Winfrey's show on child abuse to air on 3 networks, PBS

September 04, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Take seriously the "viewer discretion" warning at the beginning of "Scared Silent: Exposing and Ending Child Abuse." The documentary, which is being aired in an unusual simultaneous showing tonight on CBS, NBC and PBS, is visceral television.

In candid terms, we hear victims and their abusers -- in many cases their closest relatives, their parents -- describe shocking abuses ranging from forced sexual activity to death.

It is tough viewing, all the more so because host Oprah Winfrey cites statistics showing the six case histories "are frighteningly typical" of some 7,300 new cases of abuse reported daily in this country.

Some viewers may also find the show at times approaches the emotionally exploitative titillation of many tabloid talk shows.

But organizations that deal with reports of child abuse and offer counseling to victims and abusers strongly endorse the program. And they are preparing tonight to talk with viewers who call special telephone numbers with reports of suspected abuse or to seek counseling assistance with the stresses of being a parent.

During the broadcast, for example, Ms. Winfrey repeatedly promotes a national hot line for assistance: (800) 422-4453.

Before and after MPT's commercial-free broadcast, the Maryland arm of Parents Anonymous will be announcing and staffing an assistance hot line (from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., in cooperation with the United Way): (800) 492-0618. The number will also be operative during those hours on Sunday, when ABC (WJZ-Channel 13) airs the program.

And on WBAL-Channel 11, from 9 to 11 tonight, the state Department of Social Services will be staffing a hot line through which people can report cases of suspected abuse: (410) 338-6665. Dave Roberts, station news director, also noted that reporter Lisa Salters will be completing a related three-part series on the problem locally in tonight's 11 o'clock newscast.

"This really is an unprecedented way for the networks to come together without being concerned about ratings first," said Cherryal Burge, director of community outreach for MPT. The local PBS carrier last week sponsored a preview showing of "Scared Silent" in Baltimore, in cooperation with the National Coalition for 100 Black Women, the local chapter of the Child Welfare League of America, and Baltimore City Community College.

ABC chose not to screen the program simultaneously tonight because it did not want to pre-empt its regular magazine show "20/20." It will show "Scared Silent" at 10 p.m. Sunday. The Fox network is not showing the documentary.

Local NBC affiliate WMAR-Channel 2 also is not showing the program because of an Orioles baseball game. The station's Emily Barr said WMAR was not permitted by NBC to air the show an hour early, before the game, and decided the many other airings give area viewers ample opportunity to see the show. (Anyone able to receive Washington's Channel 4 can view it on NBC.)

Officials also are hoping a videotape of the program will have a future life with a variety of community groups and other outlets. For example, "Scared Silent" can be seen four times next week on Cable Channel 17, the Essex Community College channel on Baltimore County's Comcast Cablevision: at 1 p.m Monday; 5 p.m. Tuesday; 9 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. next Friday.

Host Ms. Winfrey, who identifies herself as the victim of a rape by a male cousin when she was 9, has said the show "may be the most important hour of television I have ever been a part of."

And in Chicago yesterday, at the opening session of the Ninth International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect, chairwoman Anne Cohn Donnelly said "I have no doubt that tens of thousands of people who are abused or are abusers will reach out for help" as a result of the broadcast.

What is most striking about "Scared Silent," a production of documentarian Arnold Shapiro ("Rescue 911"), is the inescapable conclusion that abuse is a family legacy, often generations old.

A woman who killed her child with a curtain rod, during a fit of rage, talks of her father who ruled his household by fear. She says she has traced a family history of abuse 130 years, back to the Civil War.

A teen-aged girl named Tasha talks of abusing a younger male cousin out of rage over her own abuse by her older brother.

And in a segment on the hardest to define area, psychological and emotional abuse, Ms. Winfrey says flatly that every parent involved was likely also abused as a child.

The program ends, however, on the hopeful note that counseling and intervention can often stop the cycle.

"Tell anybody who will listen," says Tasha to younger viewers.

"Every adult in this country needs to listen," stresses a woman whose husband molested their daughter.

'Scared Silent'

What: "Scared Silent: Exposing and Ending Child Abuse."

When: Tonight at 10.

Where: CBS/WBAL-Channel 11, PBS/MPT-Channels 22 and 67.

;/ Repeat: 10 p.m. Sunday, ABC/WJZ-Channel 13.

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