A Movie Everyone Needs to See

Jennifer Fox’s movie, The Tale, is an emotionally wrenching and challenging journey into the difficult world of child sexual abuse. It’s a haunting exploration of Jennifer’s own abuse at the hands of her running coach, and its impact on her adult life. Laura Dern gives an emotional performance as Jennifer, who is forced to confront her childhood memories and decisions. Jennifer is a globally known documentarian of powerful women’s stories, and in this movie she explores her own childhood asking difficult questions and seeking out others who were present when the abuse occurred. The Tale is a brave movie of resilience but it provides no easy answers. I had the privilege of participating in a panel last night with Jennifer to discuss the movie in a session hosted by HBO, the Internet and Television Association, RAINN and Darkness to Light in Washington, DC.

The film offers viewers a chance to understand the challenging reality of this silent epidemic. The Tale is both brutal and surprisingly lyrical at times, providing a bird’s eye view into Jennifer’s own difficult experience. Her story is not uncommon – Jennifer and her family were groomed by her running coach, and after her abuse ended, the coach moved on to additional girls over multiple decades. As an adult, Jennifer can see her coach as a serial perpetrator, but as a child she lacked the ability to understand his behavior as both criminal and abusive.

Like many survivors of child sexual abuse, Jennifer’s abuse was not discovered when she was a child. She wrote about her relationship with her coach in her English class – but nothing was done to investigate her situation. Teachers are an essential part of preventing child sexual abuse – and every teacher must be trained to recognize the signs of abuse, and how to respond appropriately.

Today, sexual abuse happens in every community and every demographic. One-in-ten children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and ninety percent of this abuse happens at the hands of someone known to the child – a coach, a teacher, an older sibling, a member of the extended family and friends. The Tale shows how children can be confused by the grooming behaviors of their abusers, and how perpetrators silence their victims with secrets and shame.

Child sexual abuse is a national epidemic shrouded in stigma, and the lasting physical, emotional and social costs to the victim and their families and communities are enormous. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse are at increased risk for addiction and substance misuse, and often struggle to create positive and lasting relationships. Some also suffer differing forms of stress-related illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder into adulthood.

The Tale recreates Jennifer’s experience of child sexual abuse, and her attempt to confront it now as an adult. And it casts an important light on the ways that abuse can impact survivors and their family members as well. Jennifer’s mother, portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, is forced to accept the reality of her daughter’s abuse, and is a tower of conflicting emotions ranging from anger, to shame, to concern, and ultimately love, for her daughter. She initially expresses guilt for failing to protect Jennifer, which quickly transitions into rage that the coach was never held accountable for his crimes.

The Tale is the story of how Jennifer and her mother explored her memories, and her history, and it offers an important entry point into a difficult discussion about child sexual abuse.  HBO is now working with Jennifer and her team at The Tale to bring the movie to audiences with the singular purpose of sparking a national dialogue about how we keep children safe.  Working with Darkness to Light (an organization where I was the CEO for 2 years), they are releasing a viewer’s guide to help facilitate conversations about how to recognize the signs of abuse and how to prevent abuse. To learn more, please visit