Deep down, we all long for the feel of the warm sun on our face, a cool breeze on our neck, the undulating ground under our feet, a blue-filled sky, and the gentle songs of birds above. But a sense of place is not simply the landscape that surrounds us—It’s also the memories and experiences etched into the place, and the cherished people who anchor us even in times of unease. Sometimes a sense of place can leave a scent on your skin, or trigger a smile on your lips.
For many of us, we take a sense of place for granted. We associate our childhood home with fond memories of being loved, engaged, and sheltered. It’s a magical time of what seemed to be a string of endless summer nights and long lazy weekends. It’s this grounding in our past that tethers us to a future of possibility. Just as this story is true, so too is the tragic fact that many children living among us do not have the luxury of this secure tie to their surroundings. For them, their childhood lives are filled with fear, shame, and insecurity. The adult-child bond has been breached, and left to fill the void is a deep well of loss—a world of sharp edges and broken trust.
I can so clearly remember the afternoon that the trauma of childhood sexual abuse shattered my childhood innocence, and as everything was breaking inside of me, all my ties to a childhood home that had grounded me in a sense of place were severed, and I was let adrift like a balloon floating away from a toddler. Much of my adult life was spent vainly trying to reclaim that sense of place that I so desperately longed for. The years battling drug and alcohol addiction, and the subsequent depression, were mocking reminders of my futile quest to reclaim a connection to myself and, ultimately a connection to others.
A new study, funded by Little Warriors and conducted by Erin Martin and Dr. Peter Silverstone of the University of Alberta has shed a stark light on the prevalence of child sexual abuse, as well as the need for programs to help adults recognize the signs of abuse. It’s estimated that 95% of cases are never reported to authorities. What may be even more alarming is that 1 in 3 girls, and 1 in 6 boys experience an unwanted sexual act.
I invite you to take a moment to digest these findings. These are not simply statistics—They are our daughters, or sons, our grandchildren, our neighbours, our future spouses, partners, and friends—They could be you and I. This is a pandemic that is taking place in our homes, in our schools, in our locker rooms, everywhere in our community. So many of our children are walking around lost, afraid, no longer connected to a secure sense of place.
In the words of the writer Joan Didion: “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” I would offer that this is what Glori Meldrum and the remarkable people behind the movement to build the Be Brave Ranch are doing. “The Be Brave Ranch, set to open its doors this fall, is a facility that will offer a family-oriented treatment program that combines multiple proven therapies for children ages 8-12 who have been sexually abused.” It’s a special place built out of love not to resemble an institutionalized centre, but rather a place infused with the warmth and comfort of a safe home. Within this sacred place, child victims and their caregivers will receive treatment and healing of the mind, body, heart, and spirit. As the young survivors of child sexual abuse are moving along their healing journey, the Be Brave Ranch program will offer the families affected by this trauma the space and the resources to move beyond the horror of child sexual abuse, a means to deal with grief, guilt, and profound anger so that they can be there to support their children.
It’s been well documented that a critical component in the successful recovery from early childhood trauma largely depends on “whether or not the family was responsible for the victimization, how the parents responded to the child’s disclosure, as well as the caregiver’s own history of trauma and psychopathology.” I know that from my experience with disclosure, that seeking the resources and professional support was but one part of my coming to terms with being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Bringing in support for my family has helped us heal and grow together.
It is through this healing process that I have come to discover who I really am—not a boy afraid in his home, not a teen embarrassed of who he was, not a man ashamed of who he had become. With the love of family and friends, the guidance of professionals working in this field, and a life-affirming embrace from other survivors, I have been able to reclaim my sense of place in this world. My dream is that the Be Brave Ranch is the spark that will ignite others to reach out to a lost, scared child and help supplant the pain of trauma with a comforting sense of place. It’s through this sense of place that we anchor ourselves to the connections we need to thrive, and by which we orient our inner compass in our quest of humanity, our search for greatness.