Sheldon KennedyArticle from CTVNews

Sheldon Kennedy says being sexually abused for years by his junior hockey coach Graham James turned him from a “goofy, slightly mixed-up kid” who dreamed of the future into little more than “a zombie.”

The former NHL player turned advocate for sexual abuse victims still seems ill at ease when talking about his own experiences, even though he was the first victim to come forward 20 years ago.

But talk about them he does. On Monday, he was before an international audience of front-line agencies, policy-makers and researchers from 42 countries sharing ideas on how to protect children from abuse and neglect.

Pacing back and forth on stage at a conference of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, an emotional Kennedy recounted the circumstances that began when he was playing for the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos.

“It wasn’t, for me, a one-time thing with Graham James. It was every time I was with him,” he recalled.

“And it wasn’t just about the physical piece of it. It was about the mental manipulation and the confusion and the isolation that comes with their obsession over you.”

James would go to prison for sexually abusing Kennedy and is still serving time for preying on a number of other players. He is currently seeking full parole.

Kennedy’s career in the National Hockey League spanned less than 10 years. He developed alcohol and drug problems as he struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

In 2013, he helped facilitate the opening of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary. It brings together under one roof the services of police, social workers, medical staff, psychologists and prosecutors to try to avoid young victims constantly having to retell and relive their abuse.

Kennedy urged his audience to consider the same kind of co-ordinated approach to reduce the trauma child sexual abuse victims suffer around the world.

“We don’t treat a broken leg differently in Calgary than we do in Toronto, so why do we approach this stuff different around the world? The basics are the same,” he said.

“We talk about mental health, and then we talk about child abuse, and then we talk about addiction. For some reason, child abuse and child health treatment is a social services issue and a justice issue.

“This is a health issue.”

Kenney said almost 70 per cent of the children brought to the centre are between four and 12 years old and have experienced some sort of sexual abuse.

Alberta’s human services minister told delegates they must find better ways to end “needless tragedies.”

“The pervasiveness of these issues that we are discussing is not from a lack of commitment, concern or co-operation from all of those of you who deal with them every day,” said Irfan Sabir.

“It’s saddening to note that 39 years after (the international group) was founded we must still meet to discuss crimes that should have no place in our society.”


If you or someone you care about was sexually abused and you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form.  We will treat you with discretion and respect.

You are not alone.  We are here to help.

Peter Janci

About Peter Janci

Peter has represented more than one hundred victims of sexual abuse over nearly a decade.  ...