Nonprofit invites acclaimed speaker to tell his story of abuse and recovery
by Nathan Boddy
Sasha Joseph Neulinger closed his presentation on Thursday night at the Hamilton PAC (Performing Arts Center) with a profound statement. “If it’s uncomfortable for us, as adults, to talk about child sexual abuse, imagine what it is like for children who experience it.”
That statement could fairly have been used to explain the motivation behind his keynote speech, his award winning film, ‘Rewind,’ and behind the important work done by Emma’s House Child Advocacy Center here in the Bitterroot Valley.
Neulinger is himself a survivor of child sexual abuse. Beginning at the age of 4, he was repeatedly violated by members of his extended family. The story is heart wrenching, and unfortunately, not uncommon. And while Neulinger bravely saw the ultimate conviction of his accusers, the trauma persisted even as he began his advanced studies in film at Montana State University. Despite academic and professional successes, he was plagued by an inner, self-deprecating voice.
“I didn’t believe I deserved that positivity,” he explained, adding that whichever positive step his life seemed to be taking, “the louder that self deprecating voice became.”
Neulinger realized that he was at a crossroads, and that he would suffer an ongoing inner demon for the rest of his life, or he could fully confront his past and the unresolved trauma from his childhood. Using his skills in documentary film making, and a vast trove of family home videos that his dad had recorded during Neulinger’s childhood, he began a journey of self exploration that resulted in the incredibly powerful film, ‘Rewind,’ which has been nominated for three Emmy Awards.
While Neulinger’s childhood story is crushing and horrific, it is by no means the end of his story. The creation of the documentary, which he refers to as a highly cathartic journey, also spawned the founding of Voice for the Kids, an organization dedicated to the notion that survival is only the first step, and that, according to their website, “with proper support in confronting trauma, children can discover for themselves that their trauma is not what defines them.” To this end, Neulinger’s efforts and Voice for the Kids have raised over $8 million for organizations which fight child sexual abuse.
Amy Rau, Clinical Supervisor at Emma’s House was present on Thursday, and expressed how lucky the Bitterroot Valley community was to have Neulinger in person to show his film and give his Keynote speech. “He has a tremendous amount of courage to share his documentary and story of sexual abuse with the world,” she said, adding that Neulinger is, “an amazing inspiration.”
Rau also pointed out that April is child abuse prevention month, and that even in our small community, Emma’s House serves around 120 children a year. “90% of those kids have been sexually abused,” she added. “We’re hoping to increase awareness.”
As clearly shown by the film, increasing awareness applies not only to the existence of child sexual abuse, but to their future as well. Neulinger said that, for years after his abuse he believed that if anyone knew he had been a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that they would think he was dirty, disgusting and horrible. He could not admit to himself that he had been a beautiful child who was experiencing trauma, rather than a personification of the trauma itself. That persistence and nagging inner voice made it difficult for him to find self love and acceptance as an adult.
Sasha Joseph Neulinger has survived not only once, but twice, as his documentary shows. It is a clear example of the critical importance of listening, supporting and advocating for survivors of sexual abuse. Neulinger said he looks forward to visiting Hamilton again in the fall for Emma’s House’s annual fundraising event, CIRQUE!
The film, ‘Rewind’ can be viewed on multiple streaming platforms, including HULU, Prime Video, Google Play and iTunes.
Critically acclaimed film shown for National Child Abuse Prevention Month
by Sean Malcom
Hamilton-based Children’s Advocacy Center, Emma’s House, sponsored a screening of Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s autobiographical documentary titled “Rewind” at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center on April 27. Following the film, Neulinger shared a keynote presentation “Rediscovering the Beauty Within.” The presentation navigates through the years following his traumatic childhood and how he was able to reclaim his life.
“Rewind”, Neulinger’s directorial debut, received multiple award nominations when originally released at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. The film chronicles, through interviews and home video footage, the sexual abuse both Neulinger and his sister Rebekah endured during their childhood at the hands of multiple family members. The film concludes with the abusers being indicted and sentenced for their crimes with the help of a harrowing testimony provided by a then 16-year-old Neulinger.
Neulinger uses seemingly innocent home video recordings to help tell his story. He reviewed hundreds of hours of footage covering his birth until he left for college to shed light on the abuse he was experiencing and its effects on his young mind.
Amy Rau, who serves as a social worker and counselor at Emma’s House in Hamilton, said she originally viewed the documentary at a child abuse prevention conference in San Diego, California last year. “This documentary just moved us so much that we just felt compelled to chase him down and get him down here,” she said. Rau added that it was important that the message of empowerment and healing that Neulinger’s film provides reach as many victims, advocates and allies as possible.
“What I so desperately want,” Neulinger said, “is that any child who has experienced trauma, to not be defined by that trauma, and to not be defined by that trauma, they have to have the opportunity to confront that trauma.”
Neulinger praised what children’s advocacy centers, like Emma’s House, are able to provide to children who are victims of violent and sexual abuse. “It’s an incredible resource,” and “If these children have the courage to come forward,” he said, “and share their most vulnerable truths, then we owe it to them to not only listen but to do everything in our power to support them in their journey to reclaim their lives and not be defined by their trauma.”
Neulinger reiterated that while child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, it needs to be brought to the forefront. “This awfulness that exists in the world can’t function when we shine this bright light on it.”
Neulinger will return to Hamilton on Saturday, September 23 to deliver another keynote address at Emma’s House’s annual fundraiser. Tickets for this year’s event, “CIRQUE 2023: A Million Dreams for the World We’re Gonna Make” go on sale on May 15. Money raised from the event allows Emma’s House to reach and help more victims of child abuse.
For information and resources regarding child abuse, visit emmashousecac.org or call Emma’s House at (406) 363-7216.