The Prescott Case: Key Dates and Events
August 1989 The first disclosures of sexual abuse emerge from children in foster care.
October 1989 The Ontario government decides to fund special joint police/child welfare investigation. The Child Abuse Project (CAP) and Project Jericho are born.
Early 1990 A core group of service providers begins meeting to plan coordinated community response.
February 1990 The first criminal charges are laid by police. The local Brockville paper breaks the story.
March 1990 A special Crown prosecutor is appointed to the case.
Feb./March 1990 The media descends on Prescott and sensational reporting stirs up fears and contributes to the stigmatization of the community.
March 1990 Community services come together for formal meeting and launch the Prescott Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee. The mayor of Prescott is appointed committee chairperson.
April/May 1990 The Advisory Committee submits several proposals to the Ministry of Community and Social Services requesting special project funding for services needed in connection with the case, particularly treatment and prevention.
May 1990 The victim/witness assistance coordinator joins the front-line team. First trial and conviction.
June 1990 The Ministry of Health grants Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Health Unit additional staff for the prevention effort. Local health and mental health agencies start planning prevention initiative.
August 1990 The Ministry of Community and Social Services announces two-year funding of $224,000 for a treatment and prevention project for Prescott.
September 1990 The first community workshop is held with municipal employees.
November 1990 A treatment team is hired and begins work in Prescott.
May 1991 A key trial begins in St. Catharines.
July 1991 Work begins on project evaluation.
September 1991 A community conference featuring Jan Hindman is held in Prescott.
March 1992 Agencies meet to share information on treatment and reintegration of perpetrators.
Summer 1992 The prevention committee winds up work. The Prescott Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee disbands, handing over job of liaising with the Treatment Team to the Children's Services Advisory Group of Leeds-Grenville.
December 1992 Family and Children's Services special Child Abuse Project (CAP) disbands. The Treatment Team is given a year's extension and moves to Brockville FCS office.
February 1993 Prescott residents form Community Action for Recovery.
Nov./Dec. 1993 The Treatment Team disbands and children are transferred to local therapists.
Tipping The First Domino: The Investigation Begins
The revelations that sparked the largest, most complex sexual abuse investigation in Canadian history were shocking in their brutality. They opened the door to an unprecedented number of cases of child sexual abuse, which while less bizarre, were no less repugnant.
In August 1989, a little girl of seven told social workers that she and her two younger siblings had been subjected to sexual abuse by groups of adults dressed in gowns and masks, during activities she called "monster games in the basement". She said they had also been submerged in water, confined beneath floorboards and forced to eat and drink 'yucky juice". As well, the adults had terrorized the children with guns and knives and videotaped them in the course of the assaults.
We knew from when our initial investigation commenced that it was going to be of greater magnitude than anything we had ever done before. But we had no idea it would develop into the magnitude that it did.
- Matthew Hayes, Prescott Chief of Police
The social workers hearing these stories were alarmed and disturbed. For Pam Gummer, team leader at the Prescott office of Family and Children's Services of Leeds-Grenville (FCS), the impact of that first interview was devastating. Even after many years investigating child abuse, Gummer says she had 'never heard anything even remotely comparable before."
That was not all. The little girl went on to say that three young cousins had also been victimized in the basement games. More horrific tales emerged of bondage, disfigurement, the killing of animals and the alleged murder of a baby named Joshua. It was clear to FCS staff that this was not a routine or isolated case of child sexual abuse.
"So much of what I was hearing was so bizarre and emotional, I found myself in some respects backing away," says Gummer. "I was saying we need to corroborate this, we should be very cautious." Within a month they had their corroboration. "We had physical evidence, medical evidence. They were able to describe the places where they were abused, and we went there and we found what the kids said we would find," she says.
By October 1989, the local police had been called in and seven adults were under investigation. The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services had also been alerted and provided $200,000 for a specialized team within Family and Children's Services to investigate what was presented as a family system in which sexual abuse had gone on for generations.
Rocci Pagnello, supervisor of the Prescott FCS team at the time, points out that the Ministry lost no time in making funds available for the child welfare investigation. "Without that support," he recalls, "I don't think we would have gotten off the ground."
