Child sexual abuse program to combine play, expert discussion
The University of Louisville and its Signature Partnership will present a program on child sexual abuse Saturday, Oct. 16, 10 a.m., at Lyman T. Johnson Traditional Middle School, 2509 Wilson Ave.
This unique program includes a play, "Family Tracks," and a discussion that experts from UofL Pediatric Forensic Medicine and several community agencies that serve women and families will lead.
"Family Tracks" is the first act of a full-length play about a woman's struggles as a survivor of child sexual abuse. Gloria Pressley-McGruder, EdD, wrote it with support from a Kentucky Foundation for Women artist enrichment award. Pressley-McGruder is the assistant program director of the UofL Area Health Education Centers, which provides clinical rotation sites for medical, dental and allied health students at eight locations around the state.
Although she describes herself as a "playwright wannabe" she already has achieved play-writing success. Her first play was included in the ninth annual Juneteenth Jamboree of New Plays at Actor's Theatre in Louisville. In February 2011, another of her plays will be presented at Berea Arena Theatre.
UofL Today spoke to Pressley-McGruder about her play and this unique approach to educating the public about a difficult subject.
UofL Today: What is "Family Tracks" about?
Pressley-McGruder: A family realizes that their daughter is behaving — dancing — inappropriately. They don't know where it's coming from. They are frightened because others have noticed it, also. No one accuses them of abuse but her dancing raises questions. The parents are afraid to seek help, knowing that sometimes when people reach out for help they lose their children.
UofL Today: Why did you write the play?
Pressley-McGruder: I have some family history. The parents were based on my own parents. They are young like my own, struggling with four kids. Abuse is part of my father's background. It scarred him.
UofL Today: Where did the idea for this play come from?
Pressley-McGruder: The idea came from an encounter I had earlier in my career. I was out of town and needed to meet with a man who had to be at home when his legal ward returned from school.
The child walked in and started dancing to get attention. Her dancing was too provocative so I just knew that she had been sexually abused. She was only 8 years old and had been taken from her home. I assumed he was working with social services and that he was told to ignore her when she danced. He never acknowledged her dancing and I didn't either.
That experience really shook me up. I had to pull over to the side of road after I drove away. That stayed with me. I knew that unless she got counseling, she would think that she needed to do these kinds of things to get attention. For a child, it's about the attention, not sex.
UofL Today: You wrote the first act of this play with an educational conference in mind. Why?
Pressley-McGruder: I knew from the moment I wrote it that I wanted to be a part of a larger discussion, to help parents learn to help recognize the behaviors of a child who has been sexually abused. I am committed to using art as a tool for social change. In today's society, you must embrace many tools.
I had an educational program in mind but faculty collaborators felt a research component was needed to ensure the materials and methods that result from this program will be grounded in science. So, information will be collected from the audience to evaluate this method of teaching about child sexual abuse. The play and panel discussion will be videotaped and used to teach parents, physicians and other health care providers about child sexual abuse.
UofL Today: Who else is involved with this project?
Pressley-McGruder: The Oct. 16 event at Lyman T. Johnson Middle School is sponsored by grants from the Office of Community Engagement and the UofL Department of Pediatrics and done in collaboration with numerous community agencies that support women, children and families in Louisville.
Several UofL people are involved. The play is directed by Laura Early, who teaches theater at the University of Louisville. Three of the five actors are UofL students.
Deborah Winders Davis, PhD, with UofL Pediatrics, is leading the project in collaboration with me. We're working closely with two other pediatrics faculty, V. Faye Jones, MD, PhD, and Melissa Currie, MD. Bruce Gale, MS, with the Urban Studies Institute, and Deborah Potter, PhD, with the Department of Sociology, have also been important partners in this project.
UofL Today: About the play on Oct. 16 — is it open to the public?
Pressley-McGruder: Yes the play is free. Parents, professionals and concerned community members are invited. This play is for adults, not children, so free child care is provided.