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'He’d start by tickling you': Survivors share their stories of sexual abuse in new documentary
SAULT STE. MARIE -- A new documentary about a sexual abuse survivor’s court battle with the Catholic Church kicked off the third annual Hot Docs Showcase in Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday night.
Rod MacLeod was a student at St. Charles College in Sudbury when he was sexually abused by a Basilian priest and teacher there by the name of Father Hodgson ‘Hod’ Marshall.
"He would pin you against his desk with his legs so that you couldn’t move and he’d start by tickling you, then very soon he was under your clothes," said MacLeod.
The new Canadian documentary, Prey, follows MacLeod’s civil suit against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto for its role in enabling his abuser. He was eventually awarded $2.57 million in damages.
MacLeod remained silent for 55 years before deciding to share his story.
"I hadn’t come forward when I was younger, so I made it my mission to go through with a whole trial right from start to finish with the idea of lifting the veil of silence off this horrible situation," he said.
Father Marshall, who taught at schools across Ontario, died in 2014. He was convicted of sexually abusing 17 other young people over his 38-year career and the film features some of those survivors' recounts as well.
Matt Gallagher, the director and producer, said it’s a film he’s thought about making for 10 to 15 years.
"This was the first documentary I’ve ever made where people just really wanted to talk about this and some of these men had kept this a secret for decades," said Gallagher.
Prey is the first of eight films that will be screened throughout the four-day Hot Docs Showcase in Sault Ste. Marie.
Organizers say the film has a local connection, as Father Marshall was also a principal at St. Mary’s College for seven years.
Joshua Richards, with the Sault Community Theatre Centre, said, "It’s a powerful film. It really hits home for us because, unfortunately, there were victims here as well."
Patrick McMahon was one of those victims and his story is also featured in Prey.
"Patrick tells me that there’s at least one other survivor out there who was abused here as well. And I’m sure there’s many, many more. So, for people who are from Sault Ste. Marie, I just want them to know that these survivors are all around us," said Gallagher.
MacLeod said his connection to northern Ontario is one of the reasons he wanted to make an appearance at the festival.
He adds that he also has a message for survivors who haven’t yet spoken up:
"There have been very few people come forward in the Soo. And so, what I want to say to them is look, come forward, it will help you to heal. And it will also help to put an end to this, so that it doesn’t keep going on generation after generation.”
MacLeod said he will continue telling his story for the rest of his life, with hopes of further publicizing this widespread issue and creating change.
Other films in the showcase will be screened from Nov. 19 to 21.