(Free Press file photo)
John Swales is happy, but hesitates to use the word.
After decades of fierce battles against church, state and all the bureacrats, lawyers and counsellors in between, the outspoken survivor of childhood sexual abuse has got one thing he’s always wanted — a voice at the table.
The Londoner and other men and women who were abused as children are helping lead a novel, $180,000, two-year plan to improve the help they get in London and Middlesex County.
“I’m excited, I don’t know if I like the word happy,” Swales said. “I don’t know if happy is in my vocabulary.”
The project, called Opening the Circle, is funded by the federal government and coordinated by the Sexual Abuse Centre London (SACL), an agency Swales targeted only a few years back.
Within two years, London should have a peer support program for survivors and a better handle on how existing agencies can work together and better to help survivors battling addiction, trauma, housing problems, family issues and other problems.
The head of SACL doesn’t know exactly what the program or website or coordination of agencies will look like yet and that’s the point.
“We are trying to figure that out with survivors in the room,” Jane McGregor said. The group that began working on the project in December includes survivors and professionals.
“It is a totally different approach, because the survivors are the experts. They know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. We want the experts in the room and we want them driving this,” McGregor said.
Swales and his brothers were sexually abused by Roman Catholic priest Barry Glendinning in the 1970s. That sent Swales into a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution to pay for the drugs, and trouble with the law and with relationships.
He and his brothers battled back, successfully suing the Diocese of London and Glendinning in 2004.
In the fall of 2010, Swales began battling the province over a $2.2-million plan to help male survivors of sexual abuse across Ontario that critics said ignored survivors themselves and would send money to either female-oriented agencies or organizations associated with the Catholic church.
Much of Swales anger locally focused on SACL’s initial efforts to become one of the lead agencies in the provincial plan. But at the new project’s first meeting in December, Swales was introduced to two dozen participants as a one of the team’s leaders.
“Men and women are working together in an agency that has historically been only for women, that’s pretty darn exciting for me,” Swales said.
“It’s been a long journey. I feel a part of a movement. It’s not a group of professionals walking in and saying we have the answers. It is a group of people that have been impacted by sexual abuse, meeting with professionals that have been working on the issues of sexual abuse and working together on an even footing with the mindset to try to improvoe and enhance what’s out there.”
OPENING THE CIRCLE
— Two-year project to help child sex-abuse survivors
— $180,000, from the feds
— Create peer-support program for survivors, male and female
— Launch network, including website, coordinating services for survivors in London
— Advocate for male victims of child sex abuse
— He and his brothers sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s
— Successfully sued the church and priest in 2004