I didn’t expect that the “Breaking the Silence” documentary on TLC would evoke the need for a second piece on the topic of the media’s abusive relationship with survivors, but I think that the longer I sit with the reality of what I watched, the harsher the truth becomes.
As an author and advocate for over a decade, on this and other issues related to trauma/recovery, I know exactly what happens when cameras are rolling, disclosure/release contracts are being signed, and the phone is ringing off the hook for “one more interview.”
Judgment is clouded.
That is exactly what I perceive happened to those involved in the documentary that aired on TLC, following the Duggar scandal and tragedy.
I don’t know any of the survivors involved personally and as an advocate for the two organizations featured (Darkness to Light and RAINN), it is hard to sit here and digest the following…
- An 11-year-old female survivor was turned into a propaganda piece.
- The Duggar Girls have a superfluous cameo that couldn’t have been more out of place.
- Key steps in preventing childhood sexual abuse were covered.
- Adult advocates shared important, brave stories about finding identity beyond their trauma
- Education on the signs/symptoms and steps to take to get help was outlined…
But right… In a documentary designed to be a CALL TO ACTION to ALL ADULTS on how to PROTECT CHILDREN… An 11-year-old female survivor was turned into a prop.
I have been working with children and youth since shortly out of college, but also even as a young person, I was a camp counselor and actively involved with being a safe place for children/youth – The one thing I have always believed and practiced diligently is that children deserve a space for their childhood experience. Part of my survivor journey makes me what I call a “Mamma Bear” on this topic. Mainly, I seek to ensure that children get what I didn’t have…
Adults who understand and are committed to the healthy boundaries that children need during crucial formative years!
What does an 11-year-old girl know about the effects of disclosing in a media forum?
What does an 11-year-old girl know about how it feels to disclose to potentially millions before she’s barely approaching puberty?
Most importantly, how is her development shaped by having been given a LEADERSHIP role in advocating for her PEERS (other children) before she has even reached the stage of sexuality awareness on her own time frame?
Does she have an identity outside of her sense of being a survivor?
Putting her on screen, disclosing her name, her face, and her story before she is at the PROPER age of development and thus CONSENT, is exploitation.
And yet… RAINN, Darkness to Light, TLC, and the author of some books and a law, all stood behind this dizzying scenario?
The person behind Erin’s Law admitted that she herself, according to the documentary, came into the advocacy scene hard and fast, then stepped back and had to clear up her experience and her story – this is something I can relate to in part because when I first became an advocate in 2004, I realized I wasn’t ready…
But then I stepped back!
I grew up.
I got help.
I lived my life and formed my identity…
And I didn’t come back into the scene until I was actually ready.
This is the sad reality of what was missing from the documentary – an awareness of long-term effects of exposing CHILDREN to the dizzying experience of a media-related role in advocacy.
I have always believed that children are resilient but even today, when I visited with some of my pre-schoolers, I thought about the 11-year-old who was featured in this documentary last night. As a 3-year-old clung to me during a transition, because she found me to be a comforting and “safe place” for her big feelings, I thought…
All children deserve to have a childhood.
And who more, than an 11-year old survivor who had a PART of hers stolen?
Time will only tell how decisions like this will reflect on child abuse victims, survivors, networks, and lawmakers… some will call the child brave, but let’s be honest here…
When she is ten years removed from this, will she know that she has privacy about her experience, or will she be GROOMED at a young age, to stand with ADULTS in arenas that are NOT DEVELOPMENTALLY appropriate?
Has her path of abuse only continued, now in the hands of advocates of prevention?
I won’t name her here… she will remain in my memory as an 11-year-old girl whose story was misused as a pawn of the media and those involved with this piece. (She deserves anonymity from at least one adult who is thinking of her long-term well-being.)
Now the larger question becomes: Does this lack of judgment on the parts of those involved with the documentary cast a long, dark shadow on the value that the piece offered, when it comes to prevention?
Because if we can’t produce a piece about preventing childhood sexual abuse without exploiting a child in the process, we don’t deserve to be speaking about such prevention.
To the brave 11-year-old girl, I am sorry that no one protected her from the FUTURE privacy she deserves on this matter. I wish her many, many years away from the camera and away from books that adults need right now in order to get the messages out…
I wish her mud puddles, hugs from loving caregivers, friends who know her for her interests, stickers, dolls, cars, coloring books, puzzles, trees to climb, and gardens to grow…
And to the adults…
Slow down and grow-up before you turn on the cameras again. Passing a law, airing a documentary, or writing a book cannot replace our general sense of what is truly right for every child… including those brave enough to trust us to go on camera when we should know better!
Tread lightly out there, survivors. I hope we find the bigger picture and embrace a more careful and mindful approach to our advocacy. We cannot create pawns, martyrs, and heroines and expect a collective shift toward a greater awakening.
To those tempted to boycott RAINN and Darkness to Light, entirely, I urge you to remember that most of their work is done well off camera for all the right reasons. Call them to accountability, but don’t forget that their educational and on-call resources are much needed.
Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area with her wife, where she serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.