NEW YORK -- 'Unspeakable Acts' details a horrifying true case of child abuse at a daycare facility, often using the pre-schoolers' own words to describe what occurred.
Linda Otto, who directed the film, digs into her own past and believes these 'unspeakable' crimes must be talked about, dramatized, publicized -- so that society will accept that they happen and so that parents will know what do when their children become victims.
The result is strong, compassionate and caring drama about little children subjected to shocking evil, to air on ABC Monday, Jan. 15, 9-11 p.m. Eastern time.
The television show is shocking because no one wants to believe that adults find pre-school children sexually attractive and use their strength and authority to force them into sexual acts.
But 'Unspeakable Acts' is not exploitive -- it uses only what is needed from Jan Hollingsworth's much more explicit book, as well as from court transcripts and interviews.
The case on which it is based took place in a peaceful suburb of Miami, where parents who sent their children to Country Walk, a daycare facility run by Frank and Iliana Fuster in their home, learned from their children's nightmares, unexplained rashes and strange behavior that something was very wrong.
Psychologists Laurie and Joseph Braga eventually were called into the case -- played here by Jill Clayburgh and Brad Davis -- and they were able to draw the story from the small victims. The explicit descriptions of abuse in the children's interviews and testimony in the film were based on the words of the children involved in the actual case.
The Country Walk case against the Fusters was the first successful prosecution of a day-care operator on multiple child-abuse charges. There are lessons in it for prosecutors and parents alike on how to proceed.
Otto had personal reasons for wanting to make 'Unspeakable Acts.'
'I have basically devoted the last 15 years to child advocacy. I'm deeply involved in the issue and I do tend to find these stories,' Otto said in an interview. Otto, producer of such TV movies as 'Adam' about missing children and 'The Ryan White Story' about a boy with AIDS, continued:
'I grew up on New York's Upper West Side, a princess, went to a private school, had the best of everthing.
'When I was 10 or 11 I was sexually assaulted by my best friend's father. He didn't rape me but I was assaulted. I didn't think that happened to children like me; I didn't know people did what he did. We were alone in the house -- he had come over to pick up his daughter's homework. And basically he got away with it.'
It was not that she didn't tell.
'I am now just like I was then only shorter,' she said. 'But people couldn't grasp what I was saying and he got away with it.
'The only person who understood was my best friend, because he had total access to his daughters.
'I made a little girl's vow then that I was do something about it.'
She went into the filmmaking business but always felt the need to work with child advocacy and in 1960 she finally was able to bring the two together for the first time in a documentary on teenagers and suicide, the first of a series of child-oriented documentaries and docudramas.
Joan Barnett, a friend and colleague, brought her the book 'Unspeakable Acts' and wound up as its producer.
'The great thing about this case, unlike the other well-publicized cases, is that it has the right ending. It's a call to action, my way of finding some resolution for myself and helping other people,' Otto said.
'If you have kids or grandkids or nieces or nephews and they are out of your sight for most of the day, then something like this can happen. You know what to do to try to prevent it, but you also need to know what to do after it happens. The parents in this case were smart middle- and upper-middle class people but it happened anyway.
'What was ground-breaking in this case was that small children had access to the justice system. It was the first case of its kind that was prosecuted successfully on the evidence of small children. They were looked on as competent witnesses who were able to disclose information according to their developmental age.'
Otto pointed out that the children were allowed to testify via closed circuit television, and their testimony was accepted even though they could not always say what time it was when something happened or what date.
'Those are lawyers questions. It happened and it was enough for them to say it happened, this person did it and this how he did it,' she said. 'The children's testimony could not be impeached. The judge showed consideration and respect for the children, which is what is missing from our system. It's why people commit crimes against children -- because they can.
'The guy who did it to me got away with it, and with his own children and who knows how many of his children's friends. It should not be allowed to happen.'NEWLN: adv weekend jan 13,14
Hiking Michigan's excise tax on cigarettes from 25 cents a pack to 70 percent of a pack's wholesale price is just one of a series of recommendations to be unveiled this week by a state anti-smoking task force.
The 1989 Michigan Tobacco Reduction Task Force will release its report -- Tobacco-Free Michigan 2000 -- endorsing the substantial increase in the excise tax on tobacco products along with stringent new restrictions on tobacco sales and advertising.
