'Survivors Rowe' Highlights Journey of Sexual Abuse Victims to Overcome Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 06/19/15

Survivors Rowe premiered last December at HotDocs in Toronto.

Survivors Rowe
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Sexual abuse survivors who have overcome their trauma at the hands of a pedophile priest, as well as crippling substance abuse addictions, are telling their stories in a new documentary in the hopes it will spark both understanding and reconciliation.

Survivors Rowe details the life of Ralph Rowe, a former Anglican priest who flew his own plane into remote First Nations communities across Canada in the 1970s and ‘80s. He reportedly sexually abused 500 victims during that time and has been convicted of nearly 60 sex crimes. However, he only received a five-year prison sentence after being convicted of 39 sex crimes in 1994, while further convictions in 2005 and 2009 led to a two-year period of house arrest in 2012.

The film premiered last December at HotDocs in Toronto. James Mamakwa, one of Rowe’s victims, attended a special screening of the documentary in May at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He said he used drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain of his childhood abuse, even becoming a drug dealer to support his addictions before getting clean a few years ago.

"I had already accepted that I was sexually abused," said Mamakwa to the CBC. "But I had to let go of the anger, the blame, blaming myself and blaming my parents, blaming my community, blaming the church. I had to let all of that go. And I did."

George Williams, 45, was first abused by Rowe at the age of seven. He developed a drug problem by the time he was 14 and spent the next two decades in and out of prison. He’s now finally clean and sober, working as an addiction counselor in his home community of North Caribou Lake First Nation. But despite his eventual road to recovery and willingness to share his journey, he admitted that delving into his past can still be a painful topic.

“As soon as I started talking about stuff, as soon as I saw my abuser in court, that’s when things changed my life,” said Williams. “[But] what I’m angry about is the sentence he got. I did more time than he’ll ever do.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.