Novelist Sapphire on Child Abuse: “We Need to Come Out of Denial”

Novelist Sapphire on Child Abuse: “We Need to Come Out of Denial”

In her new book released earlier this year entitled "The Kid," Sapphire continues to explore the topic of child abuse through the lens of the character Abdul, or Precious’ son.

Published April 25, 2012

Take a second and count to 10: Another child has been abused. Every year in the United States, more than three million reports of child abuse and neglect are made, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Child abuse is often linked to young female victims, but one person hoping to break that statistic is author Sapphire.


The writer's book Push, which was made into the popular and critically acclaimed movie Precious, highlights the life of an overweight, abused and illiterate teen pregnant with her second child, by her father. The New York City native is known for bringing delicate topics such as child abuse to life through literature, and while touring for Push, she would often hear males share their unrevealed experiences.


“They would whisper in my ear, ’You know, it doesn’t just happen to girls,’” Sapphire, 61, tells "There is still a stigma; the stigma is still often on the one who has been abused. They are often loathe to tell anyone they have had that happen to them, especially men, because there is still the connotation that if a man has been raped, he’s a homosexual.”


In her new book released earlier this year, The Kid, Sapphire continues to explore the topic of child abuse through the lens of Precious’s son, Abdul.


“In this book, we are really looking at the domino effect of child sexual abuse. Precious in the very beginning of this book dies from complications with AIDS and there is no extended family, so her son, Abdul, goes into foster care,” Sapphire says. “We look at what happens in foster care. Then he goes to a Catholic orphanage, and he meets the stereotypical abusive priest. We then see what happens after years of this type of abuse — he becomes an abuser.”


In honor of National Child Abuse Awareness month, which happens every April, Sapphire shared a passage from her book at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NPSPCC) Inaugural Spring Luncheon. She says as often as child abuse occurs, Americans need to talk more about it.


According to the most recent data from the American Humane Association, in 2009, approximately 3.3 million child abuse reports and allegations were made involving an estimated six million children. Approximately 80 percent of children who die from abuse are under the age of 4, and adolescents who were victims of sexual assault are three to five times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, be abused again, be dependent on drugs and alcohol, or commit delinquent acts compared with adolescents who were not victimized.


“It’s not just the government’s responsibility, or an agency’s responsibility, but every person is responsible to keep our children safe,” Dr. Mary Pulido, executive director of the NYSPCC, tells


Some tell-tale signs Pulido says to look for if you suspect a child is being abused:


−There are bruises that don’t look like they’re from playground scrapes, or a fall, on a child


− An infant has any signs of bruising


−A child has cigarette burns or cuts in uncommon places such as on its cheek


−A child has a black eye


“We need to come out of denial and become aware of what’s going on,” Sapphire says. “Every mother’s eyes in the country should have been glued to the Penn State incident and figuring out how it happened, how to prevent it and questions to ask.”


Each state has a hotline to report possible child abuse and neglect cases. For more information, visit here.


"The important thing is to make the call," Pulido says. "You can save a child's life." 



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(Photo: Johnny Louis/

Written by Danielle Wright


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