A Lifetime of Healing
Eugene playwright deals with issues of childhood sexual abuse
BY SUZI STEFFEN
When psychologist Marty Cohen retired after working with troubled youth, many of whom had been sexually abused, he knew their pain had taken a toll.
|The cast of So Far From Shore|
So he wrote out the suffering.
After years in which he worked with children who had been abused (some as young as 4 months old), Cohen earned a master’s degree in creative writing from OSU. “Professionals try to keep a professional distance from clients,” he says, “but as a human being, you do absorb a lot of the pain.”
Writing the play So Far From Shore “was very cathartic,” he says. The play, which opens at the Wildish Theatre in Springfield Jan. 18, tells the story of a successful young film director who’s starting to relive his experiences of abuse from a couple of foster care situations. The trauma he suffered makes him an abusive director — but his psychiatrist helps him move toward healing from his injuries.
So Far From Shore had its first public performance in a reading at the Very Little Theatre in 2007, and soon thereafter Cohen secured sponsors and supporters for a full-scale staging of the play at the Wildish Theatre in Springfield.
Because he has been at most of the rehearsals, some of his own feelings around hearing about so much abuse have resurfaced. He’s dedicated to opening up a conversation around sexual abuse, however, and he says, “There’s what is called ‘a convenient silence’ around the issue, and I want to break through it.”
The National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse found, in an overview of many studies, that about 27 percent of women and about 16 percent of men in the U.S. experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child; estimates range much higher from other sources, including an estimate of up to 31 percent of men in the U.S. That’s a lot of people. and it’s almost certain that some in the audience will have experienced abuse.
Cohen knows that the subject matter may trigger memories or emotions in the audience. Eugene’s Sexual Assault and Support Services (SASS) will have two support staff at each play. They’ll be available for immediate help, says Wendy Maurer, the youth education coordinator of SASS, and they’ll also refer folks for further help if that’s needed. Cohen has also worked with various local support groups to provide free workshops during the first week in February for parents on how to watch for signs of sexual abuse in their children.
Why write a play about such a painful subject? “Well, I know it’s very difficult, but there’s also a good deal of comedy and laughter in it,” Cohen says. “The audience will leave the theater with the idea that the [young man] has made a long journey and is near healing.”
And besides, he wants to end that silence. “Predators will not stop; they will always be there,” he says. Identifying the first signs of sexual abuse in children, he says, is important for the community, so that children “don’t have to suffer for weeks and months and years.”
He adds, “If one young person attends the performance and is motivated to pick up the phone and ask for help, I think I’ve accomplished quite a bit.”
Seeing a play or reading about sexual abuse can be a memory trigger forsurvivors of abuse. Several Eugene and Springfield-area groups provide assistance:
Center for Family Development 1258 High St., Eugene – 342-8437
Looking Glass 72-B Centennial Loop – 686-2688. 24-hour information and crisis line: 689-3111
Options Counseling Sevices 1255 Pearl St. – 687-6983
SASS (SEXUAL ASSAULT SUPPORT SERVICES) 24-hour crisis intervention and in-person advocacy, support groups, youth and community educational presentations, and culturally specific outreach to the Latino and LGBTIQ communities. 591 W. 19th Ave., Eugene. 24/7 crisis/support lines: 343-SASS (7277) – Toll Free: (800) 788-4727
SCAR/Jasper Mountain The Jasper Mountain Center – 37875 Jasper-Lowell Rd. Jasper – 747-1235
SAFE CENTER (541) 741-7402
SCAR Office – 1030 G. St. Springfield – 746-3376
White Bird Clinic 341 East 12th Ave., Eugene -342-8255. Crisis: 687-4000 – Toll Free: (800) 422-7558