The Ministry of the Solicitor General was also responsive. Brockville's Crown Attorney freed up two officers, Detective Rick Robins of the Ontario Provincial Police and Constable Gary Sluytman of the Prescott Police to conduct the criminal side of the investigation. The criminal investigation became known as Project Jericho and continues to operate to this day. The police named it Project Jericho in honour of the baby named Joshua who was alleged to have been killed. "Joshua led the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down," says Robins, alluding to the Bible story. 1
Pam Gummer, along with social workers Maureen McDougall and Marg McDade-Bowers from Family and Children's Services, formed the core child welfare investigative team called the Child Abuse Project. By late November 1989, the joint investigation had uncovered numerous new cases of sexual abuse. When questioned by the police, a man known to associate with the initial family investigated admitted to abusing 13 more children and named several other individuals he had witnessed sexually abusing children.
After this, Pam Gummer says "the investigation split somewhat" - with part of the team probing allegations of abuse inside the original family system and part of the team focusing on the new allegations of abuse by persons outside the family When interviewed, all but two of the 13 children reported being abused by more than one person.
It was at this point that the investigation really began to snowball. The number of victims and perpetrators began to mount steadily. Family and Children's Services was unprepared for the magnitude and scope of what was to follow. Gummer remembers this as a "really scary period" because there were no guidelines on how to conduct an investigation in which so many of the victims and perpetrators were linked to each other. Most of the available literature was based on the American experience and wasn't very helpful. No one in Canada had ever dealt with such a case before.
There was nothing to guide us. There was nothing to pull out that said: this is step one, this is step two.
- Pam Gummer, team leader, Child Abuse Project,
Family and Children's Services
Extra funding allowed the team to seek out needed expertise and receive training. They consulted with experts like John Yuille, a forensic psychologist and specialist in assessing the credibility of children's allegations from British Columbia as well as David Wolfe and Ross Dawson from the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Toronto.
The Crown Attorney who prosecuted the case, Desmond McGarry, says that everybody involved was forging new ground. The prosecution was unlike any that he had ever been involved in, he says, "because of its complexity the number of people, the number of accused involved, the number of children involved, and all the interconnections."
McGarry was initially called in to advise the police on the investigation surrounding the murder of baby Joshua. 2 Because of his expertise in the area of child abuse - he is one of a select group of Ontario Crown Attorneys designated child abuse specialists - and the fact that the number of prosecutions connected with the case threatened to swamp the local Crown Attorney's office, he was eventually appointed as special Crown prosecutor to work exclusively on the case.
By March 1990, the group that was to work closely together on the joint investigation was firmly in place and located in a waterfront building in Prescott. Pam Gummer and Rocci Pagnello of Family and Children's Services were assisted by four other child protection staff and a lawyer, Jennifer Blishen, hired by the agency to prepare their cases for child protection hearings. Rick Robins and Gary Sluytman of Project Jericho were joined by Constables Andy Teeple and Isobel McVey. Detective-Inspector Lyle McCharies was brought in to oversee the police end of the investigation for the Ontario Provincial Police. Janet Lee later became part of the group as Victim/ Witness Assistance Coordinator.
The Numbers Mount As The Investigation Proceeds
February 1990 Charges were laid against two men and two young offenders. Thirty-seven individuals, mostly children, were confirmed or suspected of being victims of child abuse. Six preschoolers and two adolescents had been removed from their homes and placed in the custody of Family and Children's Services.
March 1990 Two additional men were charged, bringing the total number of charges facing four men and two youths up to 39. Thirty children and 12 adults were confirmed by FCS as victims of sexual or physical abuse.
End of 1990 Five more individuals had been charged for a total of 11. Two had been convicted and nine cases were before the courts.
January 1991 Twenty more individuals were charged, bringing the total accused up to 31 persons, including six women. The total number of charges was now 142. Two of the accused had died - one committed suicide. Seventy-seven victims had been identified, 62 of whom were children and 15 of whom were adults. Seventeen children were in the care of FCS. More than 1,500 people had been interviewed and 517 statements had been taken.
March I992 A total of 75 individuals were identified as perpetrators of child sexual abuse. The number of child victims identified had climbed to 114, and the number of adult survivors to 35.
August 1992 Thirty-seven new charges were laid against nine additional people and one who was previously charged. The number of individuals believed to have been abused totaled 180.
October 1992 An additional 14 child victims had been identified along with 11 new perpetrators.
November 1993 An additional 13 child victims had been identified along with eight new perpetrators.
