The event featured a screening of the recent film, by fine-art photographer and first-time documentary maker Patrick Viersen Brown, documenting some of the effects on an Oklahoma town brought about by the prolonged sexual abuse of children in the community at the hands of a local pediatrician. Following the screening, the film-maker was joined by specialists on, and survivors of, childhood sexual abuse for a community forum moderated by Kristen Houser, a State College native, alumna of Penn State, and anti-sexual assault activist who is currently working for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR)
The salience of this topic to the State College and Penn State communities, together with Mr. Brown's reasons for making the film made for a highly personal discussion. The film is a product of the filmmaker's own long effort to come to terms not only with his having been sexually abused as a child by this pediatrician, but also with the rift that grew between himself and his parents in the wake of their inability to comprehend what their six-year-old son was telling them as he tried to report the abuses. A film critic might wonder whether the lack of emotional distance between the filmmaker and the events and people portrayed prevented Mr. Brown from achieving the kind of objectivity we often expect from a documentary. However, those who provide support for people who have been sexually abused might respond that what is really important about this film, and about the discussion it prompts, is the role it plays in the healing process of an individual survivor and of this survivor's Oklahoma community, which is composed of survivors of these abuses and others who all have questions about their own varying degrees of responsibility for what occurred. The anti-sexual assault activists and therapists who organized the event would likely add that this film can also play an important role in the healing process of other communities, like our own, whose members and organizations are forced to confront the unsettling facts about childhood sexual abuse in towns their size.
As you can imagine, the film poses a number of ethical questions as its director struggles to hold the perpetrator to account as well as to be a catalyst for the healing process for himself, for other survivors, and for his Oklahoma community. The central questions I came away from the discussion asking myself were prompted by a scene in the film in which Mr. Brown claims that he has not forgiven the perpetrator of his abuse, which led to the suggestion from a fellow survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the audience that forgiveness is one of the keys to recovery. I am interested to see if Penn State students would be willing to Speak Up (whether from personal experience or from reflection on what you have learned through familiarity with others' experience) in response to some of these questions:
What role, if any, do you think forgiveness needs to play in healing processes like these?
Who needs to forgive whom, and why? Who needs to be forgiven by whom, and why?
What are the obstacles to these kinds of forgiveness? How can these obstacles be overcome?
Who has the power and the right to forgive whom, and for what?
Are there ethical violations, or acts of wrong-doing, that are just unforgivable? If so, how should we respond to these?