Andy Bhatti says if there was a child advocacy centre like Sophie’s Place in Metro Vancouver when he was younger, he likely wouldn’t have waited 20 years to tell someone that he had been sexually abused.
Bhatti was first abused when he was nine and it continued until he was 14. By the time he reached his early teens, Bhatti was committing crimes to support a drug addiction.
“I know if I did speak up, I wouldn’t have spent eight years in jail and I probably would have graduated from high school,” he says.
“Unfortunately, given the circumstances of my life at the time, I went from Grade 6 to a psychiatric assessment centre to a juvenile facility to an adult facility to a longer facility. Eventually, I was out on Hastings Street stuck on heroin.”
Sophie’s Place, which opened in Surrey in 2012, was created to help young people who suffer from physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse.
“It’s a facility for them so they don’t have to go to three or four places to give their testimony,” says Centre for Child Development CEO Gerard Bremault, whose organization oversees Sophie’s Place.
“They can give [their testimony] once, they can have that interview with professionals that are specially trained in this area and we can reduce the trauma to the children.”
About 500 children have come through Sophie’s Place since it opened, 180 of which visited this year.
Bhatti, who is now clean and advocates for sex abuse survivors through his organization Survivors Supporting Survivors, says that kind of environment would have helped him when he was a boy.
“If I had social workers, probation officers, family support workers, psychologists and police officers all in the same building to tell me that it was ok, I probably would have spoken up,” he says.
“Instead, I had to go repeat my story to 15 different places. Kids now are very fortunate that they only have to say their story one time.”
Proceeds of crime
Part of the funding for Sophie’s Place comes from the B.C. government’s Civil Forfeiture program, which confiscates assets from convicted criminals.
“Bad guys we have running around our communities shooting things up and selling drugs to vulnerable people… When we get them and throw them in jail, we take any of the assets they have accumulated and we sell it,” says B.C. Solicitor General Mike Morris.
“We turn that money into a lot of projects that we have here in the province to support our vision for a violence-free B.C.”
The provincial funding helps, but Bremault says more money is needed so the facility can expand.