This project is a personal journey that began for me over 30 years ago when I was molested by a stranger, a journey that has since led me to explore the world of child sexual abuse with my camera and a sound recorder, documenting both the brutality of child rape, the resilience of its young survivors and the dedication of all the people working to protect them.
I have been working on My Piece of Sky now for about 8 years. Although I was blessed to receive some funding from the Hasselbald Foundation, Sweden and from 3P, France to continue my project, the majority of the project was self-funded.
The funds will be used to self-publish this book with the help of some dear friends who have published before. :-)
This project has received several awards:
- 2011 - Amnesty International Award, UK
- 2011 - 7 punt 7, Spain
- 2010 - Anthropographia Award for Photography & Human Rights, Canada (Shortlisted)
- 2006 - Santa Fe Prize for Photography, USA (Nominated)
- 2005 - Unicef Photo of the Year, Germany (Honorable Mention)
- 2005 - 3P (Photographers Pro Photography) Foundation (Grant)
- 2003 - Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden (Grant)
Please join me in making this book a reality.
SPREAD THE WORD...
My Piece of Sky: Memories of Child Sexual Abuse is a testimony to the young children who have survived the experience of rape, and those who have lost their lives to it. It is a book that will visually seize the attention of reader through the use of photography and artwork, and will capture their minds through in-depth interviews, and journals, essays and poetry by children who have been abused.
The book is developed in collaboration with de.MO (http://de-mo.org/) and Gary Knight (http://www.garyknightphotography.com/) who will work together to design and oversee the production and distribution of the book.
The forward of the book will be written by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, MD., Ph.D., an American citizen, and an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis. He is co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing, a popular book based on his work with children, published by Basic Books.
Over the past fifteen years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences holding a variety of academic positions. He served as a consultant with the FBI and was a former Chief of Psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, as well as former Vice-Chairman for Research in the department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. Currently, he is a senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, a non-profit organization that promotes innovations in service, research and education in child maltreatment and childhood trauma.
FUNDING THE BOOK
As the topic of this book is a sensitive one, we have decided to keep the book small in size and divide it into 2 volumes as explained in the video.
Most of the money will be spent on production costs. Besides the actual printing of the book these would include, for example, the hiring of an editor to clean up the text and captions, getting the photography & artwork prepared for print by a professional who deals with image reproduction for books, working with a designer, shipping cost among other things.
RESEARCH FOR BOOK
My Piece of Sky: Memories of Child Sexual Abuse documents both the brutality of child rape and the resilience of its young survivors. It is a book of photos, journals, artwork and interviews - testimonies from the abused, the abusers, and the people around them. It is a glimpse into their world, but it is by no means an academic book. it is a book of my journey, of trying to understand sexual abuse.
My exploration into child sexual abuse all began in November 2002 when I was assigned by an US-based woman’s magazine to take photos for an article they were running on infant rape in South Africa. I worked with the South African Police Child Protection Unit in Port Shepstone, a town in the south-east of the country, for a few days only, but it was enough time for me to witness the numbers of children being brought in for rape and sexual abuse. We are in the 21st century, and every year hundreds of thousands of children are abused around the world, but people still chose to remain silent, silent about their own abuse and the abuse of their children.
What started out as an assignment grew into a fully-researched initiative of discovery and understanding about child sexual abuse. The more I researched, the more I wanted to do something about this horrific crisis, to try to make a difference in the lives of innocent children.
I have worked on My Piece of Sky, on and off, for almost 8 years now, and over this time, have produced and gathered a large body of work consisting of photos, journals, in-depth recorded interviews, artwork and poetry.
Organizing interviews of young survivors for this project was quite difficult as these children are appropriately continually surrounded by child rights activists and child protection officers whose priority must be the well being of the young people they are working with. My entry points were through the South African Police Services, the Johannesburg based Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, and individuals working in the field of child protection and healing. It took me a very long time to gain their trust, but once I had it, I was considered one of them.I believe that I have documented this issue with absolute integrity and sensitivity – always putting the rights of the survivor first in any encounter or documentation. Child sexual abuse crosses all socio-economic boundaries. Neither the individuals nor organisations that I worked with distinguished between rich and poor and nor did I. I photographed and interviewed people from all walks of life for this project.
