The Young Man Who Did Everything Right

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a true story, and a terrible one, but it is important for me to tell and for you to hear. Not long ago, in the city of Toronto, there was a boy who loved hockey. His team, The Maple Leafs, played at the stadium near his home, but he couldn’t afford tickets to go see them. But a man who worked at the stadium made friends with the boy, and let him in to see games and practices. The boy was really grateful to his new friend, and would help him with his work at the stadium. They would hang out together and talk man talk, which made the boy feel important. After a while, the boy’s new friend started saying and doing things that made the boy feel uncomfortable and confused. They started talking about sex a lot, and the man showed him pictures of people having sex. The boy didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings, and besides, this was probably what grown-up guys talk about . Then the man started touching the boy, and getting the boy to touch him. The boy was pretty scared by this time. He was ashamed to ask anybody about what was happening, and pretty sure he would get in trouble if anyone found out. By now, he was afraid of his new friend, but it was hard to get away from him. So this went on for a long time. Finally, the boy decided he would stop going to see the man. He was afraid the man would come after him, or tell his parents or friends. But nothing happened. He was free. The boy thought this would make him feel better, but it didn’t. He thought about what had happened all the time, and it made him feel sick. He even had nightmares. It wouldn’t go away. He couldn’t concentrate at school, and didn’t want to hang out with his friends any more. He even started taking drugs to make the feelings stop. His parents worried about the changes; this wasn’t like him. But he was afraid to tell them what was wrong . Years passed, and the boy became a young man. He finally got angry about what had happened to his life, and found the courage to make changes. He told his parents, and they got him help. He went into therapy, and got off drugs. He was finally feeling good about himself. And then he did a very brave thing. He went to the police, and told them about the man at Maple Leaf Gardens. And an amazing thing happened, When the news came out, other young men came forward. More than sixty of them, all abused by the man in the same way. The police charged the man with twenty-four counts of indecency, one for each victim who could prove his case. The man was put on trial. And he was convicted. The young man was thrilled. He had done everything right. He had cleaned himself up, gone to therapy, straightened his life around. And now he had brought his abuser to justice. He had won, not only for himself but for all the other victims. The television and newspapers were calling him a hero, and he felt like a hero. Then the man was sentenced . To two years in jail. Not two years per rape. Not two years per victim. Two years. A few days later, the young man, who had done everything right, jumped off a railroad bridge and killed himself. The Moral of the Story: Many of you will recognize the story of Martin Kruze. For those who don’t, I recommend the book Gardens of Shame by Cathy Vine and Paul Challen. But Martin’s story is also the story of so many other boys, and girls, and I wanted them to recognize themselves in the character. Because the young man who did everything right actually did two things wrong. First, he expected the system to work for him. It is mind-boggling that a society which abhors child sexual abuse (and rightly so) should be so terrible at dealing with it. But there it is. Second, he gave up. The betrayal implicit in that sentence broke him. Understandable, but a terrible waste of everything he had accomplished up till then. The sentencing of George Stuckless provoked the kind of outrage that the death of George Floyd has recently stirred up. Instead of mourning Martin Kruze, crowds could have been marching behind him, demanding changes to laws and systems that fail to protect children. Because the moral of the story is this: change is needed to address child sexual abuse. And change happens when it is forced on systems by pressure from citizens. Martin Kruze did the most important thing right: he came out and identified himself as a victim of abuse. That is step one for every survivor of abuse who wants to make a change for the next generation. You can’t make changes from inside the closet.