Sheldon Kennedy called on U.S. lawmakers to correct the imbalance of power between coaches and their young charges, and urged them to empower those who suspect child abuse to come forward and report their suspicions.

Kennedy, a former NHL player who came forward in 1997 with allegations of abuse against junior hockey coach Graham James, has become an advocate for victims of sexual abuse in Canada.

His appearance came on the same day Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach, went to court to begin facing charges of sexual abuse against eight accusers.

"In my case my abuser was the International Hockey Man of the Year. In Canada that gave him almost god-like status. Sound familiar?" Kennedy asked.

He said James took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of his victims -- drawing a parallel with Sandusky.

"This imbalance of trust and authority created a deeper problem and it's the one I think this subcommittee has to deal with head on if you truly want to prevent child abuse," Kennedy said.

He said in every case of child abuse, there are people with a "gut feeling" that something is wrong. But often they don't know the signs of abuse, don't want to get involved or believe someone else will deal with the problem.

"That's what pedophiles and predators are counting on. They're counting on the public's ignorance or worse yet, their indifference. That's what keeps child abusers in business and that, senators, is what we have to address."

He urged the senators to follow the lead of Hockey Canada and give adults working with youth, and parents, the tools to spot abuse and respond to it "when it first arises."

"Empower the bystanders and you'll be taking an important first step in breaking the silence on child abuse."

Earlier Tuesday Kennedy told CTV's Canada AM there are only 18 U.S. states with laws that legally require anyone who witnesses a sexual assault to report it to authorities.

The Senate hearing follows allegations of years of sexual abuse against children at Penn State -- and reports that witnesses knew about the abuse but never took direct action to stop it.

Kennedy came forward in 1997 to accuse his junior hockey coach Graham James of abusing him sexually for years. Since then Theoren Fleury, who was a teammate of Kennedy's at the time and also went on to play in the NHL, also accused Graham of similar offences.

James was convicted of roughly 350 sexual abuse charges related to Kennedy and served three-and-a-half years in prison upon conviction, before receiving a controversial pardon in 2007.

Last week he pleaded guilty to new allegations of sexual assault from two more of his former players, one of whom was Fleury.

After Kennedy came forward with his claims in 1997, victims, officials and stakeholders began working together to bring in tough anti-abuse measures.

Since then he's been a leader in educating youth workers about the signs of sexual abuse and how to prevent it from happening.