By New Youth4Change Blogger: Gina H.
In recent news, Graham James, a former hockey coach has been sentenced to two years in prison for sexually assaulting two players. Theoren Fluery and his cousin, Todd Holt, were sexually assaulted hundreds of times in their teenage years by Graham James. They came forward with this information two years ago. This is not James’ first time being charged with sexual assault. James has a history of perpetrating sexual violence dating back to 1971. James first gained media attention after being charged with sexually assaulting Sheldon Kennedy, another hockey player, in 1997. For this crime, James served a mere 18 months in prison and was released in 2000. James’ history of sexually assaulting teenage hockey players while in a position of trust and authority, is disgusting, and should have warranted a harsher sentence.
James pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the two young hockey players and returned from Mexico, where he had been living, to face the charges. The crown was seeking a six year sentence for these crimes and the defense sought a 12 to 18 month conditional sentence involving no jail time. In the end, Judge Catherine Carlson sentenced Graham James to a mere two years in prison. In a case that has attracted such widespread media attention, the judge failed to hand out the maximum sentence and, therefore, failed to demonstrate the severity of sexual violence and show Canadians, that this crime will not be treated lightly.
This sentencing sends a terrible message to survivors of sexual abuse. Survivor, Sheldon Kennedy, was quoted saying “The sentencings don’t come close to the damage it leaves in its wake and that’s been very clear to me here today.” Kennedy illustrates the point that such a lenient sentence shows survivors that the severity of the crime is not understood by our legal system. The effects of sexual abuse can be devastating on a long term basis. A lenient sentence, like James received, is belittling the trauma that survivor’s experience and sends the message to the public that sexual violence is not a serious crime.
Furthermore, Judge Carlson’s ruling sends the message that perpetrators can get away with a minor sentence so long as they claim to be remorseful. Her reasoning for such a meagre sentence was that James returned freely to Canada to face charges, apologized to his victims, and showed “an extreme degree of humiliation.” However remorseful James claims to be, he still committed these numerous acts of sexual assault and abused his position of trust and authority. Empathizing with the perpetrator is needless and shows a lack of understanding of the severity of sexual abuse. James deserves to be adequately punished and receive a much lengthier prison sentence.
James is likely to reoffend and abuse another innocent child. Outside of court, Sheldon Kennedy claims that James has only received a total of 32 hours of rehabilitation. A psychological report submitted in court revealed that James still has feelings of attraction toward teenage boys, demonstrating the likelihood he will reoffend. James’ actions were premeditated, manipulative and he took advantage of the role he played to these boys. He victimized boys he thought to be disadvantaged, he manipulated their parents to believe moving the boys away from their home towns would be advantageous to their hockey careers, and he threatened to end their careers should they tell anyone of the abuse that was taking place. Sexual abuse is a devastating crime that takes away a person’s sense of safety, control, privacy, trust, and dignity. Graham James took advantage of children who trusted him and caused them to endure insurmountable pain. Survivors can be impacted by the abuse for their entire lives. Simply put, the time does not fit the crime. This sentence minimizes the severity of sexual abuse. A two year sentence is not justice for a crime which effects are so lasting and widespread.
TheorenFluery released a statement saying, “This is about doing our utmost to eliminate the biggest epidemic we have on the planet. You have kids. I have kids. What’s important is that not one more kid has to go through what I did. What Sheldon (Kennedy) did. What Todd (Holt) did. That’s the reason for this entire exercise.I think Canada’s reaction to the sentence is a very positive step. The country is outraged. If you read what’s on Twitter right now, we’re starting to get the kind of reaction we need in order to make change.’’Fluery has become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and his media presence is helping to increase awareness and understanding of this important issue. By providing a voice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, hopefully Fluery can help to generate the kind of awareness necessary to motivate Canadians to demandchanges in the legal system.