For anyone who has ever loved a child, the thought of someone hurting  them or taking advantage of them is unbearable. Yet it happens every day and in some pretty horrific and unexpected ways. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world it is challenging to oversee everything that goes on in a child’s life. But now more than ever, it is vital that parents, family members and loved ones do so. As part of a weekend-long joint initiative with several other community organizations, Groundswell Pictures is set to premier the film Not Just Pictures, a gripping documentary that addresses something most people avoid thinking about much less talking about — child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse — on Aug. 28. The movie asks the question: Are your kids safe just because they are in the house with you? The answer is not necessarily.

While technology has made life better in many ways, the slimy underbelly of it is fraught with danger and downright evil. Thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever to produce, reproduce and disseminate CSA images, which means there are more of these images out there than ever before and they are, tragically, fairly easy to come by. Disseminating these images is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and one of the fastest growing online businesses. In the past 10 years, more than 120 million CSA images have been bought and sold. Ninety million of them were of prepubescent children with 12 million of them of infants and toddlers. Each year the images become more brutal and more graphic. 

This film has been in the works for more than two years. Filmmakers Jan Johnson and Pat Wright have more than 50 years of combined experience making films. From TV commercials to feature length documentaries, this award-winning pair has won more than 80 international and national awards.  They have covered topics that include recovery efforts in Haiti, the effects of desegregation, the Hollywood blacklist and more. The pair decided to tackle this issue when they asked their friend and child advocate Dr. Sharon Cooper, and the executive producer of the film, what they could do to make a difference. 

“Without any hesitation she said child pornography and exploitation are issues that need to be dealt with,” said Wright. “Since then, we have been crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada talking with experts. We even attended the Interpol Conference in Bermuda.”

Many people who make and collect child pornography consider it a victimless crime — just pictures. But to the children whose lives are broken by these predators, every instance of possession and/or distribution is a big deal because every time the images change hands,  the children are victimized yet again as predators seek to make child sexual exploitation a normal thing. The victims usually know that their images are online and are powerless to remove them. So every time someone recognizes them, they relive the crime — even as adults. Every time they see someone looking at a cell phone, computer or iPad, they pray the person using the device is not looking at the CSA image of them.

It is an intimidating and terrifying topic, but there are things that parents and guardians can do to educate and protect children at risk and to find and rescue those suffering at the hands of pedophiles and child pornographers as authorities on the front lines of this battle work to find and incarcerate offenders. Not Just Pictures faces this issue head on offering interviews with experts in the field, survivors and parents of survivors and victims of Internet child exploitation. A few of the topics covered in the movie include sex trafficking, sextortion, sexting and sex tourism. 

“What we want to do is, as the name of our nonprofit says, we want to create a groundswell of change on this issue,” said Wright. “We want people to talk about and think about it and act. There are things you can do to protect your kids, but when people are too afraid to even talk about it, it thrives in secrecy. We’ve got to raise the alarm and shine the light on it.”

The world premier of Not Just Pictures opens on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at Fayetteville State University’s Seabrook Auditorium. A question and answer session is planned after the showing. Find out more at www.groundswellpictures.com. 

To truly get an understanding of what sexual abuse does to children, the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County presents Illuminations: Artwork Creating Change. This guided exhibit features artwork and journal entries created by two brothers. The boys were abused by the same person. Their works will help people understand what this crime does to children, why they react the way they do and the impact it has on their families. The exhibit is not appropriate for children under 12. Exhibit hours are Aug. 28 at 4th Friday from 5-9 p.m.; Aug. 29 from noon to 4 p.m. with a special workshop at 1 p.m.; and Aug. 30 – Sept. 12 with scheduled daily tours. Call 323-1776 for more information.

Skyview on Hay will host a free Internet safety expo on Aug. 28 during 4th Friday from 5-9 p.m. and on Saturday, Aug. 29 from noon to 4 p.m. The expo offers free tips and ideas from national, state and local groups. Don’t wait to teach your children how to stay safe online. The expo if free.

At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29, world-renowned child advocate and public speaker Cordella Anderson will be at SkyView on Hay to discuss how parents and guardians can equip children to be safe online. This event is also free. 

“Technology is leaping ahead — look at kids 7-14 these days with hand-held devices and computers in their rooms. They are online and their parents have no idea the what apps the kids are using and they can’t keep them safe,” said Wright. “We put our children on the Internet without teaching them the basics of Internet safety. We need to rethink things and learn how to protect them better.”  

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