Posted by: Peaceful Social Worker | March 21, 2012

Pedophiles, predators and sentences

Graham James, the man convicted of sexually abusing young hockey players, including Sheldon Kennedy, was sentenced to two years yesterday, March 20, 2012. Some say the judge bent over backwards to be lenient on him (Sun News). His lawyer says that the sentence was fair. Dan Lett, of the Winnipeg Free Press ( stated that the judge made the wrong decision, as demanded by Canadian law in his article titled “Correct? Yes. Right? Unfortunately not.” He noted that this was a case that no judge would want. He stated that this judgement was “consistent with one of the most important principles of Canada’s justice system, a hallmark of a fair and noble society” He also noted that it was wrong. The CBC put this story in the sports section. It is not a sports story, it is a crime story. Sun News had some hard hitting, angry commentary. Both news outlets had input from Sheldon Kennedy, one of James’ “victims”. (I put victim in quotes because I believe he has moved beyond victim status, and can’t think of another word just now) Of course, the comments from readers were generally angry about this seemingly lenient sentence.

This has always been a difficult issue for me. I have worked with victims (survivors?) of sex abuse, and have wondered what a suitable sentence would be. One wise social worker I knew a long time ago, said that the Canadian criminal justice system cannot do what we’d really like it to do. Nor would we want that, frankly. I mean, hanging the offender from various body parts, and other sick things we think of, really aren’t appropriate. Well, not in a supposedly fair and just society that Canada is supposed to be. At one point, I decided that the minimum I would consider acceptable would be a two year sentence. In Canada, that means the offender would spend time in Federal Prison, and Federal Prison is not a nice place for pedophiles and others who sexually offend against children.

I have certainly met children and adults who have experienced unspeakable abuses against them. People who as children were abused, and then the adults who were supposed to care for them did not believe them. Sadly, our society has been inclined to blame the victim. I suppose if we believe the victims, we have to admit that people do horrible things to each other….and that is difficult. Our courts have harassed the victims and re-victimized them. Young children have been considered “unreliable witnesses”.  Past judges, often white men, have protected fellow white men by suggesting that the courts should not believe women and children who make accusations against “fine upstanding men”. (I wish I could find the reference for this one. If I find it, I will add it). The bottom line is, it is very difficult for victims to come forward. Even today, when things have changed over the years.

It is easy to think that sex abuse is on the increase because we hear about it more now than in the past. I don’t think there is more sex abuse. I think people are talking about it more. Talking is good because sex abuse happens in secret. Behind closed doors. It has happened in churches a lot for good reason. Who would ever suspect “good Christians” of doing such a thing? Children are silenced by threats. By promises. By guilt. By shame. They are told they will not be believed, and often they aren’t believed. They are told their dog will be killed, or that their family will not love them. They are told the offender will be sent to jail, and that it will be their fault. There are many good reasons why children and teens are silent on this. Hockey players like Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury would have felt particularly shamed. As strong, athletic teens, they “should” have been able to stop it. If only it were so easy.

I used to work with children under 12 who had sexual behaviour problems. Yes, that happens, and that is the age to help future offenders. Fourteen year olds who offend against younger children know it is wrong, and want to do anything to change. I had one client who was fourteen. By rights, he should have been charged because then he could have gotten treatment. When I was trying to help him, I was speaking to a social worker who worked at the treatment facility in Prince George. He told me that it would be nice if sex offenders had long green tongues that hung to the ground so we could identify them. Sadly, they are people who children like. They are nice. They are charming. Manipulative. They blend in.

Sex abuse of children is not about sex. It is about power. Some offenders do believe they are teaching children about “love”. Of course that is crap. Some intend to hurt children. A fair percentage of offenders were abused themselves. They pick children or victims they know will not tell on them. They seem to have a radar for those lonely, vulnerable kids. They may very well have been those lonely vulnerable kids in the past.

I have been having a bit of a Twitter conversation with Bob Zimmer,  the MP of my riding. He asked if it would be best if people like Graham James should stay incarcerated until they are safe. What a question. It is a good question. I’m not sure how to answer that. Paul Bernardo will presumably be in jail for life because he did such horrific things. Why shouldn’t someone like Graham James be incarcerated for life as well. How do we know when he is safe? How would we know if Paul Bernardo is safe? Wouldn’t he be entitled to the same consideration, if we are using that measurement?  Would these offenders (Bernardo included) be getting rehabilitated in prison? Are they rehabilitatable?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that. If someone were truly changed or changing, they would recognize that they can never be alone with children again. They would not put themselves in a position to offend against children. From what I have read about Mr. James, he seems to have continued his pattern. I would not be surprised to hear of other victims coming forward.

I am glad that people like Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury are coming forward and telling their stories. Education is far better than legislation. Offenders are quite often “nice”, charming people and when we know more about them, we are less likely to be wooed by their charms. We will be better able to hold them accountable for their actions. Was the judge who sentenced Mr James conned by him? Of course, not having all the answers, I do not know.

This morning I was listening to an interview with a man who had been friends with Jeffrey Dahmer when they were in High School. He said that Dahmer went unnoticed, partly because teachers and the people that “should” have noticed just didn’t know. They did not expect or anticipate such behaviours. Dahmer apparently was drunk at school in the mornings. He walked around the school carrying a cup of alcohol. Because the teachers did not expect it, they didn’t notice it. He suggested that if Dahmer had gotten help then, he might not have turned into such a monster. Of course the friend did not think Dahmer would have been a fine upstanding citizen. He figured he would have lived with his parent(s) and been an odd ball. I wonder about people like Graham James. What would have happened if someone had noticed him as a teen or pre-teen? Would things have been different? Of course we’ll never know. What we can do, is figure out how to help the future “Graham James'”.