March 1994 The total number of child victims identified stood at 157. There were 113 adult survivors. The total number of perpetrators identified stood at 116. Fifty-eight perpetrators had been charged with 316 offences. Of 41 trials completed, 37 individuals had been convicted making a conviction rate of 90%. Seventeen cases were still before the courts.
October 1994 The total number of child victims had increased to 162 and the number of perpetrators to 119. Sixty-five persons had been charged with 376 offences. After 45 completed trials the conviction rate was 91%. Nineteen cases were still before the courts.
There is an absolute necessity for collaboration by the police and the child protection investigators. I think that worked very well in Prescott because right at the beginning there was a considered effort by the Ministry to fund a team.
- Jennifer Blishen, council, Family and Children's Services
The Scope And Nature Of The Abuse: Facts and Figures
By December 1989, it had become clear that the victimization of children went well beyond the original family system investigated by the joint police and child protection team. There were also individuals outside this family who were preying on these children as well as others. Were these people part of a satanic cult? An organized sex ring? How far did the abuse go? How many children were in danger? These things weren't so clear at the beginning.
Part of the reason the Ministry reacted as quickly as it did may have had to do with what appeared to be an upsurge of apparent ritual abuse cases in Ontario, and a desire to get a better handle on them. Although the first disclosures seemed to point in this direction, Gummer stresses that the investigators "never labelled the case ritual abuse per se, because the term is so ambiguous."
Several years earlier, two little girls in Hamilton had made allegations of sexual abuse with ritualistic overtones eerily similar to those in Prescott. There had also been a comparable case in Oshawa. Although criminal charges were never laid in either case, the children were removed from their homes and allegations of satanism became the focus of the child protection hearings in both cases. This sidetracked the court, unnecessarily prolonging the trials and left the children's fate in limbo for two and a half and four and a half years respectively. 3
What is often described as "satanism" or "ritualism" is actually pure sadism. Children are, and have been, subjected to cruel and sadistic practices used during their sexual abuse to terrorize or silence them.
In order to avoid these problems, the police and FCS decided early on to concentrate the investigation and criminal prosecution on the crimes related to the abuse itself. Allegations of satanism or ritualism can easily overshadow offences of sexual abuse and an inability to prove these allegations can discredit the evidence of the children. What is often described as 'satanism" or 'ritualism' is actually pure sadism. Children are, and have been, subjected to cruel and sadistic practices used during their sexual abuse to terrorize or silence them. Lack of evidence associated with "satanism" such as bodies, caves or altars does not necessarily mean that a child is fabricating stories. What it may mean is that the child has been tricked or intimidated by the perpetrator into believing that these things are real. 4
'There have been an awful lot of attempts to prove the existence of satanic conspiracies in child abuse cases in North America," says Crown Attorney, Desmond McGarry, "and almost universally they haven't panned out. You can spend so much time and investigative resources trying to prove the existence of the so-called satanic conspiracy that you don't spend the time and resources necessary to prove the existence of the crimes. It is not a crime in this country to be a satanist. It is a crime to abuse a child."
FCS Legal counsel Jennifer Blishen remembers how easy it can be to "get carried away with the media hype surrounding allegations of ritual abuse."
Child protection staff handling this case, she says, had to constantly remind themselves that the bottom line was 'whether or not these children were in need of protection as defined by the Child and Family Services Act."
As it turned out, only a very few of the 275 alleged victims were ever subjected to the horrific forms of abuse described in the early disclosures. This abuse, while sadistic and cruel, was not linked to a satanic cult. It was committed by a group of adults of limited intelligence who lived on the margins of society. Many had been sexually abused as children and were raised in an environment where this was a normal part of life.
One of the key perpetrators admitted to police that the "basement games" would start with the rental of "dirty movies" from a local video store. He described what came next: "After the movies, we went down into the basement and played games. We had sheets over our heads with eyeholes and we touched the kids in sexual ways." 5
The sexual exploitation suffered by the vast majority of the children, as well the adults who had been molested as children, was less bizarre, but no less severe or traumatic. Perpetrators were eventually convicted of anal intercourse, vaginal intercourse, fondling and oral sex. Very young children had been subjected to repeated anal penetration.
Although the abuse was not "organized," it was interconnected. Particularly at the beginning, there were many links between the victims and the perpetrators. (See the chart following) There were several other unique characteristics of the case as it unfolded. Many of the victims were very young the youngest was reported to be sixteen months old - and many were developmentally handicapped.
