At The Heart of Gold

MOSAC Key points for mothers and fathers related to the HBO film “At the Heart of Gold,”  

Premier Showing May 3, 2019 

  • Many mothers and fathers are not well-informed about sexual abuse. 

  • Most people have a great deal of difficulty understanding that adults in positions of trust can cause such harm to children. 

  • Sometimes it’s very difficult to see what is right in front of us. 

  • Finding out your child has been sexually abused is shocking and turns your world upside down. 

  • Abusers may groom and deceive mothers and fathers, using their status, apparent friendliness, interest in their children and promoting their success. This can lead parents to suspend usual vigilance and protectiveness. 

  • Perpetrators rationalize ways to intentionally separate children from their families and to undermine relationship of mothers and fathers with their child. 

  • As shown in “At the Heart of Gold,” the coaches and officials were consumed with “winning,” and did not believe the young girls who reported abuse 

  • The girls and their parents were told to trust all the authorities; when they reported abuse, they were belittled and blamed. The authorities consistently failed to look into the claims and failed to provide reasonable oversight of the coaches and of Larry. 

  • The mothers and fathers wanted their daughters to benefit from the opportunities competitive gymnastics offered. 

  • Mothers are frequently blamed for not knowing that abuse was happening and sometimes others assume they knew and didn’t do anything or didn’t care. 

  • The film shows how the parents were drawn in to the collusion and denial at a terrible price for their daughters and the well-being of their families. 

  • The perpetrator is always to blame. 

  • “At the Heart of Gold” shows how systems and their leaders actively collude with and even encourage perpetrators, allowing lasting harm to innocent girls and their families. 

  • Complicit systems must be held accountable for enabling abuse. 

  • “At the Heart of Gold” shows how parents whose children have been sexually abused struggle with many painful feelings including guilt, shame and self-blame. 

  • Mothers and fathers are secondary, traumatized victims of their child’s sexual abuse. 

  • Mothers and fathers do sometimes fail their children. As shown inAt the Heart of Gold,” the parents were led to believe their daughters’ coaches and Larry could do no wrong; they suspended their own better judgment because of the pressures and culture of competitive girls’ gymnastics led by domineering men and women. What red flags were raised were denied by “authorities” claiming greater knowledge. Tragically, these loving parents didn’t protect their daughters from repeated sexual abuse. 

  • Parents of sexually abused children must work through their painful feelings, recognizing the pain and suffering their children have undergone as a result of the abuse done to them.  

  • When parents fail to protect their children, the process of working through feelings is all the more difficult and even more necessary for mothers and for children. 

What parents can do: 

  • Learn as much as possible about sexual abuse. 

  • Be on the alert for red flags. Trust and act on red flag fears. Do not be seduced by “winning” and fame.  

  • When a child discloses that sexual abuse has happened, believe, support and protect your child. 

  • When child abuse happens, understand that your child will blame you even though you truly didn’t know. 

  • When you have failed to protect your child, understand how this has deeply hurt your child, and do everything you can to be there for your child now. 

  • Get help for yourselves by finding a knowledgeable, understanding and trustworthy counselor, and support from those who truly understand. Choose carefully. You will struggle with self-blame, guilt and shame. You need help to work these through and be as available as possible for your child, whether under 18 or an adult of any age. 

Dealing with your child’s sexual abuse will be one of the most difficult tasks you will encounter in your life. It is personally shattering and fractures families. Nevertheless, with good support and hard work, building your resilience and helping your child to do so as well, you can get through this crisis and move towards a better life. 

“At the Heart of Gold” powerfully depicts an institutional culture that encouraged and promoted sexual abuse of young female gymnasts. As Oprah Winfrey stated in “Oprah Winfrey Presents: Leaving Neverland,” child sexual abuse is a social scourge. As Rachel Denhollander asked in her compelling victim statement, “What is a little girl worth?” We must all ask ourselves, “What is the worth of a child?” and keep advocating to make sure our children are protected, and legal, social and religious institutions protect children rather than enabling sexual abuse. As courageous Rachel Denhollander declared, “children are worth everything.” As parents, adults and society, we must make sure that we act on this conviction. ( ; ) 

We encourage mothers, fathers and families to explore, a website specifically for mothers of sexually abused children. MOSAC is also on Facebook and Twitter and now offers a confidential chat room. Other resources offered by HBO provide additional support to fathers, survivors and communities.

RESOURCE LINKS ON MOSAC (in addition to those listed in HBO SUPPORT GUIDE):


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