Shannon Tweed, sister want support for young abuse survivors

Two Newfoundland-born sisters returned to the province over the weekend to shed awareness on the lack of support centres in place for children who are victims of sexual abuse.
Sisters Sara Tweed-Stafford and Shannon Tweed want to see support centres like Sophie's Place in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Julie Skinner/CBC)

Two Newfoundland-born sisters returned to the province over the weekend to shed awareness on the lack of support centres in place for children who are victims of sexual abuse. 

Sara Tweed-Stafford and her sister, actress and former Playboy model Shannon Tweed, first met child advocate Andy Bhatti through Sophie's Place, a centre that offers support to abused children in Surrey, B.C. 

When the sisters learned that Bhatti planned to cycle from Port aux Basques to St. John's, the pair wanted to lend their support. 

"Andy helped my husband's son with some problems that he had and found him a rehab, so we thought we'd give back to his organization by helping him out," said Tweed-Stafford. 

Tweed-Stafford cycled alongside Bhatti for the final leg of his cross-island ride.

The pair, accompanied by members of Miles for Smiles Newfoundland and Labrador, reached the finish line in Bowring Park in St. John's on Saturday.

Shannon Tweed and sister Sara Tweed-Stafford joined Andy Bhatti for the final leg of his cross-province ride. (Julie Skinner/CBC)
 "Child abuse is very hard to talk about, especially for survivors," Tweed-Stafford said. 

"That's why you want to make sure that you're open to them talking to you, because you might be able to help somebody, just by listening." 

Tweed said organizations like Sophie's Place, named after her daughter, offer a unique, child-friendly environment for victims to report abuse. 

For children, she said, the centre is a less intimidating environment than a hospital or police station.

Tweed said, when children are in a comfortable environment, they're more likely to share their stories of abuse, and, as a result, more offenders are convicted. 

"Ideally, what we'd like to happen is for there to be more centres like that open everywhere, and especially here, because there is no place for kids to go," said Tweed. 

Breaking the cycle of abuse

Bhatti made the decision to ride across the island after speaking to a mother from the province whose son was abused by a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer. 

Bhatti said the woman asked if he knew of any resources, and if he could speak to her son about his own experience of being sexually abused. 

"I thought, 'You know what? Maybe I should ride and try to be a voice for the 12-year-old who doesn't have one,'" Bhatti said. 

During his trip across the island, Bhatti said he's been privately contacted by a number of survivors.

"Hopefully [we can get] the government and the Federal Department of Justice [to] collaborate with the RCMP, Crown Counsel, Victim Services to hopefully open a child-friendly, safe environment like Sophie's Place Child Advocacy Centre, so children have a place to go," said Bhatti. 

"So they don't have to feel scared when they write a report or do a statement on what happened to them when they got molested or sexually abused or raped." 

Fundraising event

Shannon Tweed, wife of bassist Gene Simmons, donated Kiss memorabilia for the Miles For Smiles silent auction. (Julie Skinner/CBC)
Miles for Smiles Newfoundland and Labrador, the group hosting Bhatti's ride, will hold a fundraiser Saturday night at JAG Boutique Hotel in St. John's. 

The group has a silent auction planned, featuring signed NHL jerseys and rare KISS memorabilia. (Tweed is married to Kiss frontman Gene Simmons.)

Proceeds from Saturday night's event will go to Thrive, a local organization focused on marginalized youth.