Drug, alcohol addictions fuelled by childhood sexual abuse, victim says

A sexual abuse survivor wants a new documentary about his abuser, Ralph Rowe, to be a step towards reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in northern Ontario.

Ralph Rowe survivor says he wants understanding, reconciliation to come from new film

Sexual abuse survivor Joshua Frogg advises those who want to be helpful to "open your heart and listen". (Jody Porter/CBC)

A sexual abuse survivor wants a new documentary about his abuser, Ralph Rowe, to be a step towards reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in northern Ontario.

Joshua Frogg is one of an estimated 500 victims of the former Anglican priest who flew his own plane into remote First Nations in the 1970s and 80s. Rowe has been convicted of nearly 60 sex crimes.

Frogg's own journey to healing from the abuse is chronicled in a new documentary, Survivors Rowe, that had a special screening at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay on Monday.

"People should be aware of why there is so much alcoholism, there's so much drug use, there's so much negative social impacts in our communities," Frogg said. "It's a result of issues that happened when we were children, issues of sexual abuse, issues of violence."

A total of nearly 300 people in Thunder Bay saw the documentary, Survivors Rowe, at two separate screenings this week. It's now off to Ottawa where some MPs will watch it. (Loud Roar Productions)
Frogg watched the film at a public showing in Thunder Bay on Saturday and joined the audience of about 100 people at the university on Monday.

"I thought it would get easier watching it, but it isn't," he said.

During a question and answer session, Frogg said re-living old memories during the making of the film last year was so painful he lapsed into old habits and split up with his wife for a few months. They're back together now. 

"I've fallen down a few times, but I keep finding ways to get up, start again," he said, adding that cultural teachings and the wisdom of elders have provided comfort and guidance.

Many of Rowe's victims talk about suicide attempts and using drugs and alcohol to cope with their pain. 

James Mamakwa says he had to overcome his anger and his need to blame others for his pain before he could find peace after experiencing childhood sexual abuse. (Jody Porter/CBC)
James Mamakwa said he became a drug dealer to support his own habit, before turning his life around a few years ago.

"I had already accepted that I was sexually abused," Mamakwa said. "But I had to let go of the anger, the blame, blaming myself and blaming my parents, blaming my community, blaming the church. I had to let all of that go. And I did."

'They don't just like to drink'

Frogg and Mamakwa agree that talking about the abuse helps with the healing and they hope others join them in the conversation.

The executive producer of Survivors Rowe wants that conversation to move beyond the victims.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, the vice-provost of aboriginal initiatives at Lakehead University, says she wants to get people thinking about the underlying causes of drug abuse, and the bigger picture when it comes to treatment. (Jody Porter/CBC)
"People say to me, 'well, native people just like to drink'," Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux. "Well no, they don't just like to drink. There's something behind this. There's a reason why they're struggling and often times this [sexual abuse] is the reason."

The coping mechanisms of sexual abuse survivors aren't specific to any one race, she said.

"Reconciliation is the piece that's important to me out of all of this," Wesley-Esquimaux said. "That we can say that in the city of Thunder Bay, yes there are issues, but they came from somewhere and it's up to all of us to address this."

Frogg had some simple advice for those who want to be part of the reconciliation effort.

 "Open your heart and listen," he told the audience at Lakehead.

Wesley-Esquimaux said the film will be viewed this week by MPs in Ottawa. It's an attempt to prompt politicians to fund wider distribution of the documentary, and supporting materials, in northern Ontario.