All photos and interviews with children were made with the consent from the child’s guardian or caretaker and once I had received that I would explain to the child (if they were old enough to understand), that I was working on a project about the bad things that people do to children, that it also happened to me, and that I really hoped that one day when people saw these photos and read these interviews that they would want help to stop this happening to other children. I also always guaranteed that they would never be identifiable in photos or interviews.I was always very aware that I needed to give my subjects some control in the process as when a child (or adult for that matter) is molested or raped, they lose control over what is happening to them and their bodies and I wanted this project to give that back to them in some way.
One of the biggest challenges in this project was the photography. Emotions are expressed on a person's face and since I am committed to not showing the faces of children I needed to find alternatives to tell the story, sensitively, but without revealing the identities of the survivors or perpetrators.The subjects of my interviews include, among others, adults who were sexually abused as children, child survivors, police, lawyers, and sex offenders. I used no standardized set of questions for these interviews, but instead formulated interviews according to the individual, questions that would give me a better psychological and emotional understanding of their lives. I would always start off my interview by asking them to relate their story to me and as they talked I would jot down any questions that came to mind. Once they had finished their story I would ask more in-depth, personal questions.
My questions were relating more to the psychology behind the trauma or the attack. What where they thinking when they were going through the attack? How did it impact them throughout their life, emotionally and sexually, other?When I interviewed the perpetrators, they understood that My Piece of Sky would take a while to be complete and that they would not be identified in it, so it would not affect or influence any pending court cases. My interviews with them were really motivated by me wanting to understand their childhood,when they were first attracted to children, whether they were abused or not, how they chose their victims and how they went about abusing them.
Most of my interviews were done with adults, because children cannot really fully comprehend what it is that they have endured. It is only really as an adult that you understand what your violation means. Also, children do not have the vocabulary or the understanding to name and define their emotions. The survivors, family members, and other child protection officials who spoke to me, I believe, really opened up and were very honest about how their abuse, or the abuse of others has impacted their lives. Some of the perpetrators I also found to be very open about their crimes and about how they went about committing them, but at the same time I found them to be dishonest and manipulative in other areas of our discussion.
The equipment I used for this project included a Nikon professional camera, Leica M6, and a small old digital Olympus with a flip up screen. The Nikon was used mostly for arrests and night raids with the police. The Leica I used occasionally when working with children, but the camera I used the most was the small digital Olympus. The quality of the Olympus was nowhere near that of a professional camera,but I felt it best allowed me to tell the story without causing further pain and trauma to the children and families.
HOW CAN THE BOOK BE USED
Although I have used South Africa as a case study, the reality is that the sexual abuse of children is a global issue, and globally the incidence of child sexual abuse is soaring. My Piece of Sky is NOT a book exclusively for South Africans or South Africa. The interviews and photography in the book are not unique to South Africa alone, they are relevant internationally.
I do not believe that the child sexual abuse has been documented in this depth and this manner before. But even with this depth of exploration, even after eight years of collaboration with the child protection community on this journey, there is still so much to tell and so much to do. However, now it is time to make sure that these stories are heard and these images seen, so that they can they can make a difference in ending these horrific crimes against the most innocent members of our global communities.
In bringing forth this documentation the book will engage the following audiences:-
- Governments – to advocate for effective legislative protection-
- Survivors of abuse and their families – to provide community understanding-
- Organisations working in child protection – as a research and advocacy tool-
- Criminal and Justice Divisions - to train members of law enforcement-
- Departments of Social Services – to provide case studies
- Academic Centers w/ Psychology & Criminology Departments – to enhance research and academic understanding
Because the sexual abuse of children is still taboo, not spoken about openly and in a sense, invisible, I believe that the My Piece of Sky will give a voice to the millions of children around the world who have endured this ordeal and give people a better understanding of what exactly it means to be sexually abused as a child. It is my hope that the My Piece of Sky will raise awareness on the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, so that communities play a larger role in keeping their children safe, and in the hope that they put pressure on their respective governments for stricter laws and harsher sentences to ensure the protection of their children, once and for all.
Children are entitled to their childhood and their innocence.It is up to us as a society to protect them.
- (60 days)