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OPINION: It’s time to rally around abuse survivors

Published on

By Tara Jeffrey

When Abby Spadafora and Melanie Hunt were making headlines as rising stars in Canadian gymnastics twenty years ago, they were celebrated by the entire community.

Many of us recall them as Abby Pearson and Mel Rocca (both now married with children of their own), elite local athletes who helped put the Bluewater Gymnastics Club on the map.

These days they’re back in the spotlight — for reasons far more important than any accolades or medals — to ensure no child is a victim of abuse in sport, in any form, at any level.

It’s time for us to get behind them again.

Abby and Melanie are at the core of a growing campaign calling on the federal government to launch a public, judicial inquiry into abuse in Canadian sport, bravely speaking out about the physical, emotional and sexual abuse they say they endured as young athletes in Sarnia.

They were featured in a recent TSN/W5 documentary “Broken: Inside the Toxic Culture of Canadian Gymnastics,” along with fellow former Bluewater gymnast, abuse survivor and whistleblower Alheli Picazo.

All three are members of the Bluewater Survivors, a group of former gymnasts who say they were abused for years, by coaches Dave and Liz Brubaker.

They will be on hand for a special Take Back the Night event this week at the Sarnia Library, hosted by the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre (SASC), and will take part in a Q & A session following a condensed screening of the documentary.

I interviewed Mel and Abby last fall and can attest to their dedication and bravery – working tirelessly to have their voices heard, despite recounting their most traumatic and painful experiences — speaking in Parliament, to the media, and now, to their own community.

Abby’s open letter, “I will no longer be silenced,” is a must-read for every athlete, parent, coach and board member.

Mel has been working with Alysha Allen, a local trauma integration practitioner and life coach, with hopes to being more education and awareness to the toxic culture of youth sports.

They’re also leading the charge for Gymnasts for Change Canada, an organization dedicated to eradicating child abuse in sport.

You can hear them speak this Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Sarnia Library; doors open at 5 p.m., followed by the Take Back the Night march, downtown. The annual march is a call-to-action to end gender-based violence and support survivors.

So what can you do to join their fight?

Awareness is key. The SASC offers free public education, including sessions geared towards youngsters about trusting your instincts, relationships, consent and boundaries. Reach out to your child’s school and sports organizations, and encourage them to sign up. 

And contact your local MP to push for a national public inquiry into abuse in sport.

Abby, Mel, Alheli, and so many others suffered in silence for too long. We owe it to them, and our kids, to rally around them and ensure sports are a safe space for everyone.

Tara Jeffrey is the editor of The Sarnia Journal and a board director for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre Sarnia-Lambton.

If you are experiencing or are a survivor of sexual abuse, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre Sarnia-Lambton offers free, confidential services, and can be reached at 519-337-3154 or visit www.sexualassaultsarnia.ca. A 24/7 crisis line is also available at 519-337-3320.

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