Girl, Interrupted

The Ordeal That Binds the Mother of an Incest Victim and Reverend Al Sharpton

After Cosby was arrested, Charles was ill-prepared for the emotional roller coaster young rape victims and their mothers go through. "For the next several days, it was hard to understand what was going on," Charles wrote in her letter to Puig. The distraught mother reached out to the Multidisciplinary Response Project in Brooklyn. "The coordinator provided support to my daughter and me, explained what would happen, and accompanied us to interviews with the district attorney," she noted. "Once those first few weeks were over, we received ongoing support from the Victim Services Family Assistance Project."

By the time the trial got under way in the summer of 1994, Charles's daughter had drummed up the courage to face her attacker once again. "My daughter testified and he was convicted," Charles said in her letter. "In July, I had the opportunity to speak before the judge at the sentencing hearing. I never expected to be able to speak in such a setting but I felt strengthened by the support I have received."

With Cosby sent to prison, Charles immersed herself in working for other child victims of rape and incest. "I know how few other children's or families' cases ever get to court so I wanted to speak for them as well," she told Puig in her query about start-up funds to launch her own center modeled after the Child Advocacy Planning Group. "The support I received was wonderful, but the creation of a Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center would be even better. As I understand it, the center would help eliminate many of the interviews we had to go through in those early days." Charles does not have her Child Advocacy Center, but she has not stopped fighting "for the other families who will have to go through this painful experience."

Convicted rapist: Could William Cosby’s alleged threat to kill deny him early parole?
Convicted rapist: Could William Cosby’s alleged threat to kill deny him early parole?


REVEREND AL SHARPTON SAYS IT'S tragic cases like the daughter of Joycelyn Charles that motivated him to reactivate a sex-abuse hotline he installed three years ago at his National Action Network in Harlem. Sharpton had set up the line after meeting with special schools investigator Ed Stancik over complaints from some students that they had been sexually harassed by teachers. "This woman's story hits home to me; I know the terror of living under that situation," says Sharpton, referring to an illicit affair recounted in his autobiography, Go and Tell Pharaoh, that his father, Alfred Sharpton Sr., had with his 18-year-old stepsister, Tina. The two moved out of the family home and later had a child together. (Sharpton's father, who resides in Florida, could not be reached for comment.)

Sharpton was five when his mother, Ada, and his father left Brooklyn and relocated in Hollis, a black, middle-class section of Queens, which was emerging from the dust of white flight. Sharpton lived in a 10-room house with Tina, another sister, Joy, and his brother, Sonny, who were in their late teens. His father was a successful contractor who bought the family a new Cadillac every year.

By the age of nine, Sharpton had learned of rumors about a sexual affair between his father and Tina—rumors that developed into a full-blown family scandal.

"My mother didn't believe it," Sharpton says.

Ada Sharpton confronted her daughter, who moved out of the house and stayed with her stepfather in an apartment in Brooklyn. The elder Sharpton stopped visiting his wife and children. One day young Al and Joy persuaded their mother to allow their father to take them to Tina's apartment.

"That's when we knew it was true," recalls Sharpton, who by then was almost 10, and had been ordained as a minister and dubbed "The Wonder Boy Preacher." He says his mother reluctantly tolerated the affair until Tina was impregnated by his father.

"My mother had to be rushed to the hospital; she almost had a nervous breakdown," Sharpton remembers.

Ada and Alfred Sharpton Sr. were legally separated, plunging the family into a life of poverty and welfare. Fortunately, the fiery sermons of the boy preacher brought in $50 and $75 donations.

After Tina gave birth to a boy named Kenny in 1965, Sharpton and his family moved into the Albany projects in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Sharpton saw Kenny for the first time in 1969.

"He looked just like me when I was a kid," the minister says.

Shortly before Kenny's fifth birthday, Tina and and her stepfather broke off their relationship. He "went West, somewhere," as Sharpton put it, and Tina got married.

When Kenny was almost 10, Tina and her mother reconciled.

"I could never understand how," says Sharpton. "How?" the precocious boy asked his mother, "How could you talk to her? She went with your husband and she had this baby."

But Ada Sharpton blamed her husband and showed more sympathy toward Tina, a naive young girl who had been seduced by her stepfather.

"No matter what she did, that's my daughter," she told Sharpton. "I'll never give up on any y'all."

Although Sharpton hoped that his father some day would tell him he did not intend for this dreadful thing to happen, he and Joy became traumatized by the shame of the affair.

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