In Canada’s Indian Residential Schools some of the abusers stood out. Arthur Plint who worked as a boys’ supervisor at the Alberni residential school for 2 five year periods between 1948 and 1968 (between the year I was born and the year I went to First year university) pleaded guilty to 198 counts of indecent assault. When Justice D.A. Hogarth sentenced him he called Plint a “sexual terrorist.”
Students were subjected to the gamut of abuse—from touching to the horrendous. Sadly, where some people (not just men) were put in charge of vulnerable people they used their power to exploit the less powerful. That is something that happens over and over again in society, not just residential schools. The powerful take advantage of the vulnerable and it happens repeatedly. But residential schools were perfectly designed to cater to exploitation. Young children had been taken against their will away from their families that might have protected them. Their parents were often were often far away and were not allowed to contact their children. Sometimes they were separated for months and even years without contact. They were cut off from their only protection. They were surrounded by others who disparaged them. The opportunity to take advantage of power was difficult for some to resist. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) reported, “There was no single pattern of abuse of students: students of both sexes reported assaults from staff members of both the opposite sex and the same sex.”
As the TRC explained,
“First-year students, traumatized by separation from their parents and the harsh and alien regime of the school, were particularly vulnerable to abusive staff members who sought to win their trust through what initially appeared to be simple acts of kindness. In some cases, this might involve little more than extra treats from the school canteen. This favouritism, however, was often the prelude to a sexual assault that left the student scared and confused.”
Many students were raped. One student reported a moment of terror when a lay brother at the Fort Albany school cornered her and she couldn’t call for help. Some dormitory supervisors used their power to organize dormitory-wide systems of abuse. Many students feared being called into supervisor’s rooms at night. Many tried to always be with others. Some older students tried to protect the younger students.
Often the abusers used religious feelings to set the stage for abuse. Many victims thought their abusers were instruments of God. Many victims had been trained to believe they were inferior and unworthy making resistance difficult. The victims had no one they could turn to for support. It was a problem from hell.