One great thing that has come from all this is the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre that will be opening in Calgary soon ( This is a centre that Sheldon Kennedy has promoted. It will be a place where all the services for children will be in one place. Prevention is very important, and will save lives on many levels. Of course it can’t be measured. Yet. Children are worth the investment though. Aren’t they?

So, as to what to do with people like Graham James, I don’t know. It might have been better to have had cameras in court. Ditch the secrecy. Let the chips fall where they will. Perhaps Mr James is entitled to some protection. I get that. At the same time, he needs to be held accountable. If he is truly remorseful, he will show his face, and deal with the consequences. Just as his victims had to do.

Graham James sentenced (CBC – Sports)

Graham James sentence may be appealed (CBC)

Sentencing of Graham James (Sun News)

Sheldon Kennedy (Sun News)


  1. This is such a hard issue not to get emotional about. Ultimately I think pedophiles should be forced into therapy for life, on top of their prison terms. Miss a session, spend at least a couple of weeks in jail. The psychic harm they do is too great to not monitor these sick people all of their days.

    • Thanks for your comment Christine. That is an awesome idea. There was a drug court program in Toronto that had that sort of program, though on a shorter time-frame. People could opt for the treatment route, knowing that if they did not follow through, there was a “hammer” of court sanction. Usually jail time. If a pedophile is truly remorseful, he (or she if that applies) would be willing to commit to such a program and be held accountable. For life.

  2. I have done a lot of reading in this area, and from everything that I understand to be true regarding treatment of offenders..there really is no treatment..and since these sorts or horrific acts are about power, not sex, how does anyone cure anyone from being power-hungry? If that were possible, we’d live in a much nicer world, since comparatively few of these sick creatures are out there abusing children, but many are in corporate positions of power, or in political positions, or, like say the Koch Brothers, richer than Midas and fully prepared to buy their lust for power at any price..
    Of course there is no fair sentence for pedophiles…how long does the victim suffer? A lifetime, I am guessing, and if that is the case, then the perpetrator of this misery should be incarcerated for as long as the pain that he/she caused is still ruining the lives of their victims…that would be forever…..

    • Very true. I was just reading a blog about impulse control that cited some of Gabor Mate’s work. They are discovering some interesting things about “rewiring” the brain. Since there is an element of impulse control in some sex offenders, it might be interesting to see if this treatment has any ability to treat them. As you say though, this is indeed about power and not sex. In theory, the trick would be to help them find real, genuine power as a treatment. Reality though, would be quite different. Offenders’ general ability to con would make me highly skeptical of this being truly effective.

  3. Dealing with pedophiles as a counselor is going to present a real challenge, I can already tell. At this point in my training I haven’t had to work with a client who has sexually abused a child, but it will be difficult for me to build a good therapeutic relationship with a client like this. I have great respect for those counselors and individuals who choose to work with pedophiles. And I agree with what you said about there not being a “good” verdict within the justice system. The issue of child sexual abuse is one of my “hot” buttons and will I’m sure be an issue I need to be aware of as I grow in the counseling community. This was a very thought provoking post – thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thanks Jenn. SInce I have worked in addictions a lot of my career, I have come across some pedophiles. I suspect I have met others who I didn’t realize were pedophiles. I would not want to work with them either. I MIGHT be able to work with teens in a centre where there are other counsellors and clinicians. It would be tough work. I worked with children who have been sexually abused for three years, and that was enough. A job where that is the only caseload is tough. I don’t mind working with survivors of sex abuse as part of my caseload. If you do get a client who has been sexually abused, or who is a pedophile or sex offender, make sure you get support!

  4. When will someone realize that there is NO CURE for a pedophile!!! My father was one,(he has sinced passed away) as is my younger brother! He, (brother) went to Kingston Penetentiary and then later had the gull to tell everyone, “that is was a walk in the park!” I tried very hard here in London, Ontario to have him put away for life but the judge and the crown attorney refused to listen to my written statement. “Forty years of a written statement at that!!!”
    I am sick at heart to know that he is out again and not for the first time either, to go ahead and hurt, manipulate, threaten, another child!!! Yes, I was a victim and those memories do NOT go away! He has killed their souls and still the justice system will give him a slap on the wrist!!
    What is wrong with this picture?? He might as well have committed murder because that is what he is doing when he killed their souls!!!!!!
    I have not talked to him in 12 years and will not do so for the rest of my life!!! God forgive me for thinking the way I do, but I also feel they should be put in general population and not segregated just for their own safety???
    Who was there to save the children????

    • Thank you so much for your comment Dorothy. I had to read your comment twice because the first time I read it, I thought you said there was a cure for pedophilia! I’m glad I read it again! It is so significant that someone would say that Kingston Pen is a walk in the park.I hope that places like that new centre in Calgary are ways we can save and help the children. You are right, children need to be protected better.

  5. Thank you for sharing insight as to causes of such behaviour as I never understood why my perpetrator did this and now I have a much better sense of peace as to reasons, not excuses, as to such. Your blog is most insightful and it should be shared with the masses, like newspapers too! Thank you for helping me in a tremendous way. 😀

    • Thanks Pink. I have been thinking about this a lot and feel a “part 2” post coming on…… I worried a bit that I might trigger some people. I’m glad this helped you.

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