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Courage To Come Back: Abuse victim helps others avoid his path

Last Updated May 4, 2015 at 10:37 am PDT

Andy Bhatti

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – A mentor abused his trust, turning him to a life of crime. Today, Andy Bhatti helps others avoid the hard path he was forced to go down.

News1130’s 2015 series of Courage To Come Back profiles begins with a look at the winner in the Addiction category.

Bhatti was raised in a single-parent household in Langley. Without a positive male presence in his life, his mom signed him up for the Big Brothers program.

His first mentor was former BC Lion Andre Francis, who he still remembers as an amazing guy. When Francis was traded, things would take a turn with his new Big Brother.

“It was all fine and good at first,” Bhatti remembers.

“He would take me to fishing and camping and to Disneyland and eventually he started grooming me by asking me to take off my clothes and take pictures and eventually it led in to full sexual abuse.”

The abuse started when he was eight and went on for four years, sending him into a spiral of addiction and crime.

“I just kept doing drugs and selling drugs and doing crime and by the time I was 17, I had a huge, huge heroin habit.”

This vicious cycle would continue until his moment of clarity arrived in the form of fatherhood, when he made a key realization.

“I don’t want to be a deadbeat dad. I don’t want to be a guy in jail,” he explains.

“I didn’t have a dad when I was a kid so I don’t want to be the exact same product of my environment and being a deadbeat dad as my dad was to me.”

One particular piece of advice has stuck with him.

“All you have to do is a write a letter to your son saying, ‘Today I choose to smoke crack, do heroin, do crime, instead of teaching you how to play soccer, change your diapers, and read your books.’ And I’ve never [done] drugs since and I’m almost nine years clean.”

Today, the soon-to-be interventionist raises money and awareness for victims of abuse.

“Statistically, there’s one in three victims that have been victims of sexual abuse and one in five [are] boys. People think it’s a hidden topic and it doesn’t happen to boys. It does. It happens to a lot of boys. Not just me,” he points out.

“If you want to see the change, you have to be the change. And the only way that’s going to happen is if the community comes together.”

Bhatti also rides his bike, raising funds for victims of abuse. Last year, his efforts brought in $25,000 for “Sophie’s Place,” the locally-based child advocacy centre named for Sophie Simmons, daughter of Shannon Tweed and Gene Simmons of KISS fame.

This summer, he’ll pedal across Newfoundland to help bankroll a similar facility and there’s word Tweed will join him for one day of the ride.

But for all his accomplishments, Bhatti is quick to shift the focus away from himself and his Courage To Come Back honour.

“This award is not for me,” he insists. “This award is to let every other survivor and drug addict know that that there is hope and there is faith and that we can all change if the government and the community helps us.”

News1130 is a proud sponsor of the Courage To Come Back Awards, which will be handed out Thursday May 7th at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

They are presented by Coast Mental Health, a charity benefiting the Lower Mainland’s most vulnerable citizens.