Langley survivor awarded

Andy Bhatti initially felt he didn’t deserve his Courage To Come Back award.

Sexually abused as a kid, the 34-year-old Langley resident fell into a dark tunnel of drug addiction, homelessness, and crime, and came out the other side.

It’s because of this, and the fact he’s devoted his life to help victims of sexual abuse, that Bhatti was the recipient of the 2015 Courage To Come Back Award in the addiction category.

Bhatti is now a certified substance abuse support worker and recovery coach, and a big part of Survivors Support Survivors, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and resources for survivors, both men and women, of childhood victimization.

He and five other recipients received their awards May 7 at a gala at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre West.

The awards were presented to one recipient in each of the following categories: addiction, medical, mental health, physical rehabilitation, social adversity and youth.

“I was asked to be nominated last year,” Bhatti said. “And then this year, somebody wanted to nominate me and I said, ‘Sure.’”

At the same time, Bhatti believed there must be others far more deserving to win an award, any award, than him.

A chat with a friend changed his mind.

“I was like… there’s a lot of other people in life who deserve an award more than me,’” he related. “I said, ‘I don’t know, man, I shouldn’t get an award for quitting smoking crack.’”

His friend assured him, saying, “It’s adversity and addiction. You beat the statistics, overcoming childhood sexual abuse, and being a heroin addict straight out of Hastings [Street]. You give hope and faith to other addicts, other survivors.”

Upon reflection, Bhatti was honoured to receive the award.

“I won something for overcoming adversity and childhood sexual abuse and addiction, and it also can help raise awareness,” he said. “This award is not for me; this award is for every other survivor and every other drug addict who doesn’t think he or she can heal from sexual abuse and addiction.”

Difficult past

Over the past few years, Bhatti has willingly shared his story of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a former Big Brother volunteer in Langley.

Bhatti’s abuser, who in 2008 was jailed for sex crimes against two young children in the Vernon area, assaulted him over a four-year period.

The abuse pushed Bhatti into a loop of drug abuse and crime. To feed his heroin addiction, Bhatti became a career criminal.

All the while he lived on the street, sleeping in cars and hotel rooms, or wherever he could find warmth. He smoked heroin for the last time on Sept. 26, 2006, and since then has been working hard to turn his life around.

As a boy he was sentenced to live with his abuser by the courts.

“I took off from my abuser in 1993 because I didn’t want to deal with the sexual abuse,” Bhatti told the Langley Advance in 2013.

After a high speed chase, Bhatti got caught in a stolen car on July 7, 1993. The judge wanted to keep Bhatti in jail, but the crown argued that the home of Bhatti’s abuser was the safest place for him to live. The judge agreed.

“Right then I thought, ‘Oh f***, I just got sentenced to sexual abuse,’” Bhatti recalled. “This is not fun.”

With his past behind him, Bhatti strives to be a model of hope for others who are struggling with the demons of addictions and sexual abuse.

“I went to school to become an interventionist and now I work with a guy from Options Okanagan Treatment Centre and we own ASL intervention,” Bhatti said.

Bhatti plans on offering sexual abuse prevention facilitation courses to hockey teams, boys and girls clubs, and schools, to teach people the five keys of awareness for sexual abuse.

“If abuse is happening, and what to do, and where to go, and how to report it,” he elaborated.

On a personal level, Bhatti believes he’s moving in a positive direction.

“I did a lot of therapy,” he said. “I connect with people all over the world, now.”

Ride for smiles

As part of his ongoing charity efforts, Bhatti plans on riding across Newfoundland, starting at Port Aux Basques on July 25, arriving in St. John’s on Aug. 9. Proceeds from donations in B.C. will go to Sophie’s Place, a child advocacy centre which helps physically, mentally or sexually abused children up to age 18.

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons’ wife Shannon Tweed, a native of Newfoundland, and her sister Sara are going to ride alongside Bhatti near the end of the cycling journey.

Why Newfoundland? Because the province doesn’t offer any programs to help for childhood sexual abuse victims.

A woman whose 14-year-old son was abused by a volunteer from the Big Brothers association in Newfoundland contacted Bhatti, and told him she couldn’t find any support for her son.

Bhatti visited the boy and realized there was no help for him.

“There is no Sophie’s Place in Newfoundland,” he said. “There is no child advocacy centre, there’s nowhere for him to go.”

Bhatti is riding for the boy and his family.

“I’m going to ride this bike across Newfoundland to be the voice for this kid,” he said.

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