By: April Pickett, Executive Director, The Carousel Center for Abused Children
Every movie awards season, there's a certain story, a fresh personality or provocative film that earns the biggest buzz and the most hype. This year, it's all about "Precious."
Directed by Lee Daniels, promoted by Tyler Perry and Oprah, and based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, the film explores the deeply troubling subject matter of child sex abuse. Comedian-turned actress Mo'Nique, pop sensation Mariah Carey and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, are racking up nominations and enjoying the talk show circuit as they reap their just rewards for bringing the raw and wrenching reality of child sex abuse to the multiplex. Audiences are spellbound by the story and their performances. But, social workers, police, district attorneys and countless health and human service professionals recognize it for what it is: ordinary.
I saw "Precious" when it screened at Wilmington's Cucalorus Film Festival. One might presume a film fest audience is socially savvy, perhaps more in touch or politically engaged with the world around them. But, at a critical moment in the film – when Mo'Nique's character admits that her daughter, Precious, was first sexually abused by the father, at the age of only three – a communal gasp went up. Audiences can barely stomach the idea. But, sadly, this isn't just a script written for dramatic effect.
Here in southeastern North Carolina, children that young and younger are regularly victims of sexual abuse. The Carousel Center for Abused Children treats and cares for some 500 children every year who are sex abuse victims. And though it's tempting to believe otherwise, these are not only children of poor, ethnic, undereducated families, as portrayed in "Precious." Sexual abuse knows no boundaries and is certainly not limited by cultural, racial or socio-economic classes.
It's a ghastly reality. So ghastly, that it's certainly easier to deny its prevalence. But, by doing so, we provide the perfect cover for perpetrators. When "perps" say to their victims, "Don't tell – and if you do, no one will believe you," well, sadly they're often right. By not addressing or accepting this reality, we create an environment where children are reluctant to come forward, juries are hard-pressed to accept hard evidence and perpetrators, if convicted, might only serve probation.
It's not unlike decades ago when the words "breast cancer" were only whispered, as the topic was not considered polite conversation. But, look at the difference talking has made! It's time to make child sex abuse a topic of open discussion. Not talking only perpetuates the veil of secrecy and cover, further victimizes the victims and creates an unreal reality.
If you haven't seen "Precious", do. You'll likely gasp. But, recognize that, for many, this film serves as an important introduction to a social ill that is every bit a reality here in southeastern North Carolina. If it serves as a catalyst to further and open conversation, then "Precious" will have earned far more than a mere Academy Award.