On February 18, 1997 Martin Kruze stepped forward and told Canadians across the country that he was a survivor of sexual abuse. This kind of telling is rare for survivors. Some tell a trusted friend, family member, or therapist--the majority never tell anyone. Instead, the oath of silence consumes them from within, absorbing their thoughts and weighing down their hearts for lifetimes.
What was it about Martin Kruze that compelled him to take the unusual step of speaking out? What was it that set him apart from so many, and in particular, beckoned the media to his door?
We need to ask these questions and attempt their answers so that we can continue to learn from Martin Kruze, Survivor--as he so proudly called himself--and the many women and men to whom Martin spoke most directly when he came forward. Although others have spoken publicly about their victimization--former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy revealed his abuse just a month before Martin--the media response to Martin's words was unprecedented.
Was it because the media cared about the sexual abuse of yet one more young person? Perhaps. Was it more likely that they responded in such force because of the setting in which the abuse took place? Without a doubt. In February 1997, Martin Kruze told the media that Gordon Stuckless and George Hannah had sexually abused him as a youth at Maple Leaf Gardens. Martin then told them that he did not want his identity protected as is the usual practice. Instead, he hoped that by putting himself forward, others would feel encouraged to do the same.
Pictures and stories flashed across the country through newspapers, magazines, television and radio. Canadians were shocked that this kind of gross misconduct could have taken place in their cathedral of hockey--the repository of everyone's dreams about getting close to, if not experiencing, fame and success through the national pastime. A visit to Maple Leaf Gardens was like stepping into the dreamworlds of many Canadian children and adults, for it epitomized the aspirations of anyone in our country who had ever handled a hockey stick.
Along with shock and outrage, disbelief and criticism greeted Martin's revelations as well. Some questioned the veracity of his telling: Could this really have happened? How could it have gone on for so long? Years earlier, Martin had sued Maple Leaf Gardens and reached a financial settlement with them. What was he doing coming forward now?
Thousands of Canadians who themselves have endured sexual abuse shook their heads in recognition, relief, admiration and fear, for here it was, once again, all of the attendant ugliness of sexual abuse being raised out of the depths of silence. When you don't tell, the only judge you have to face is yourself. When you do tell, you become the lightning rod for everyone's discomfort, apprehension and blame.
The media's obsession with this news story veered along several tendencies: celebrating Kruze's courage, questioning the integrity and circumstances surrounding his allegations and lambasting the management of Maple Leaf Gardens. As the airwaves and print media stamped out the news updates, a chain reaction was beginning to take place across the country: hundreds of men and a number of women were stopping in their tracks because what they were hearing and seeing in public was a mirror of their very own private hells. Yes, they too had been abused by these same men--and by others. One way or another,
Martin's decision to make his abuse public compelled them to do something about theirs. Hundreds stepped forward and contacted the police, others told someone they knew and still others lived a new version of their secret. Whatever the decision, there probably isn't one who didn't think about what exactly it would have taken to step forward in the way that Martin did.
And this is what was so compelling about Martin Kruze. He was a man of tremendous energy, strength, compassion and conviction. He was also a man with a taste for irony and humour. He was irrepressible and impatient. His blond hair, sweet smile, dapper suit and polished shoes were everywhere for a time.
Martin was a man on a mission and it was a deceptively simple one. Martin wanted to help others deal with the pain they had suffered and he wanted to raise awareness about abuse. "If I can help just one person," he would say, "then I'll have done my job." Martin did do his job. He gave countless interviews and was forthright about his abuse experiences and the effects on his life.
While Martin's initial celebrity derived from his shameful link to Maple Leaf Gardens, Martin's continued willingness to express feelings and describe experiences so rarely declared in public created a new kind of celebrity--a hero for survivors. He was someone who could have really been anyone. He talked again and again about living with confusion, pain and fear. He spoke about his addiction to drugs and to sex. He spoke about feeling worthless and hopeless and wanting to die.
To this day, many call Martin Kruze their inspiration; many credit him with saving their lives. While some call him hero, others remember too well the dangers of heroizing important people in their lives. Martin was flattered by the attention and it meant a great deal to him to be making a difference to others. Inspiration and hope abounded.
When the media flurry began to pass, he focused on what he could do next to help. Martin Kruze became a volunteer. He brought his energy and passion to the Central Agencies Sexual Abuse Treatment Program in Toronto and helped launch a handbook for parents and youth coping with sexual abuse. "If I had had this kind of information when I was younger," he said, "I would have had somewhere to reach out to."
Martin supported the Gatehouse in Etobicoke when it was still a dream living in a broken building. His own goal was to build a centre for abused boys. But in the meantime, he made himself available to help in any way that he could. He sent faxes of information on sexual abuse to anyone who took an interest, each arrival announced by his cover sheet: a giant hand drawn 'happy face' placed under his title, "Survivor". Martin created this role for himself and he carried it out every day that he could.
Along with all of his life-charging qualities, however, Martin was also a man who had been profoundly violated and wounded. In spite of all that he continued to do for himself and for others, and the clear benefits of years of therapy and support, he still hurt. Even though so many of us got to meet survivor Martin Kruze through his interviews, television appearances and volunteer work, we really only ever knew the Martin that he invited us to know.
When the high from his goodwill mission began to unravel, he hid his troubles from the many who cared for him, just as he had hidden his abuse for so many years before. He could no longer numb or wash away the hurt, let alone repair it fast enough to make his life livable. The public persona, which so many had come to admire, could not defeat the anguish that he continued to endure so privately.
Throughout the time he opened this window into his life, the trial and sentencing of one of his offenders proceeded. Once again, there was significant media attention when an alarmingly short sentence was given to Gordon Stuckless. Although Martin was only one of twenty-four men whose victimization was being addressed through this trial, many of Martin's fellow survivors felt that the brevity of the sentence was an affront to Martin in particular.
On October 30, 1997, Martin Kruze committed suicide. His departure was as public and as intentional as his arrival had been. Hearts broke and the barely mended lives of the men who were most affected by him were shattered. As ugly and painful as the act of suicide may be, it needs to be included in our memories of Martin Kruze.
Martin was only one of the many survivors who have found themselves at suicide's door--and characteristically, Martin did publicly what thousands have considered, attempted or carried out privately. As a public figure, Martin's death by suicide became front page and lead story news. The media was responding to Martin Kruze again. Any other survivor's death, let alone daily plight, would likely have gone unnoticed and unreported.
First Martin Kruze needed to be heard. Now he needs to be remembered. If we don't remember and learn from a man who stepped courageously forward in all of his goodness and brokenness, how can we acknowledge and honour each and every child and adult, whose lives are profoundly, quietly affected by sexual abuse? Martin spoke about sexual abuse when the silence surrounding it was deafening. Martin made public what so many experience in shame and fear.
Martin was one person who made a difference. His individual efforts and actions were magnified a thousand times through the media. Many others carry out their own efforts each day, facing the same risks, and sometimes experiencing the satisfaction of knowing that they too have helped someone. Whatever the means and aspirations, the personal costs can be tremendous.
Comprehensive efforts and initiatives are needed to bolster what survivors continue to do, often alone. They've already lived alone with abuse for too long. The individual and collective steps we keep taking to create greater safety for children and survivors will be the truest legacy of Martin Kruze.
Martin Kruze Remembered by Cathy Vine, M.S.W., November 15, 1999.
Cathy Vine went on to write a book about Martin Kruze:
Gardens of Shame
The Tragedy of Martin Kruze and
the Sexual Abuse at Maple Leaf Gardens
Author: Cathy Vine, and Paul Challen
Publisher: Groundwood Books,
Douglas & McIntyre Publishing Group
A disturbing but honest account of the sexual abuse at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, told through the story of Martin Kruze.
Cathy Vine and Paul Challen tell the story of Martin Kruze, one of the victims of sexual abuse at Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1970s. In 1997, in a dramatic TV interview, Kruze revealed that as a young hockey player he had been sexually abused at Maple Leaf Gardens by Gordon Stuckless, an employee at the Gardens. Stuckless was eventually convicted and sentenced to two years less a day in prison. Three days after the sentencing, Martin Kruze jumped off a bridge to his death.
Kruze’s story is interspersed with the voices of other victims, who were compelled by Kruze’s disclosure to come forward with their own stories.
This powerful and moving account is both an expose of a shameful chapter in the history of Canadian sport and a testament to the human spirit.