Mo'Nique, Gabriel Byrne Shine Light on Sex Abuse

Mo'Nique, Gabriel Byrne and other celebs speak out about childhood sex abuse.

January 20, 2010, 4:28 PM

Jan. 21, 2010— -- Celebrities are shining the spotlight on childhood sexual abuse.

When Mo'Nique gave her Golden Globe acceptance speech on Sunday, she dedicated her award to victims of abuse: "I celebrate this award with all the Preciouses, with all the Marys -- I celebrate this award with every person that's ever been touched. It's now time to tell. And it's OK."

The same night, actor Gabriel Byrne told an Irish television show that he was molested at seminary school at the age of 11.

"I didn't feel I suffered at the time. I just felt it was the way of the world," Byrne said on "The Meaning of Life" on Sunday. "It took many years to come to terms with it and to forgive those incidents that I felt had deeply hurt me."

Any story of a child being sexually abused is shocking. With celebrities, there's the additional element of surprise -- along with the question of how were they able to overcome it?

"You see a celebrity, and a lot of them seem to have it all together," writer Antwone Fisher told "They look healthy, wealthy and wise, like they've had a charmed life. But most of them have traveled bumpy roads."

The road to the Golden Globe Awards was indeed a bumpy one for Mo'Nique, who claimed in 2008 that she was sexually abused by an older brother when she was just 7 years old.

The comedian told Essence magazine that while growing up in Baltimore, her brother molested her four times over four years, once using candy to lure her into a bathroom.

"Even when I confronted him and told my parents, he said I was lying, and nothing was really done," she said. "My father was very upset, but it never got mentioned again. I'll never forget my mother saying, 'If it's true, it will surface again,' and I remember thinking, 'Why would I lie? Why is there even an "if" in this?' I was angry with them for so long because I felt as if they should have seen what was happening."

When Celebrities Speak Out

Ultimately, she said, she didn't hold her parents responsible, "because me and my brother were both their children, and I just don't know the kind of position they felt they were in."

Mo'Nique has said she was able to use her childhood experience when she accepted the role of a lifetime, playing the abusive mother Mary in the film "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire."

"My brother was a monster to me," she told Essence. "I became my brother" when director Lee Daniels would say, "action."

Her performance earned her kudos, along with the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress.

According to Mo'Nique, her brother went on to serve 15 years in prison for sexually abusing another girl. She said he never made amends to her for the alleged abuse.

Despite her apprehension about going public, Mo'Nique told Essence, "It's my obligation to let people know, and to tell women to watch their children."

When celebrities speak out about their own claims of abuse, they have the power to get people to listen -- and act. Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Teri Hatcher and Cincinnati Bengals' Laveraneus Coles all have shared claims of abuse.

When "One Day at a Time" actress Mackenzie Phillips alleged a decade-long sexual relationship with her father, singer John Phillips, on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reported a 26 percent jump in its hotline calls and an 83 percent increase in traffic on its Web site.

"It's incredibly powerful particularly when celebrities come forward and share their stories on survival," Katherine Hull, vice president for communications at RAINN, told "It tells other people they are not alone. And seeing someone who has experienced this crime, and has survived it and is thriving today shows survivors and victims that recovery is possible."

Fisher, who wrote about his claim of being sexually abused at the age of six by a woman taking care of him in his memoir, "Finding Fish," has seen firsthand the impact his book and the film based on it, "Antwone Fisher," has had on people.

When Boys Are Abused

Through his Web site and Twitter, he has heard from people as far away as China.

"The very thing I was most ashamed of turned out to be the thing that helped other people," he said.

Fisher is especially proud to be giving a face to abuse perpetrated by women.

"We have to protect boys the same way we protect girls," he said.

Byrne, star of HBO's "In Treatment," said he experienced sexual abuse two different times. The first time was when he was an altar boy at a Christian Brothers School in Ireland.

"It was a known and admitted fact of life amongst us that there was this particular man, and you didn't want to be left in the dressing room with him," Byrne told the Irish television show. "There were certain boundaries, sexual boundaries, [that] were crossed. And it was mixed up with fear and ultimately with shame.

"I had the misfortune, when I went to England to seminary, there was another incidence of it, and I had to face it again. I was unlucky in that way," he added. "It didn't go on for a very prolonged period, but it happened at a very, very vulnerable moment."

Byrne said he didn't feel the impact immediately.

"But I suppose when I think about my later life and how I had difficulties with certain issues, there is the real possibility they could have been attributable to that," said the actor, who has battled alcoholism.

Fisher said talking about sexual abuse serves another purpose for celebrities: It's healing.

"I feel like because I was the kind of person who never let go, I had a head start on healing," he said. "The abuse never goes away because it's a part of your life."

"I feel sorry for other people who haven't found a way to make sense of it," he added. "The shame keeps some people from getting better."

That's what "Desperate Housewives" star Teri Hatcher discovered when she finally went public in 2006 with a claim of sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle when she was five.

"This is something I've tried to hide my whole life," she told Vanity Fair.

But the actress was compelled to act in 2002 after she learned that a 14-year-old victim of her uncle had committed suicide.

After Hatcher told prosecutors her story, her uncle, Richard Hayes Stone, then 64, pleaded guilty to four counts of child molestation in the case of the 14-year-old victim and received 14 years in prison.

Chuck Gillingham, the Santa Clara County deputy district attorney in California, told The Associated Press in 2006: "Without Teri, this case would have been dismissed."

Getting help: Contact National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or online at

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