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Child Abuse in Community Institutions and Organizations:
Improving Public and Professional Understanding


This paper has been written in the hopes of expanding public and professional education on the profound impact of abuse by perpetrators representing community organizations and institutions. The most significant abuse in Canadian history was documented in residential schools as recently as the 1970s. This abuse was devastating because of the total control of the institutions representing our government and various churches and the many spheres of violations, including spiritual and cultural. We hope to expand our understanding of these issues by examining a range of community organizations and institutions that have violated the rights and well being of children and adolescents. Although the bricks and mortar of the institutions have been removed, the fabric of the institutions and the dangers of sexual perpetrators continue. Some of the Aboriginal members of our focus group spoke of the ongoing abuse by teachers in day school long after the residential programs were dismantled.

We have developed a broader framework beyond the traditional childhood abuse literature to understand the impact of child abuse in community institutions and organizations. This framework examines critical dimensions of abuse in institutions and organizations such as the significance of the institution to society, the role of the perpetrator within the institution, the extent of child involvement with the institution, the degree of voluntary/mandatory participation in the institution, and abuse and post-abuse events. When this framework is applied to individual institutions and community organizations one can hypothesize the specific impact of each organization according to its expressed purpose and goals.

We hope that this paper will enhance the dialogue amongst legal mental health professionals who provide a variety of services for survivors of abuse from therapy to civil and criminal remedies for abuse. The framework we outline can assist in a better understanding of the unique impact of institutions and community organizations based on the experiences of survivors. Future research can test some of our hypotheses on the critical variables that may predict different life outcomes for survivors based not only on the abuse itself but also on the societal and institutional response to the abuse.

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