Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

What happens next? How a similar tragedy changed a community

 

April 5, 2018



Haines isn’t the only town where a trusted leader sexually abused children.

In Charleston, South Carolina during the late 1980s, a victim came forward alleging sexual abuse against a teacher at the private school Porter-Gaud, but was rebuffed by school administrators. The sexual abuse began in 1970 and lasted decades. The teacher, Eddie Fischer, also coached the football team. A recently released documentary, “What Haunts Us,” details the events and the 39 former male students who eventually came forward reporting Fisher’s sexual abuse. Fisher was arrested and went to prison.

Similar to recent revelations in Haines, Fisher’s activities were an open secret in the community. Six students who Fischer abused have killed themselves. Fisher’s victims and their families initiated more than a dozen lawsuits against the school and its administrators. In one suit, a jury found two former administrators responsible for the sexual abuse and awarded one victim’s father $105 million in damages. The school and two former school leaders settled nine lawsuits out of court.

After the victims came forward, the community of Charleston created and funded the child abuse advocacy organization Darkness to Light. Katelyn Brewer, the group’s CEO, said one of the problems associated with child abuse is the lack of adult education.

“We were only ever educating children to protect themselves from abuse,” Brewer said. “If you understand the dynamics of abuse, it’s an imbalance of power. Children are never able to take care of themselves. They’re constantly in a place of decreased power. It’s time for adults to take responsibility for child abuse.”

In the aftermath of the scandal, Brewer said the community “made good on a bad situation.” The organization now works in 50 states and 17 countries. They focus on working with adults and have trained 10,000 facilitators across the country who start advocacy programs in their communities.

“I really encourage people to become comfortable in their discomfort about this topic,” Brewer said. “If you don’t do that you’re never going to have the important conversations that will prevent this from happening again.”

According to statistics on d2l.org, 30 percent of children are abused by family members and 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts. Among sexual abuse survivors, 70 to 80 percent report excessive drug and alcohol use. Among male survivors, 50 percent have suicidal thoughts and more than 20 percent attempt suicide.

SEARHC senior manager and 20-year trauma specialist Kelly Williamson said what the community of Charleston did is called “trauma stewardship.”

“They found a way to reconcile the irrefutable suffering of the situation with a way to find purpose and ultimately joy by helping others,” Williamson said. “It’s brilliant. Instead of creating more trauma you create a way forward.”

Williamson said Lynn Canal Counseling is prepared to work with individuals and groups seeking help. “I want people to feel comfortable. This is very near and dear to my heart professionally,” Williamson said. “I want to be a part of the healing.”

At the Haines Borough school board meeting Tuesday, board member Sara Chapell said the board should take a closer look at policies and procedures to ensure students are as safe as possible.

“I want to make sure we’re addressing this as openly and as honestly as we can especially in light of the revelations that the abuse was apparently an open secret for so many years,” Chapell said. “I want to make sure we have the right protections in place to make sure nothing like this could ever happen again.”

 
 

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