Too often males who have been victims of sexual assault suffer in silence. The shame and humiliation is so strong we are afraid to tell anyone. I Know this all too well. I spend over 30 years suffering with this secret before I told someone, those are 30 years I’ll never get back. I want to talk about this now. I want men to know there can be a life without fear, shame and sadness. Victims of sexual assault are just that - victims. It’s never the child’s fault, no matter what we think.
So lets talk, openly and honestly. Let’s keep the conversation going and end the stigma of being victims.
Despite the personal hell he’s been through, Peter Hamer says he wouldn’t go back and change what happened to him.
The Stittsville resident took part in a special No More Secrets conversation with CBC senior reporter Julie Ireton Nov. 20 at Almonte Old Town Hall to mark Men’s Mental Health Month. One in six males will be the victim of sexual assault and the talk was offered by Lanark County Mental Health and partnering agencies.
Over the course of 14 months, Ireton and Hamer shared their journey of an investigation into sexual assault, of which Hamer was a focus, which led to charges against three Ottawa high school teachers, and a podcast, The Band Played On.
Hamer remembers being a quiet, academic underachiever attending Bell High School in the 1980s, but music was an outlet for him. He soon became the focus of music teacher Bob Clarke’s attention.
It began with weird jokes in the classroom, but quickly evolved into Clarke asking Hamer to let him take nude photos of him to improve his grades, and outings with his teacher that included a visit to a sex shop.
“There was a constant progression. He was relentless in his pursuit,” Hamer said.
“It’s important to remember that he was a well-respected teacher and a fantastic band leader, so it’s a confusing place for a kid to be,” he added. “ … In my head, it’s uncomfortable, but he’s picked me and he’s paying attention to me.”
It escalated when Clarke exposed himself to Hamer as the teen was helping him with some bathroom upgrades at his home. He decided to tell his principal.
“Do you want me to move him?” Hamer remembers being asked. He said yes, so Clarke was shuffled off to another school, replaced by Tim Stanutz at Bell. Stanutz would factor into the story later on.
Hamer’s demeanour changed. He began to abuse drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He recounted his lowest point to Ireton, when he sat in his apartment holding a knife, contemplating how quickly he could take his life.
“You tuck it away and shove it out of your head, so you can actually function on a daily basis,” he commented. “But there are times when it would rear its ugly head and I would be broken.”
Years passed, and Hamer wrestled with the guilt of keeping the secret of what Clarke had done to him. Since there had been little physical contact, he didn’t constitute it as sexual assault. He was wrong.
“I learned sexual assault is more than physical, there’s no touch assault too,” he said. “It’s something you can’t define in your head because he didn’t physically assault me, but he did assault me because I was 14, 15, 16 years old.”
“I was a willing participant, in my head and at that time I felt the shame attached to it and the humiliation. I felt the ownership,” Hamer continued.
Hamer got on with his life. He married and had two children and became executive director of the Ottawa Valley Family Health Team in Almonte. Then one day, while on social media he learned Stanutz, the teacher who had replaced Clarke at Bell, was arrested on sexual assault charges.
“My world came crashing down around me. I felt guilty that I hadn’t done enough,” he said.
He’d come close to speaking with police about his experience at several times over the years, but Stanutz’s arrest led him to finally take that step and file charges. That decision connected him with Ireton. She interviewed Hamer at least 30 times but Clarke was only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to him and Stanutz, a third teacher at Bell High School, Donald Greenham, would be charged with sexual assault stemming over five decades. Ireton’s investigation would reveal a systemic failure of the school and school board, as well as faculty who knew what was going on, but chose to look the other way.
“The victims were all asking me to dig, so that’s what I did,” she noted. “I decided early on this was going to be Peter’s journey. He was the first one that had come to me and had been the leader of this club; a club no one wanted to be part of.”
It was a painful road for Hamer. The guilt over those who were abused after him was nearly too much to bear. But he came out on the other side, choosing to transform his anger into something positive.
“I’m an open book. I’ll talk about anything, any time,” he said. “If I don’t talk about it, who will?”
He’s become a sexual abuse advocate and works closely with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. In fact, the following day he was headed to their headquarters in Winnipeg. It’s been part of the healing process for him.
“The more the general public hears from people like me, that it happened to me, the more people will feel like they have the ability to come forward,” he said. “ … If there had been more access or ability for people to come out and say that, it might not have taken me 30 years.”
If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, there are resources available locally. The Lanark County Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Program has crisis lines in Smiths Falls, Perth, Almonte and Carleton Place, as well as a website (sadvtreatmentcentres.net) for those in need.
by Ashley Kulp
Ashley Kulp a news editor for Metroland Media, including the Carleton Place-Almonte Canadian Gazette, the Kemptville Advance and InsideOttawaValley.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @InOttValley.
Photo: Ashley Kulp/Torstar
May 13, 2016 I went to the Ottawa Police and told them about the abuse that happened to me at Bell High School. I was the first of many victims to come forward to talk about the sexual assault that happened to me by my high school music teacher. Many more have followed. On March 21, 2018 Bob Clarke pleaded guilty to abusing his students and was sentenced to two years in a federal institution.
He was subsequently charged with a further two counts, and on Friday March 1, 2019, Bob Clarke pleaded guilty again, receiving another 15-month sentence.
Many of Clarke’s victims, spanning his entire three decades of teaching, have never come forward.
Early in September of 2019, Bob Clarke reached his Statutory Release Date. This means he is released from prison and put on parole. The parole board chose to send him to a halfway house in Ottawa instead of letting him go home as they considered him to still be a risk to society.
Bob Clarke’s first sentencing marked the beginning of a year long in-depth CBC investigation into the sexual abuse of dozens of teenagers, mostly boys, by three teachers at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, spanning five decades at Bell High. Bob Clarke was the only one who faced justice. Click here for links and to learn more about that investigation.
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