based on his accounts and the testimony of other victims, Hugh Henry was convicted on 13 counts of indecent assault against nine minors but committed suicide two days before he was supposed to be sentenced.

O’Brian also believes that childhood sexual abuse survivors should get treatment at the earliest possible time because “the longer it is left, the more damage (it will do) later.”

Now that the award-winning filmmaker and TVO board chairman is sharing his story, O’Brian doesn’t “intend to go back into the shadows…let’s be silent no more.”

The Children’s Treatment Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary in June. The Bike-A-Thon Plus – the biggest yearly fundraiser for the CTC – is May 28, 2016 at St. Lawrence College and will feature 14 different activities.

Board chairman Don Fairweather told the audience the center has helped at least 2,380 children and over 2,000 families.

With the number of referrals increasing from 10 to 17 per month, Fairweather said it’s a “stark reality” of the need of the services of the CTC, which is funded entirely by the community.

The center is hoping to meet or beat last year’s fundraising total of $131,000.