Winnipeg sexual abuse survivor targeted by teacher speaks out
This first-person column is the experience of John Sadoway, a Manitoba writer and adult survivor of sexual abuse. He wrote this column following allegations by a Manitoban who claims he was sexually assaulted by a teacher.
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A small part of me whitens presumably to describe my story of abuse during a global pandemic and at a time when thousands of indigenous families are still waiting to locate the bodies of their kidnapped and murdered loved ones.
Nonetheless, for a person sitting deep in the hole of their own trauma of abuse, it seems like the deepest and darkest hole in the world.
And until you can look up over the rim, you don’t think much about how many other deeper holes there are and are in there.
I grew up with an alcoholic father and a depressed mother, 10th of 11 children. We were all desperate for approval and affection. We moved to Saskatoon a few days before I started grade 9 at a high school with 2,000 students.
I had no friends and my four remaining older sisters had moved.
By grade 12, I had integrated into a social circle, but I felt more competitive than supportive.
School had always been my comfort, a place where adults behaved consistently.
Many teachers have become my heroes, including the one who became my seducer. I fell in love with it – like most of my male peers – but never imagined anything more.
I was a painfully easy target when she told me that while it was wrong she couldn’t resist me, she wanted me to create her child and she wanted me to save her from her emotionally abusive husband.
I ended up spending a decade embracing this distorted reality, desperately defending my confirmation bias against anyone who spoke out against the relationship or my commitment to it.
When I finally found out about her cheating, my house of cards fell apart pretty quickly.
“How could I have been so stupid?” has become my constant internal dialogue.
I had spent 10 years participating in my own brainwashing, and bad thinking habits took hold.
The resulting self-destruction destroyed my next relationship and probably would have ended me if I hadn’t found a good talk-through therapist.
I’ll never get that time back. I had lost most of my meager friendships to lies and secrecy, or to simple atrophy.
WATCH | John Sadoway talks about being targeted and sexually assaulted:
When I left her, I intended to maintain my relationship with her daughters, to whom I had devoted myself, even though I was no longer sure I had fathered them.
When she started using them to control me and control my time, I had to cut myself off or become her servant. I have lost relationships with three lovely women who may or may not be my daughters, and of course all potential grandchildren are excluded as well.
I have spent a decade out of touch with my contemporaries and their lives and often feel adrift because of it.
And while the counseling helped me survive my losses, my siblings and parents got involved in these children as well, and when I took the necessary break, all of my family relationships suffered as well.
I also had to learn to forgive myself for falling into the trap.
I became a teacher after I left her. I think I have grown into a pretty good one, definitely someone who understands and respects professional boundaries more than average.
I also know that for a teacher to be effective with a student, he must forge an intimate and trusting relationship.
Helping young people to learn to think effectively and to digest the horrors of the world without being digested is a monumental, demanding and necessary task.
This privacy, however, never demands complete privacy.
A responsibility to prevent abuse
Team teaching and increased investment in teaching assistants are two of the most practical ways to ensure that students are never alone and vulnerable to abuse of power.
A student need never be alone with a teacher.
In my view, the abdication of responsibility of the school division in the latter case is simply despicable.
Statistically speaking, in any large group of employees, you can find one or two capable of abusing power, if the opportunity presents itself.
So it’s the job of every superintendent, every director and every deputy director to eliminate this possibility (without becoming fascists in the process).
Popular culture continues to suggest that boys who have sexual experience with a female teacher are lucky, are somehow enviable – while girls similarly involved with male teachers are victims.
Gender, however, has nothing to do with the inappropriate nature of teacher-student sex.
The key to abuse is the imbalance of power.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence, Klinic Community Health offers a 24/7 sexual assault hotline.
Call (204) 786-8631 in Winnipeg or 1 888 292-7565 (toll free) elsewhere in Manitoba.