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Advocates Hope Best Picture Win by "Spotlight" Opens Communication About Child Sexual Abuse

Feb 29, 2016

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A local nonprofit is hoping a best picture win for the film “Spotlight” at the Academy Awards Sunday night leads to more open conversation about child sexual abuse.

The film tells the true story of the Boston Globe's investigation into the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Mary Whittier, executive director at Bivona Child Advocacy Center, says communities need to understand how pervasive the problem is.  She cites national figures stating that one in ten children will experience abuse by the time they are 18 years old.  "This issue has got to become so openly talked about that there isn't shame associated with it,” she said.

After it published the abuse story, the Globe heard from hundreds of adults who had been victimized as children by priests.

Whittier says that can often happen with disclosure. "We've got a couple of cases now where (we are aware of) dozens of victims because one child had the courage to tell. And we talk about that, actually, in group therapy with kids, that you never know, with your own story, how many other lives you could be saving."  Whittier emphasizes, though, that each abuse survivor is the “gate keeper” of his or her own story, and there are a complex set of circumstances that may keep them from coming forward.

She says more resources are needed to prevent and treat child abuse.  "If it was cancer or juvenile diabetes or some other childhood disease we would be throwing way more research and resources at it," she said, "But we don't because, is it the dirty little secret? Is it because this affects kids and kids don't vote?"

Bivona Child Advocacy Center serves about 1,500 children a year in the Greater Rochester area.