The other day I found myself worrying about Honey Boo Boo. I wasn't a fan of the show; in fact, I've only seen two episodes. That was all I could handle. I found it tasteless, silly, and I felt like the very nature of the show was set up to make fun of this little girl and her family. None of that was appealing to me, though it was an enormously popular show. However, I've always been intrigued by pop culture, and when this little girl who does pageants became a pop phenomenon, I was curious. I watched the two episodes, and that was more than enough.
Then I started reading the covers of celebrity newspapers (the ones you see when you're in the check out line) and hearing bits on TV, that Honey's mother, "Mama June," was dating a man who had sexually molested her older daughter, "Chicadee," in 2002, when Chicadee was eight. For weeks there were updates and intense scrutiny of the family. TLC, the network that featured Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, cancelled the show... and it all just went away. There was nothing in the news- none of the salacious updates that had been so prominent for weeks; the subject of Honey Boo Boo just stopped being a media focus.
Again, none of this interested me that much; I didn't watch the show. But over time, I realized that what did matter to me was that this little girl has been exploited by the media and possibly her own family, and now that she was potentially at risk, that same audience didn't want a part in it. When her family was stuffing "cheese balls" and soda in their mouths, and talking and behaving like "hillbillies," when folks could watch this little girl painted and dressed like a caricature and judged in pageants, it was all entertaining. These antics were making millions of dollars for TLC, and Honey Boo Boo's family were living the celebrity life that so many reality stars seek: attention, attention, and more attention... and lots of money for it.
Yet, when it was revealed that Mama June's lover was the same man that served 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting June's then 8-year old daughter, Chicadee, TLC canceled the show, and told the tabloid TV show TMZ: "Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority." Forgive me if I'm cynical about that, but how is the network doing supporting those remarkable children? The way I see it, the same network that was willing to exploit any and all antics of this family, promptly dropped the show when things got dicy.
I'm a former Social Worker who worked with sexually abused girls, and I currently work on Brigid Collins that has set a goal of ending all sexual abuse in our county. If that sounds like a monumental goal it's because it is. However, in the time I've worked with the organization I've come to believe that this is actually possible. It's all about awareness. It's all about educating communities to know what to watch for -- how to protect our kids from abuse and predators by educating ourselves, and being vigilant. Having just spent an entire weekend at a Board retreat, to discuss ways to achieve these goals, it is particularly jarring to me that Alana -- Honey Boo Boo -- Thompson, a 9 year old child would be left in a situation where a known molester is present, when frankly, it might have been the most meaningful time for the cameras to be present.
Somehow it's ok to film that child being dressed up in make-up and sequins and prancing provocatively down a runway, for our entertainment. It's ok to film her eating unhealthy foods, and behaving outrageously for our amusement. But when that little girl could potentially be in a risky situation, with an known sexual abuser, the network found that inappropriate to film.
If TLC and Honey Boo Boo's family wanted to do a reality show, it could have been an infinitely meaningful dose of reality to talk about preventing sexual abuse, what to look for, and keeping our children safe -- keeping Honey Boo Boo safe. There's nothing to suggest that she has in any way been at risk with her mother's relationship, but it's disturbing to me that this child was sold in all kinds of ways, but when the potential for real harm was present, the cameras were pulled and the show was cancelled. Suddenly everyone was talking about what a train wreck the situation was, but there seemed to be no meaningful dialogue about what to do to protect that child.
I spend a lot of time thinking about, and talking about, how to end sexual abuse for children, with a group of people who work in the field and passionately seek to make our world safer for children. We all want that. However, when we find the topic so unsavory, so uncomfortable, that a network removes a popular show from programming because a sexual predator is present I wonder how we can really protect our kids. Citizens are strongly opposed to a known predator moving into their neighborhood, but as in the case of Honey Boo Boo's sister, the vast majority (studies show 80 percent) of sexual abuse cases involve someone known to the victim, not a stranger. A shocking number of prison inmates were sexually assaulted when they were children -- that may not elicit compassion for those criminals, but it bears consideration that the most of the people who molest others, were molested as well -- making them victims, as well as perpetrators. That's something worth looking at when we talk about both rehabilitation and prevention.
I didn't watch the Honey Boo Boo show. It hasn't been on for months now; viewers, for the most part, have moved on. I don't know why I found myself thinking about her the other day, and worrying about her safety. In a time when we can Google virtually anything, I have found nothing on line that suggests she is currently in crisis. But she was left in a situation with clear warning signs, just like so many other kids in our country. We tend to look closer when the damage is already done. In canceling the program "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" right when things got uncomfortable, it seems to me that we all missed a real "teachable moment," and left a little girl to the wolves. We shouldn't have moved on; we should have asked, is this child safe? If we're going to start protecting all of our children, we all should be worried about what happened to Honey Boo Boo.
To learn more about sexual abuse, check out these sources: International Sexual Assault Resources, Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Resources, Justice Study, Stewards of Children Darkness In To Light (Childhood Sexual abuse prevention training-available around the country), Myths and Facts