The proportion of males was thought to be unusually high - 42% of the first 40 victims were males. Overall, males constituted slightly more than one third of all victims. Of the perpetrators, a high proportion were also developmentally handicapped. Eighteen per cent of the perpetrators were women, reflecting a higher number of females than generally thought to be involved with the sexual exploitation of children. Many of these women (about 60%) were accomplices to their male partners.
Of the 52 children who eventually received treatment from the Treatment Team, 58% were female and 42% were male. Their ages ranged from two to seventeen. Of the 52, 27% were victims of intrafamilial abuse, 44% were victims of extrafamilial abuse and 17% had experienced both. Twelve per cent could not be classified because no disclosure had been made. 6 Forty per cent had been victimized by a single perpetrator while 48% had been victimized by more than one. Seventy-seven per cent had been abused by male offenders and 12% had been violated by both male and female abusers. In none of the referred cases was a child alleged to have been abused by a female perpetrator only. 7
Our conviction rate is 93%. The police clearance rate is about 90%. For most sexual assaults in the province it is about 50%, even less (30%) for the age group we were dealing with.
- Rocci Pagnello, supervisor, Family and Children's Services
Statistical Profile Of The Case
TOTAL VICTIMS - 275
59% - 162 Child Victims - (2) see below
41% - 113 Adults Disclosed Abuse As Children - (3) see below
35% - 97 Male Victims
65% - 178 Female Victims
15% - 42 Child Victims Under Five
(or 26% of Child Victims)
10% - 28 Children Made Crown Wards
(or 17% of Child Victims)
19% - 52 Child Victims Treated By Treatment Team - (4) see below
(or 32% of Child Victims)
TOTAL PERPETRATORS 119
82% - 97 Male Perpetrators
18% - 22 Female Perpetrators
3% - 4 Young Offenders (18 and under)
376 Total Charges
65 Persons Charged
45 Trials Completed As Of October 1994
19 Trials Before The Courts
18 Change Of Venue Trials
91% - 41 Convictions (of completed trials)
Written Statements: More than 1200
Interviews Conducted: More than 2500
As of October 1, 1994...
(1) Victims fell into the "child" category if they were under 16 at the time of the report or disclosure.
(2) Victims fell into the "adult" category if they were children at the time of abuse, but over 16 at the time of disclosure.
(3) Of the remaining 110 child victims, some attended treatment elsewhere and some did not. A few were already in treatment at the time of the abuse and remained with their initial therapists. After assessment, some children were deemed not suitable for treatment. In a large number of cases of extrafamilial abuse, parents did not agree to treatment for the child.
Sentences for the convicted perpetrators ranged from probation to eight and a half years. The average sentence was between two and three years. The first application has successfully been made under the 'Dangerous Offender' legislation. This legislation allows the Crown to argue that an offender who presents a serious danger to the community not be released at the end of the sentence. The court, in making its determination, looks for a pattern of predatory crimes. If the court agrees to the application, the offender is designated a "dangerous offender" and detained indefinitely. The case is reviewed periodically.
Who's Who: The Major Players
Criminal Investigation and Prosecution
Prescott Police and the Ontario Provincial Police
Project Jericho included Detective Rick Robins and Constable Isobel McVey of the Prescott detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police as well as Constable Gary Sluytman from the Prescott Police. Constable Andy Teeple joined from the Brockville detachment of the OPP Basil Gavin, Dave Hurlbet and Gerry McCarthy from the OPP served as additional investigators at various points in time.
Matthew Hayes was Chief of the Prescott Police until his retirement in May 1990 when he was replaced by Rick Bowie. Detective-Inspector Lyle McCharles of the Criminal Investigation Branch headed up the investigation for the OPP.
Special Crown Attorney and Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinator
Desmond McGarry, Crown Attorney for Prince Edward County, was appointed special prosecutor for Project Jericho and prosecuted the vast majority of the cases. Janet Lee, Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinator with the Ministry of the Attorney General in Kingston, was seconded to help prepare the victims and witnesses for court.
Child Welfare Investigation
Family and Children's Services of Leeds-Grenville (FCS)
This child welfare agency is mandated by Ontario law to protect children from abuse. Family and Children's Services offers child protection services, investigation, family service, children in care, foster care, adoption and legal representation. It serves the City of Brockville and the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville which include the towns of Prescott, Gananoque and Kemptville. The executive director during the crisis was Stephen Heder. Assistant director David Devlin replaced him in May of 1993.
