When it comes to documentaries, I have to say….OWN hasn’t had a bad one. This month’s pick, “Family Affair” by Chico Colvard was true art. The film offered a vulnerable and raw look into an area that most families don’t even address in their own homes…deep, embarrassing family secrets. Yet, Chico and his family opened their infected wounds for all of us to see.
When Chico first picked up the camera one Thanksgiving, I am certain his family had no idea his project would get so personal. At the age of ten, Chico came across his father’s military rifles and accidently shot one of his sisters in the leg, a catalyst that unraveled years of family secrets. Thinking she might die, his sister confessed to her mother an unthinkable secret…her father had been raping her and her two sisters for years. The crimes were horrific. They were hostages to a world of violence and abuse. Their mother believed them and tried to protect them. The police were called, the parents divorced and the kids were sent to live in foster care and with relatives who were upset that their brother had been turned in. With one sister in the hospital and another afraid, only one of the girls was able to testify. SO much pressure on a child in a situation where she has to tell an embarrassing secret, fearing that the adults wouldn’t believe her. Standing up in court knowing that the words she said would change their family forever. She had such bravery. Although their father was arrested, he spent less than a year in jail. When he was released, his girls continued to allow him into their lives…but not Chico. I can’t help but wonder how this impacted his relationships with women and how he felt about this happening to his sisters. The film highlighted how even after decades, Chico and his sisters continued to struggle with the violence and its impact on their lives.
No one can argue that Chico’s father was a horrible man, but these situations are far more complex. This is a family being torn apart by the atrocities of one man. Hearing their relatives’ opposition to their dad’s incarceration had to make it even more confusing. They were just kids and living with their father’s siblings…and fearful about their father coming home. Often kids internalize the chaos that is created by the secrets being revealed as their fault creating both guilt and regret. They go from having an abusive family often to no family or a family in crisis which at times leaves them with the desire to reconnect and find some way to “fix it.”
That doesn’t even begin to address the emotional aftermath of both physical and sexual abuse. The cycle of violence is so intense and emotionally difficult. One moment there is love and another of pain and fear. Learning to understand anger as violence, many victims grow up to perpetuate the cycle. Nothing is taught through fear or anger except to fear the person who is hurting them. There is a potential to end up with anger, trust, self-esteem, bullying issues as well as issues surrounding healthy love and so much more. There is never a reason to raise a hand in anger….NEVER. Although the long-term effects of domestic violence are vast, there is another abuse that dominated the film “Family Affair.”
For years, Chico’s sisters endured sexual assaults from their father. The film delicately handled the conflicting feelings surrounding this form of abuse. How do children deal with the body’s normal pleasure mechanism associated with sexual abuse? They are being violated but some of the act feels good. NOW before people get all enraged….this is an important topic that was addressed in the film. Often children have horribly conflicting emotions because of this. It is natural for a body to react whether you want it to or not. As one sister mentioned enjoying the act when it happened, it was clear that she was still struggling with the acts perpetrated against her. I am sure many victims struggle their whole life trying to separate being victimized as a child versus being in a healthy sexual relationship. I am NO expert and think anyone who has suffered any type of abuse should immediately go into therapy. It is the smart thing to do. But I see how this creates conflicting feelings. Someone you trusted providing feelings of pleasure and attention…yet in total violation to you making you feel unsafe. At the same time some are left questioning themselves as to what they might have done to attract the attention. The truth is always the same….nothing. There is NOTHING they could do to ever warrant this attack against their body and spirit.
As they grew older, they learned their father had been sexually abused by his mother who gave him syphilis as a young child. Knowing this feels at times like an attempt to justify an unjustifiable act. But it is a truth in itself. I don’t believe all people who have been abused will grow up to be abusers, but it can happen. Although he was a victim as a young child, he alone is responsible for his acts and should understand the impact this has on a child. This secret and violation tore this family down to the core. One of the sisters told Chico, “he never did anything to you” not recognizing the impact abuse has on all of those who witness it. For both enduring and witnessing violence profoundly changes you. [read more…]
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