Jason Lee

Abstract title: Screening Abuse – child sexual abuse in the contemporary fiction film

Keywords: child sexual abuse, film, allegations, narrative, psychopathology


This paper surveys how child sexual abuse (CSA) has been depicted in cinema, focusing primarily on American and European fiction films. Child sexual abuse often functions as a backstory to adult mental disintegration and psychopathology, working as a shorthand explanation for behaviour, as in Split (2016, M. Night Shyamalan) where the perpetrator and central victim have both suffered child sexual abuse. Some psychologists have attacked these portrayals as a misrepresentation of areas such as post-traumatic disorder (PTSD); while others have praised the way such films put these issues at the forefront of media discourse. Exploring some of the history of these CSA films, from the two film versions Lolita, to Chinatown, American Beauty, The Color Purple, Beloved, The Cider House Rules, The Exorcist, Natural Born Killers, The Woodsman, The Sweet Hereafter, to Kids, Magnolia, The War Zone, and in more recent films, such as The Hunt about false allegations, and You Were Never Really Here, this paper non-definitively analyses how mainstream cinema has tackled CSA, and how this reflects attitudes to CSA artistically, sociologically, psychologically, and historically.

Author: Jason Lee

Biog: Jason Lee (cjplee.com) is Professor of Film, Media and Culture at De Montfort University. He is the author/editor of 20 books, with work translated into 16 languages, most recently Nazism and Neo-Nazism in Film and Media (Amsterdam University Press, 2018) and The Psychology of Screenwriting (Bloomsbury, 2014). He is the editor of the new book series Transgressive Media Culture with Amsterdam University Press, with whom he is completing the book Child Sexual Abuse in Film and Media. His earlier work on child sexual abuse includes the 2005 monograph, Pervasive Perversions, pus the book Celebrity, Pedophilia and Ideology in American Culture. Lee is also a novelist and screenwriter, and is currently adapting his novella on child sexual abuse, Finders Keepers, for screen. He teaches screenwriting on the MA International Film Production based at DMU and Pinewood.