This Year’s Academy Awards: Shining a Spotlight on Sexual Abuse

The movie Spotlight recently received significant and well-deserved accolades during this year’s Academy Awards, winning Best Picture of the Year and exposing many people to the epidemic of sexual abuse, not only in the Catholic Church, but in a variety of institutions and organizations.

In addition to recognizing the movie, the Oscars used its national stage to highlight sexual abuse and violence of all kinds – not just children. Lady Gaga gave a emotional performance of her song from the documentary The Hunting Ground, following an introduction from Vice President Joe Biden. Gaga bravely revealed she was victimized during her life and encourage others to speak out about their experiences, bringing survivors of sexual abuse on college campuses onto stage during the performance.

What’s the significance of bringing the topic of sexual abuse and violence to such a mainstream forum?

It starts conversations and makes it acceptable to discuss abuse and helps gives victims the strength tp come forward .

For decades sexual abuse was a taboo topic – a cultural norm that hurt victims and helped perpetrators, even if the intention was to save victims from shame. Partially well-meaning efforts pushed abuse aside and left many feeling as if they had no voice and were alone in their victimization. While major litigation like my 2010 trial victory against the Boy Scouts of America helped to bring the issue of sexual abuse to the public’s attention, Spotlight was the first major artistic endeavor that truly brought to popular audiences the deplorable history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

In addition to Spotlight and Gaga’s performance, ther Academy Awards highlighted several other films which were related to sexual violence. The Best Actress award went to Brie Larson for dramatic performance in Room, a movie about a woman assaulted and held captive with her son for years before escaping. The Best Documentary Short award went to Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness, a movie that addresses the common practice of honor killings in the Middle East. These awards immeasurably raised the national consciousness about sexual abuse and violence.

Spotlight Tells the Story of the Cover-up of Sexual Abuse within the Catholic Church

Spotlight specifically examined the sexual abuse scandal in Catholic Church and how it was dealt with by the Boston Archdiocese. The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of investigative journalists from the Boston Globe’s Spotlight publication.

The investigation began with just one priest who was moved from church to church after wrongdoing, but the team soon learned abuse was widespread and systemic – and that many priests and leaders in the church knew of the abuse and did nothing.

Ongoing research revealed there were at last 90 Boston priests who abused multiple victims. In addition to the shock of the abuse itself, theater goers got an inside glimpse of how the cover-up itself promoted further abuse. The movie takes public disclosure a step further, and shares a list of churches and archdiocese throughout the United States where abuse occurred and was covered up.

Spotlight accomplishes a few important things:

• It brings the prevalence of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church further into the mainstream’s awareness.
• It calls attention to the ease with which sexual abuse can be covered up within an organization, especially when that organization is considered reputable by the community.
• It shows the inherit risk in staying silent about sexual abuse and how silence perpetuates an attitude of tolerance.
• It reaches those who might not follow news through traditional sources and allows the story of abuse to be told in a more dramatic manner than it would through newspaper articles.

Ultimately, the movie proves entertainment can be a powerful tool for sharing information and making it acceptable to discuss otherwise taboo topics. And it shows discussion is an important step in preventing further abuse from occurring.

What Can You Do as a Victim of Sexual Abuse?

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, you must understand that you are not alone. A combination of fear, embarrassment, self-blame and confusion makes most victims reluctant to seek help.