Dr. Jane Simington has a simple message for all victims of sexual abuse.
“Healing is possible,” said Simington, an Edmonton-based grief and trauma specialist, who has worked extensively inside Aboriginal communities.
The extent of sexual abuse and the impacts it can have on victims and their families was thrust into the spotlight recently with the high profile sentencing of hockey coach Graham James. He received a two-year jail term for sexually abusing a pair of his former players.
Theo Fleury, who has Métis heritage and who began his successful National Hockey League career with the Calgary Flames, was one of James’ victims.
Though it had been rumoured for years before, it wasn’t until the release of his autobiography titled Playing With Fire that Fleury revealed he had been sexually abused by James.
Fleury’s revelation, said Simington, owner of Taking Flight International Corporation, is how the healing process starts: when a sexual abuse victim is willing to talk. She added staying in a sense of denial is not beneficial.
“Part of the healing is to tell themselves and at least one other person (of what happened),” said Simington, who has also written a pair of books about sexual abuse titled Setting the Captive Free and Journey To The Sacred: Mending a Fractured Soul. “We seem to be able to release that load we’ve been carrying inside ourselves for such a long, long time.”
Simington said it is not uncommon for victims to often feel they are to blame for the abuse that was imposed upon them.
“Often there is a huge amount of shame and guilt attached, even though people are trying to tell them it’s not your fault,” she said.
In his book Fleury wrote how the abuse he endured from James eventually led him to start abusing alcohol and drugs. He even contemplated suicide.
“(James) destroyed my belief system,” Fleury wrote in his book. “The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right. I no longer had faith in myself or my own judgment. And when you come down to it, that’s all a person has. Once it’s gone, how do you get it back?”
James coached Fleury as a teenager and that is when the abuse began.
“These kids are often vulnerable,” Simington said of abuse victims. “Their vulnerability can come through their desire to be successful.”
When he was being abused Fleury felt speaking up would jeopardize his budding hockey career.
Simington believes one method to recovery is through soul trance work. She said therapists can take victims back to the moments they suffered abuse - and then make the victim be the one in charge of the situation, instead of the predator.
“That work is extremely healing and re-invigorating for people,” she said, adding even a single session of this “reprogramming of the brain” can be extremely beneficial.
Simington has worked extensively with Aboriginal sexual abuse victims not only in Alberta but across the country as well.