The Saskatoon Police Service announced earlier this week that they had charged a former employee at a Christian school in Saskatoon with sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor.
News outlets have confirmed that man as 46-year-old Aaron Benneweis, who worked as the athletic director at the Christian Centre Academy, now known as Legacy Christian Academy.
Police say they received a report in August 2022 that included allegations of sexual assault between 2008 and 2012.
They say the victim, a minor at the time, and the accused were known to one another through their affiliation with “a Saskatoon faith-based institution.”
The woman who filed the report says she feels validation now that criminal charges have been filed.
Jennifer Beaudry called the charges a ‘big victory’ in her journey for closure and healing.
“It couldn’t be more validating and exciting,” she said. “I had come out with this story before to whom I thought were the property authorities, and they dropped the ball.”
“Now that I am actually seeing legal progress made, it’s helping me validate, not really because I need it, but for everyone else involved in this story. For other victims who maybe are struggling and feeling like they are struggling alone. I realize that part of my story was to be someone to put a face and a name to this and help others come forward if they want to.”
Beaudry originally filed a police report with her mother in 2013, which led to Benneweis being fired from the school but no criminal charges.
She recalled the alleged sexual abuse that happened during her time at the school.
Beaudry says she first noticed Benneweis on her 13th birthday when she participated in a volleyball pre-game warm-up.
She remembers noticing the coach’s eyes on her during a volleyball pre-game warm-up in 2008. She says she caught him staring and smirking at her.
Things would progress to him calling her into his office to chat, something with friends or fellow athletes, but often alone and sometimes out of his office in unused rooms or closets.
Beaudry says around the time she was 14; they started meeting outside of the school.
She recalls when Benneweis had the school van parked in a residential area they had just finished walking in.
“In the school van is where I had my first kiss. It was with him.”
As she got older, the former coach would ask Beaudry to strip down her underwear.
“I would be in his room, in his house, while his kids and wife were away, and he would have me undressed and be on top of me, kissing me, bodies all over each other,” she recalled.”
Beaudry recalls feeling uncomfortable during many of their meet-ups but felt she was ill-equipped to handle the situation. The private Christian school didn’t teach consent, power dynamics, sexual education or healthy relationships.
“We were these oblivious, naive kids that were perfect for groomers and predators like this.”
She says she didn’t reject his invitations as she felt compelled to trust people in positions of authority and make them happy. Something she was taught to do.
“I didn’t understand what a power dynamic was. I was told kids respect your parents, and you listen to authority, no question asked; every other way of life is wrong and sinful,” she said. “I was living in a super grey world, but it was portrayed as black and white for us.”
She said there was also fear associated with defying authority figures.
“Any type of authority in that place (Christian Centre Academy), it was pretty much an unspoken rule that if you questioned anything that we say, or even ask why then you are kind of seen or treated as the rebel child.”
She also felt compelled to ‘keep quiet’ after a meeting with Benneweis when she was 14.
“Aaron had got me to meet him offsite. We were walking behind a tree line in a park, and he was holding my hand, and he said, you have to promise me that you won’t tell anybody about this because my family life and my career life depend on it.”
“As per his request, I started thinking that I had to keep his marriage together, I had to keep his career intact at the school, I used to babysit his kids, I wasn’t about the wrongs that were done to me, I was trying to keep everybody’s lives together, and it took me a long time to get out of that role and outside help.”
After a move back to Saskatoon, Beaudry said numerous factors would lead to her eventually filing charges.
“I started journaling, putting memories down on paper making connections,” she said. “Then last August when a friend of mine had actually sent the CBC article about the school. I was at work, and I read the article, and I looked up at my computer and thought now is the time. I went to the police station and told them that I personally wanted to press charges, and I joined the class action lawsuit as well.”
Beaudry said she felt it was now or never for her to try and receive closure.
“I personally never had the closure and the healing I need from the sexual abuse I received as a child,” she said. “I now realize how it is affecting my life as an adult right now, and I’m sick and tired of it. It’s time that this gets dealt with properly,” she recalled thinking.
Though the former coach has yet to appear before a judge, she said the process had brought a lot of closure and healing.
“I have a journey that I need to do, and I am trying to do this strategically, but so does everybody else that is involved. Everybody has things that they need to do, and this class action, and this being so public, is opening up the avenues for people to be able to do that,” she said. “I think there is a lot of healing that is happening.”
“I am not doing this for any kind of fame or sympathy, this isn’t an easy thing to do, but I am out there to help empower and encourage others, and I know that I am not the only one,” she added.
Beaudry said she also wanted to come forward so others could possibly find closure and heal.
“That’s my biggest drive, is for other people. I’ve been lucky enough, blessed enough, and strong enough to go through a lot of my healing journey on my own over the last decade,” she said. “Having done that and been through that excruciating journey in some of the hardest ways I can do it, I want to be somebody who can offer out a hand and help other people through it.”
Beaudry added that she encourages people to reach out to support groups.
“Support groups are the only reason why I can still be a functional human, and that is going to look different for every person, so whether it family, whether its friends, whether it’s finding, victim services, or social services or support groups, I can’t stress that enough.”
As for Benneweis, he turned himself in to the Saskatoon Police Service on January 31. He was arrested, processed and released on conditions.
He is set to make his first court appearance on March 13 in Saskatoon.