No parent wants to consider the possibility of their child being sexually abused.
It is dark and scary and ugly.
And yet it happens in this community and every other.
Rather than be afraid, Adrianne Simeone, executive director of The Mama Bear Effect, a website of educational resources to help families protect children from sexual abuse, says parents can feel empowered if well-educated on the topic.
"We don't want to scare people about all the terrible things [that] happen. We really want to empower people to understand you are stronger than this. And a real predator would actually be more afraid of you as an educated adult than you would be of them," she said.
It is next to impossible to get hard stats on how many children are abused in Canada because it often goes unreported, say experts.
According to a paper by the federal government, the most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths.
"Its report indicates that, among adult Canadians, 53% of women and 31% of men were sexually abused when they were children."
The prevalence of this societal problem has been known for decades, and yet it persists.
"We have an issue of willful blindness, where the research has been done, we know how prevalent this issue is, but that's where it ends," Simeone said.
"In the United States, they ran the first [Adverse Childhood Experiences ] study in the mid-1990s. And that's where they really got the rock-hard evidence that it was one in four women and one in six men, which is, again, a conservative estimate."
Simeone says that while people may feel safer not thinking about the darker sides of their community, not facing it keeps children in danger.
She noted that often, in more idyllic communities, like in the Sea to Sky, where there is money, highly successful folks and a resort-like lifestyle for many, some can become complacent about what could happen.
"For me personally, the more affluent the community, the more it protects abusers because it creates this facade of everything is wonderful, and everybody has good intentions. They will feed off of that because they will use their goodness; they will use those opportunities to gain trust. And so, especially a community where you have coaches or dance schools or after-school activities. It is essential that anybody who works or volunteers with children to take abuse prevention training," she said.
While educating children is important, Simeone said the first focus should be on parents.
"My mentality is, as a parent, we buckle our kids into their car seat ... to keep them safe. But ... we [also] keep our eyes on the road; we drive defensively. We're actually the ones who are trying to reduce risk or opportunity for any kind of accident. So empowering children is essential, but that's not the primary focus. Our primary focus is educating adults to understand how this happens," she said.
One of Simeone's tips is to reduce opportunities for things to happen: minimize situations where people can be alone with children.
For example, she said if your kids are playing in the basement and you're cooking in the kitchen, stop to check on them at regular intervals.
When you have people over for Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays, do the same thing: check on where the kids are and what they are doing.
"We, of course, should trust people. We should trust our spouses, and our parents and close friends, but also verify that trust," Simeone said. "Are there any behaviours from them that kind of make me feel uncomfortable?"
She pointed to the book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe, by Gavin de Becker, which notes humans are rare in their effort and ability to ignore their instincts about people and situations.
"If a dog feels unsafe about something, you can't get them to jump in the water," she said, noting when people get a bad feeling in their gut, they often question themselves or don't want to be rude.
The safety of children needs to matter more than the feelings of adults, she said.
"Someone's going to be offended. Someone's going to be like, 'Well, what are you saying about me?' This isn't about you. This is about a very real situation. And we have to really address this, or we're going to set these kids up for a bad situation."
While most people who engage or work with children are good and kind and there for all the right reasons, predators also look for situations where they can insert themselves around children and be helpful.
Be wary of coaches or any other adults giving kids rides home, for example.
Watch for boundary crossing, such as adults in positions of power who tickle kids or favour one child over others.
She said that organizations that work with children should have conversations about this kind of thing and hash out what situations might be putting kids at risk and how they can minimize that.
If a child at gymnastics doesn't have a parent to take them to the washroom, for example, how is that handled? She said these are questions that can be thought about ahead of time.
Asking kids if anything different happened in their day is a way for parents to check in with what is going on at school, she said, noting school bathrooms are places where children can be vulnerable to situations with other children.
"They need to understand that this is a situation where there can be a risk for inappropriate behaviour. And it's not abusive; it's just inappropriate. But it breaks down kids' boundaries of understanding what's appropriate because if they tolerate low levels of inappropriate behaviour, it just kind of sets the stage for them to be more comfortable with very inappropriate situations."
If you are a teen being abused
Simeone's message for children or teens who have been abused, but are staying quiet, is to find a safe adult to disclose to.
"Just talk to someone so that you can get it off your chest," she said.
If there isn't anyone in person a youth can trust, children and teens in B.C. can call the Kids Help Phone to speak to a counsellor day or night at 1-800-668-6868.
"For every kid who is going through this situation, I just really want them to know that it's not their fault, and they're not alone. And that this is such a common thing. And that's why organizations like ours are fighting so hard, because we want these kids to understand that they are still worthy of love and respect. And that healing is possible, and that there are so many people fighting for them."
Sea to Sky support
For people who have experienced child sexual abuse, the most appropriate resource Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCS) offers is the Sexual Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP).
This program offers therapeutic support to children under 19 years of age who have experienced sexual abuse or are suspected of having been sexually abused or assaulted. Counselling is also provided to non-offending parents, guardians and family members.
An appointment with a counsellor can be made through their main offices:
Squamish: 604-567-9089 | Pemberton: 604-894-6101 | Whistler: 1-877-892-2022.
A referral is required, but an individual can refer themselves without a parent’s involvement.
Other SSCS resources that may be appropriate for additional support parents, families or youth include:
Community-Based Victim Services Program
SSCS offers free and confidential Community-Based Victim Services in the Southern Stl’atl’imx Communities for women, men, youth, and children who have been victims of recent or historic childhood sexual abuse.
Counselling assistance fund
The Counselling Assistance Fund subsidizes the cost of private counselling with a registered clinical counsellor for individuals, couples, and families who live in Pemberton and Squamish, who could not otherwise afford to access counselling services. If childhood sexual abuse has occurred, the Counselling Assistance Fund can assist with the cost of counselling (up to a maximum of six sessions). No referral is required to apply for assistance.
Family Support Services helps parents in their role as caregivers. The goal is to promote and strengthen family life and to enhance child and family development. If childhood sexual abuse has occurred, Family Services can provide counselling to support the family and child. A self-referral, community-based referral or referral from the Ministry of Children and Family is required.
Foundry walk-in support services
Foundry Sea to Sky Walk-in Support is available for youth ages 12 to 24. Youth will have access to peer support, social services, mental health and substance use counselling. Support is free, and confidential, and ensures that youth accessing supports are provided with welcoming, inclusive, and accessible service. Staff are able to support young people to access additional support, resources, and referrals as needed.
No parent/guardian consent, appointment or referral is needed. Support is on a first-come, first-serve basis and takes place every Wednesday from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Sea to Sky Community Services office, 38024 Fourth Avenue.
Contact: Manager of Youth Services, Caitlin Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 604-892-5796
Foundry Virtual Services
Foundry BC offers virtual services and support for caregivers and youth (12 to 24 years old) who may feel more comfortable requesting support virtually rather than in person.
Howe Sound Women’s Centre
Shana Murray of the Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society said the best program for children or youth who have experienced or who may have experienced childhood sexual abuse is the Sexual Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP) through Sea to Sky Community Services.
If that program has a long waitlist or does not meet the family's needs, they can self-refer or be referred to the centre’s PEACE program while on a waitlist.
Also, check out www.seatoskysafetynet.com, a navigator for all Sea to Sky resources.