Breaking the Silence on Sexual Assault

How the United Nations and a pop culture podcast are helping children speak out.

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When you listen to Kid Fury and Crissle, the co-hosts of a smart, incisive podcast that tackles hip-hop and pop culture's "most trying stars," you are not exactly expecting an endorsement for a United Nation's program. But the straight-talking, irreverent duo whose program, "The Read," doubles as an "on-air therapy session" for listeners as well as its hosts may be just what UNICIEF ordered

On one of their recent podcasts, the two updated listeners about a teenager, Christopher, who contacted them back in July for advice about how to handle his verbally abusive step-dad who berated him for being gay. The teenager didn't know how to bring it up with his mom who worked long night shifts and he was terrified of confronting his stepfather directly. The two urged Christopher to stand up for himself and to discuss the abuse with his mother. It was exactly the type of nudge he needed. 

"Finally, after years, he is giving me the time of day and is trying with me. I feel I am now being talked to like a human being, which is what I deserved from the beginning," the teenager wrote in a follow-up letter after finally speaking to his mother about the abuse. Christopher is doing better in school now and no longer needs anti-anxiety and depression medication. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

The United Nations, meanwhile, has been working tirelessly on a campaign to encourage children who are victims of verbal and physical abuse to speak up and "break the silence." In advance of the U.N.'s Children's Day, held globally on Nov. 20, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly did something rather unusual to bring attention to the issue. It commissioned decorated French film-director Roland Edzard to create a short-film. The result is "The Lake" – a devastatingly bold two-minute movie that exposes the challenges children face when speaking out against abuse.

The clip opens with a teenage girl quietly sobbing in the woods, her hoody askew, hair matted with leaves. A middle-age man approaches. "Don't tell your mother. Not a word," he intones. Pivot subtly to a nearby lake. Children run about carefree; some frolicking in the cool water while their parents picnic on the shores. A woman, worn but full of rekindled optimism, perhaps fueled by the hopes to start anew, opens a bottle of champagne and announces her engagement. Cue the applause. Her fiancé smiles and the two embrace. Her daughter, hoody righted, looks on, unflinchingly.

As the happy couple surrounded by friends and family celebrates, the girl silently dips into the lake. She has yet to utter a word.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the European debt crisis.]    

The film closes with a message and a number:  "One in five children [in Europe] is a victim of sexual assault: Break the Silence – Call 116 111."

"I wanted to say to young people who are victims of this crime: It is possible to break the secret pact of silence that your aggressor is imposing on you. And, in practical terms, the number given at the end of the film can help you to do that," said Edzard.

The film is part of the council's broader effort to further implement the Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Assault – a laudable systemic endeavor to bring about awareness through preventative mechanisms such as creating telephone hotlines, training officials who deal with children on a regular basis to spot potential abuse and teaching children, themselves, how to guard against abuse.

[Read Conna Craig: America's Daughters Are Not For Sale]

On this side of the pond, Americans are still struggling to come to terms with the bullying saga currently engulfing the Miami Dolphin's football team and the implications for the state of society writ large. One lingering question is if a 6-foot-5, 312 pound 24-year-old offensive lineman kept quiet for months, if not years, before speaking out against the daily barrage of belittlement, hate speech and death threats, how long would a 100 pound, 12-year-old victim of physical or verbal abuse endure?

Kid Fury and Crissle took time out from riffing on pop culture divas to spotlight children who face physical and verbal abuse. This Wednesday should be a reminder that others should follow suit. 

Drew F. Cohen is a law clerk to the chief justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Follow him on Twitter at @DF_Cohen or email him at

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