The goal of the task force, according to its chairman, is to significantly reduce tobacco use in Michigan by the year 2000.
'Our charge was really what should the state do if it is going to reduce tobacco to the kind of levels we'd like,' said Dr. Erwin Bettinghaus, the task force chairman. 'We're well aware that many of these recommendations are going to be politically controversial.
'But we feel the tax ought to be raised. Because when you raise the tax, the consumption goes down. The state may not even collect more dollars from the tax because consumption will be dropping.'
The report also recommends expanding the state's Clean Indoor Air Act, banning distribution of free samples, eliminating sales from vending machines and restricting the location of tobacco advertising.
Reaction to the report from business groups and tobacco industry officials was swift and critical, with some calling the report 'slanted and one-sided.'
'Philisophically speaking, we live in a democracy,' said Patrick Laughlin, a lobbyist with Governmental Consultants which represents the national Tobacco Institute. 'I think some of the recommendations, rather than attempt to educate, attempt to frighten and to punish.'
'Where did they develop this report?' asked Richard Studley, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, in responding to the call for a 70 percent excise tax. 'Have they been working alone in a cave since Nov. 7th last year?
'I would suggest the members of this task force read Jim Blanchard's lips.'
In Gov. James J. Blanchard's State of the State address, delivered last week, he vowed to oppose new taxes in 1990. Voters announced their clear opposition to tax hikes last November when they rejected two efforts to raise the state's sales tax to generate new funds for K-12 education.
Compared with other states, Michigan ranks in the middle of the pack with an excise tax of 25 cents for a 20-cigarette pack and 28 cents for a 25-cigarette pack. Connecticut has the highest rate of 40 cents per pack and North Carolina has the lowest rate of 2 cents per pack.
Walter Maner, executive director of the Michigan Distributors and Vendors Association, which distributes wholesale tobacco products, said the average price per pack in Michigan at the end of 1988 was $1.22.
'A little less than 40 percent of that amount would be federal and state taxes,' Maner said, noting that there is a 16 cent per pack federal excise tax. 'Cigarettes are one of the most heavily taxed consumer products.'
Health officials believe the report should be used as a blueprint for action to end the widespread use of cigarettes, especially since they appear to pose a health threat to the smoking public.
'I think what we have to do is really set the norm in society to be non-smoking,' said Raj Wiener, director of the Department of Public Health. 'We consider it to be irresponsible if a parent doesn't immunize their child against measles or mumps.
'We have to think of smoking the same way. It is irresponsible for us to condone smoking in our society.'
Toward reducing teenage access to cigarettes, the task force recommended restricting the location of tobacco billboard advertising and ending the practice of distributing free tobacco samples.
'There are those who would like to believe that removing billboards will ameliorate the whole problem but we know better,' said Alberta Tinsley-Williams, the task force vice-chairwoman and a Wayne County commissioner who has worked to ban tobacco billboard advertising in Detroit. 'We see this as a part of our entire health promotion process.'
According to the report, tobacco companies as a whole were the largest outdoor or billboard advertisers during 1985. The tobacco industry was also the second-largest magazine advertiser and the third-largest newspaper advertiser during 1985.
Cigarette advertising has been banned from television and radio since 1971. Smokeless tobacco advertising has been banned from those media since 1986.
'These (recommendations) are not solutions,' said Laughlin. 'In this society, there's a rule that's called supply and demand. When you decrease the supply artificially, you're going to increase the demand.'
Other recommendations include a call for private business to follow the lead of the public sector in developing indoor air quality standards by restricting smoking to limited areas.
But Studley said while such a recommendation is laudable, it may be impractical for small- and medium-sized firms.
'I think a lot of these kinds of recommendations from anti-smoking groups are well-intentioned but not very practical because you do run into some interesting legal and constitutional questions about the workability of the recommendations,' he said.
The task force also recommended:
-- licensing tobacco vendors;
-- requiring proof of age for the sale of cigarettes;
-- expanding the availability of non-smoking seating in restaurants;
-- establishing a fire safety standard that requires cigarettes and cigars sold in Michigan to be self-extinguishing;
-- encouraging employers to develop smoking cessation programs; and
-- improving school-based education programs about the danger of