By Merle Bertrand | January 17, 2002

It’s often been said, generally with a good-natured wink and a smile, that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. This is not always a good thing, as evil things happen alone in the dark as well as good things. Just ask the more than 50 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in North America. This is just one of the many distressing statistics that permeate “Close to Home”; a chilling documentary from directors Vanessa Roth and Alexandra Dickson that attempts to throw those doors wide open.
As harrowing as all these statistics are, however, the cold hard facts printed on screen can’t even begin to match the emotional impact of seeing and hearing the six stories of sexual abuse told here, nor the matter of fact, generally remorseless interviews with those who commit such heinous crimes.
The survivors run the gamut. Merrilea was molested from the ages of four to eight by her biological father. Now fourteen and living with adoptive parents, the graphic videotaped sessions taped shortly after her disclosure provide the film’s most nauseatingly powerful moments.
Jason Jasnos sought out a neighbor as a young teenager to replace his absent father, only to have the man’s support come with the price of molestation for three years…resulting in the additional dark secret of an HIV infection.
Stephanie Brown grew up in a strictly religious household and never felt like she could tell her family she was being molested as a nine-year old. Now twenty-eight, she still hasn’t confronted her abuser.
Alexandra, Veronica and possibly Amelia Gomez were molested by a close friend of their grandparents; a man who often served as their babysitter…while hiding a previous conviction for sexual abuse. With their attacker again in custody, we watch as the young girls prepare for the intimidating and emotionally difficult task of testifying at their attacker’s trial.
Teresa Clay was assaulted by her stepfather from the ages of three to thirteen. When the police forced Teresa to accuse the man, her mother turned her back on her daughter and the young victim spent the next eight years in foster care.
Finally, Sheldon Kennedy is a former NHL star who blew the whistle on his well-respected former coach Graham James…resulting in a flood of similar accusations from dozens of James’ former players. After months of hoopla and a conviction for more than 350 counts of sexual assault, the popular coach received a whopping three and a half-year prison sentence.
Six different cases crossing different genders, different ages, and different circumstances. Yet, all share the same undercurrent of rage, guilt, grief…and ultimately empowerment.
If reading about these cases doesn’t make you angry, I guarantee that seeing this difficult film will. Especially the segments with the unrepentent predators, who freely admit that, if freed, they’d molest children again.
“Close to Home” is not an easy film to sit through, which is precisely why parents everywhere should do just that. Part warning, part testimonial, partly a way to open a conversation on a difficult subject most people would rather lock away behind closed doors, “Close to Home” is a painfully provocative and powerful film.

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