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Sunday Mornings with Rania: The Oscars, Spotlight and Preemptively Protecting Our Children

I get as excited about The Oscars as the people who are in it. It’s silly but it never fails. I watch dutifully year after year. In my typical analytical fashion, I think through each moment:

Did Chris Rock go too far in the racial commentary?

Could Cate Blanchett be any more beautiful?

Mad Max: Fury Road won how many awards?  

Would Leonard DiCaprio finally take home an Oscar?

Did Spotlight really just win Best Film of the year?

Spotlight. It’s a movie that I chose not to see in 2015. I can easily say I lacked the time but the reality is I lacked the stomach. I’m a Boston native, a graduate of Boston College, one of the most well-known Catholic Jesuit schools in the city, actually. The subject matter – the sexual assaulting of Boston city children by clergy – was just too much for me to take. I purposefully shied away from it.

Here’s the problem. My personal motto is that turning away from a criminal activity only empowers the abuser and further victimizes the victim. So, as uncomfortable as it was, I finally took the time to watch the movie. More importantly, I decided to do some research that might help kids and families.

About 10 seconds into my search, I was reminded of Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky, the retired Penn State University football coach who was charged with 52 counts of abuse in 2011.

How on earth does this happen?

Statistics help paint a picture: 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker, 34.2 percent of attackers are family members, 58.7 percent are acquaintances and only 7 percent are strangers to the victim.

Whether looking at the victims featured in Spotlight or the children who crossed paths with Jerry Sandusky, here’s what we know:


  • Usually come from broken homes (reminder: a broken home could still have two parents, siblings, a dog and a white picket fence!)
  • Are in need of a parental figure and/or may have no other adult figures to go to
  • Have some sort of weakness or insecurity that can be preyed upon
  • Can be manipulated easily, blackmailed, coerced
  • Lack models of healthy relationships


  • Have access to your children
  • Earned your trust
  • Are determined to groom your child and will do so over weeks, months and years
  • Find any way to create a secret with your child that is used against them once the abuse has started

Parents of victims:

  • Can be from every and any socio-economic class
  • Are also taken advantage of by the predator, trusting them with their child
  • Range from being really hands on to very much unconnected to their children

My hope is that none of you reading this will ever have to think about this issue. In fact, I’ve talked to many parents who refuse to talk about it, adding that they know, for certain, it’s never an issue they need to think about.

That’s every single parents’ wish. My sincerest suggestion, however, is to talk to your children in an age-appropriate manner about healthy relationships and what is and is not acceptable. Remind them that they should never be required to “comfort” an adult, even one they look up to and that there is never a reason to accept secret gifts. Beyond that, assure them that if someone, anyone, has coerced them or shamed them into keeping a secret they feel fearful to share, that there is a “100 percent family safe zone” where secrets can be shared with “full immunity.” The goal: get the information, keep your child safe and deal with the consequences after. See more information on this topic.

Parenting certainly is not for the faint of heart….

So, do you agree? Would you or have you talked to your children about this issue? Any good tips you can share?

Posted by Rania Mankarious on 6 Mar 2016

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston