Survivors of clergy sexual abuse discuss how ‘Spotlight’ portrayed their trauma


OCTOBER 29, 2015


Ann Hagan Webb didn’t expect to get emotional while watching Spotlight for the first time. As a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, she had already lived through the events depicted in the film.

But Webb found herself feeling completely overwhelmed as she observed how The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team of investigative journalists personally reacted to uncovering the systemic problem of clergy sexual abuse. Seeing it play out on the big screen reminded her of the moment she realized that, as a victim, she wasn’t alone.

“All of the survivors thought of ourselves as the only ones at some point,” she said. “Then we would meet a few other people and realize the enormity of the problem. Seeing the journalists figure that out, too, the horror of ‘oh, there are so many,’ was very personal.”

Spotlight hits theaters nationwide on November 6. In Boston, where the scandal broke wide open, some survivors are anxious about how the movie portrays their story, in part because the film is told from the perspective of the journalists rather than the survivors. They’re also worried that the film might force them to re-live their trauma.

“There are also a lot of survivors who just don’t remember because it’s buried so deep. This movie could be the trigger,” said Robert Costello, an abuse survivor who hasn’t seen the movie yet. “It also might be a trigger for other people who were violated but not by a priest or a nun, or were assaulted in some other way.”

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