Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Survivor on a mission

Hockey star, therapist partner for Nov. 28 event

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Theo Fleury is on a mission to tackle what he believes is the biggest epidemic on the planet.

The former NHL star and survivor of sexual abuse while playing in Moose Jaw as a junior in the 1980s is coming to Winnipeg next month to spread his message of healing and help victims on the road to recovery.

'I quickly learned this is the biggest epidemic we have on the planet. One in five boys is sexually molested before they turn 18' -- Theo Fleury

The Russell native will be the star attraction at the Breaking Free through Healing Conversation: Moving Beyond Sexual Abuse and Trauma event at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre Nov. 28.

Since his bestselling book, Playing With Fire, in which he documented the abuse by former coach Graham James was published four years ago, Fleury claims to have had a half-million "reveals" -- people coming out with their stories of abuse -- from survivors, either in person, in emails or via social media on Twitter and Facebook.

"It's been unbelievable. After my book came out, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I quickly learned this is the biggest epidemic we have on the planet. One in five boys is sexually molested before they turn 18. It's a real statistic, I've seen it with my own eyes," he said.

Fleury, 45, will be joined by Kim Barthel, a renowned therapist and author, who will conduct a public therapy session with the former Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal winner. By doing so, Fleury hopes to dispel some of the myths about therapy.

"We want people to see that it's not intimidating, it's really just a conversation. So many people think if you reach out for help, it means you're weak. It's actually the opposite of that, because you have strength and courage and you care enough about yourself to get the help you need. The therapist's job is to guide you to where you have those light-bulb moments where you figure it out on your own and won't repeat the behaviour again," he said.

Fleury's focus is on spreading positivity to people who have suffered abuse, which is why he bristles at the suggestion he was a victim of James, who is now in prison.

"I was never a victim. It happened to me when I was a young child. Call me a survivor but don't call me a victim. That has a negative connotation. The shame that's attached to all of this is not our shame at all. The shame belongs to the abuser, not to us," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca\

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 0

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