Members of the Child Abuse Project team included supervisor Rocci Pagnello, team leader Pam Gummer, social workers Maureen McDougall, Marg McDade-Bowers and Sandra Kapasky. Social workers seconded from other Children's Aid Societies for varying periods of time included Lori Gibbard, Valerie Oles and Penny Couture. Other social workers on CAP for brief periods were Verity Barrett and Steve Lyons. The Child and Youth workers were Susan Giff and Heather Bishop. Support staff included Florence Gaw, Shirley Woodward and Pat Jones. Cindy Martin-Huycak served as in-house legal counsel until 1991 when she was replaced by Karyn von Cramon. Outside legal counsel was Jennifer Blishen.
Separate School Board
The principal of St. Joseph School in Prescott, Robin Reil, represented the separate school system on the Advisory Committee.
Adult Mental Health Services
Brockville Psychiatric Hospital
Sheila Irvine and Henry De Souza, social work supervisors at Brockville Psychiatric Hospital, were core members of the Advisory Committee. Clare Laing, out-patient nurse at the Elmgrove Unit of BPH, chaired the subcommittee for adult survivors of sexual abuse (CASSA).
Other Social Services
Developmental Services of Leeds-Grenville
Based in Brockville with centres in Prescott, Kemptville and Gananoque, Developmental Services offers a range of activities and supports to children and adults with developmental handicaps in Leeds-Grenville. Staff member Tom Turner sat on the Prevention Committee. Executive director Geoff McMullen served on the Advisory Committee.
Town of Prescott
Mayor of Prescott Sandra Lawn chaired the Advisory Committee. Marilyn Campbell provided administrative support to the project.
Ministry of Community and Social Services, Ontario Government
The Ministry of Community and Social Services provided funding for the child welfare investigation through Family and Children's Services as well as special funding for a project involving treatment and prevention administered by the Prescott Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee. Three program supervisors from the Kingston area office of the Ministry of Community and Social Services sat on the Advisory Committee in an ex-officio capacity during the life of the project. David Sewell was there at the launching of the project, Bonnie Mclsaac guided it through the middle phase and Rob Richards oversaw its winding-down phase.
Prescott Child Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee
Treatment of Perpetrators
Family and Children's Services (FCS) --2
Beechgrove Children's Centre --1
Family Focus --2
Developmental Services --1
Brockville Psychiatric Hospital --2
Leeds, Lanark and Grenville Heath U --1
Leeds-Grenville Public Schools --2
Leeds, Lanark & Grenville Separate
School Board --1
Corporation of the Town of Prescott --1
Treatment Team --1
Representative of the Ministry of
Community and Social Services --1
Goals Of PCSAAC
The goals of the committee were to:
1. Ensure delivery of treatment resources and services to victims and their families
2. Encourage, coordinate and facilitate education, training and programming pertaining to the prevention of child sexual abuse
3. Encourage coordination and cooperation among all of the agencies representing protective, therapeutic, health, education, prevention and law enforcement functions
4. Manage expenditures in order to maximize the breadth and depth of treatment services
5. Evaluate the results of the Sexual Abuse Project. 8
1. Quoted in Judy Steed, Our Little Secret: Confronting Child Sexual Abuse in Canada (Toronto: Random House, 1994), p. 108.
2. Efforts to find a body came to nothing but the investigation continues.
3. Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Dealing with Multi-victim, Multi-offender Child Sexual Abuse Cases. Final Report of a Two-Day Consultation (Toronto: October 28-30, 1992), p. 7.
4. IPCA, Dealing with Multi-victim, Multi-offender Child Sexual Abuse Cases, pp. 10-11.
5. Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 1991.
6. The exact nature of the abuse perpetrated against this 12% of children was not known at the time these statistics were compiled.
7. Julian Roberts, Responding to Child Sexual Abuse: The Prescott Experience. A Final Report on the Prescott Child Sexual Abuse Project (Brockville: Children's Services Advisory Committee, 1993), pp. 13-14.
8. Roberts, Responding to Child Sexual Abuse: The Prescott Experience, pp. 1-2.
Page 30 - The Ottawa Sun, September 8, 1991.
Lessons from Prescott - Section I...