The documentary Family Affair was written, narrated, and filmed by Chico Colvard ("IMDB," 2010). The film is focused on a retrospective look at events that took place in his family over a period of several decades. The four siblings featured in the film are the children of a black veteran named Elijah Colvard, Jr., and his wife, a white German Jewish woman he met while stationed in Germany. The children were raised as "army brats," moving from base to base, from state to state during their schools years. Chico and his three sisters [Angelika (Angie); Chiquita (Chici); Pauline (Paula)] lived with both parents for many years, until an accident catapulted family secrets into the open. In 1978,when Chico David Colvard was just 10 years old, he obtained his father's gun and bullets and accidently shot Paula in the leg. While she lay in the hospital bed, heir father threatened Paula, who was so traumatized that she begged Angie to tell their mother about the incest. It was the first time that the mother actually knew about the incest. The subsequent investigation exposed family dysfunction that included repeated incestuous relations between the father and the three daughters, physical and mental abuse of the children of all four children, and domestic violence toward the mother. On several occasions, after the mother reported domestic abuse to the police, her husband was incarcerated, but each time he was released, he continued to abuse family members. The mother asserted that she did not know about the incest for many years. The daughters explained that the father conducted elaborate plans to get the mother and other families members out of the house -- leaving only one targeted daughter behind -- and coached the girls to lock the door after they departed and alert him that all was clear. Years later, Chico took a camcorder to a family Thanksgiving dinner he attended, and the idea of filming the transactions he observed took shape. Fallout from their dysfunctional childhood continues to impact family members in their adult lives. When Chico went to visit his mother after a 15-year separation, she told him that she had learned that his father had been sexually abused by his own mother -- he contracted syphilis from her ("IMDB," 2010).
Presenting Issues. The three sisters are engaged in a process of coming to terms with their past and working to forge a redefined relationship with their father. Chico has not achieved a similar mindset, is confused by his sisters' apparent complacency and willingness to not speak of the elephant in the room (Steele & Alexander, 1982). The family members have gathered for the holiday and are interacting as though the In fact, capturing the offbeat quality of the behavior he observes is one of the reasons he is compelled to film his family.
Over the years, Paula has suffered a series of serious health issues in addition to those that are associated with being accidental shot. She experiences bouts of guilt, has not been able to resolve the matter of letting her sister down when both plotted to expose their father in the act of incest to their mother (Steele & Alexander, 1982).
Angie, the prettiest of the three daughters, was her father's favorite. She became pregnant by her father and had an abortion at the age of 14. She later married, bore a son, and divorced her husband when her son was still an infant. She was afraid to touch and hold her newborn son for two weeks because she was concerned that she would behave like her father had with her (Steele & Alexander, 1982). She was She lost custody of her son when she voluntarily put him in her husband's care while undergoing cancer therapy.
Chici suffers from schizophrenia, and takes medication to keep the symptoms at bay (Widom, et al., 2007). In most regards, she is able to function as a parent to her son, Delton, and her daughter. However, she expressed concern that she is often angry with her daughter and strikes her. Brief clips in the video capture Chici requiring the children to wait on her (get her medication and water, cook and bring her food). Chici's overall demeanor is without much affect and very little evidence of positive interactions or regard for her children. These parenting behaviors may be an artifact of some combination of dominant culture, socioeconomic factors, and Chici's underlying mental disorder (Widom, et al., 2007; Zickler, 2002).
Reported Abuse. The daughters provided testimony to the courts when their mother reported the incidences of incest to the authorities. The court records show handwritten testimony of sexual relations between the father and his daughters that were categorically sodomy and intercourse (Conte & Schuerman, 1988). Descriptions of sexual relations include: vaginal intercourse, oral sex (the father putting his penis in his daughters' mouths), the father putting his finger in his daughters' vaginas). The father is believed to have ejaculated during intercourse, as there is substantiation of the girls having become pregnant and having had abortions. The court report states that Elijah Colvard sexually abused his daughters on a weekly basis (Conte & Schuerman, 1988).
Impacts of Abuse. The long-term effects of sexual abuse include increased likelihood of engaging in substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, and continuing the cycle of sexual abuse in one's own family (Finkelhor and Browne, 1986). Research conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse determined that "women who experienced non-genital sexual abuse in childhood were 2.83 times more likely to suffer drug dependence as adults than were women who were not abused" (Zickler, 2002).
Family Dynamics. In cases involving offenders who have engaged in only a few sexual acts, admit to and take responsibility for their behavior, and live relatively free of other problems, there is possibility of treatment ("Child Welfare Gateway"). Elijah Colvard has apparently never admitted to or apologized for the sexual abuse (Finkelhor and Browne, 1986). He has defended the physical abuse as positively regarded in his community as appropriate discipline, both negative indicators of the severity of his propensity to commit sexual abuse and domestic violence ("Child Welfare Gateway"). When David Colvard was filming the documentary, he visited his father in the hospital and indirectly asked him about the sexual abuse Elijah Colvard sidestepped the question, blaming anything he ever did on drugs, and the effects of living in a white society in which he experienced degradation and discrimination ("Child Welfare Gateway"),
Elijah Colvard was found guilty of three counts of imprisoned for less than a year. Shortly after his release, the mother, Renata Steigenberger, left the family. Steigenberger could not comprehend how her daughters were still accepting toward their father, greeting him upon his release as though everything was fine (Courtois, 1988). At one point, she wrote a long letter to her daughters that read like an attempt to absolve herself of any responsibility for the sexual abuse and physical abuse that the children experienced (Courois, 1988; Whealin, 2007). Steigenberger reported that Elijah Colvard married her because she was white, and saw it as a form of revenge against the white people who had harassed him (Rezmovic, et al., 1996).
In the video section that shows the family gathering, there is a scene in which Elijah Colvard is lying shirtless in bed, eating cake. His children and current wife are also in the room. Certainly, there are cultural and socioeconomic differences that can result in relaxed standards for propriety and, granted, the father is not particularly well. However, for a family that has breached the boundaries of privacy, this behavior indicates that these boundaries continue to be blurred (Rezmovic, et al., 1996).
As the non-offending parent, Renata Steigenberger responded appropriately when confronted with the sexual abuse of her daughters, she was dependent on (and fearful of) her husband, and she suffered from domestic abuse (Courois, 1988; Whealin, 2007). Contemporary theory about the causal factors of sexual abuse corresponds to an integrated model that is practice-focused ("Child Welfare Gateway, "Finkelhor, 1984). Accordingly, causal factors are categorized as either prerequisites for or contributors to sexual abuse ("Child Welfare Gateway, "Finkelhor, 1984). Certain prerequisite factors reside in the offender; for example, experiencing "sexual arousal to children" accompanied by a "propensity to act on arousal" ("Child Welfare Gateway, "Finkelhor, 1984). These prerequisite behaviors are critical to the occurrence of child sexual abuse ("Child Welfare Gateway, "Finkelhor, 1984). Contributing variables are viewed as external to the offender in an integrated, practice-focused model (Finkelhor, 1984). Commonly, these contributing variables include past life experiences, circumstances of the current life, the family system -- which includes the marital relationship, if one exists, and the overarching culture. The risk of child sexual abuse can be increased by certain contributing variables, such unsupervised access to children ("Child Welfare Gateway, "Finkelhor, 1984). Contributing factors can enhance the probability of sexual abuse occurring; an example of this is substance abuse ("Child Welfare Gateway," Finkelhor, 1984).