Former child actor, sexually abused, directs a documentary about his experience

Sasha Joseph Neulinger, a Montco-raised child actor and director, was sexually abused as a child by several relatives.
Sasha Joseph Neulinger, a Montco-raised child actor and director, was sexually abused as a child by several relatives. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 16, 2014

Like most Americans born since the video revolution, Sasha Joseph Neulinger's childhood was lived on camera.

But unlike other families, the home movies his parents took at their Rosemont home showed a family in crisis.

A family beset by secrets.

At age 7, Neulinger told his parents (Henry Nevison and Jacqui Neulinger) that for the previous four years he had been sexually abused by his paternal uncles Howard and Lawrence Nevison and Lawrence's son, Stewart - the same men captured on video so warmly embracing Neulinger's parents, sharing jokes at birthday parties, or passing the salt across the dinner table.

"My dad believed me completely," Neulinger, 24, said in an interview Friday in Center City. "He later told us he was abused as a child by his brothers. . . . But he had never reported it."

A child actor ( Unbreakable, Shallow Hal) turned filmmaker, Neulinger is directing a documentary about his experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse using footage from the more than 200 hours of home movies his father, himself a film producer, amassed.

"I spent three months digitizing 200 hours of my childhood," said Neulinger, an alumnus of Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts in Bethlehem. He studied filmmaking at Montana State University.

"There are moments . . . that were extremely painful and scary for me. But . . . I also got to watch beautiful moments from my childhood that I didn't remember ever happening because they had been so overshadowed by the trauma."

Called Rewind to Fast-Forward, Neulinger's film is being funded through a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that already has raised more than $170,0000 of its $200,000 budget.

Neulinger said the film will explore abuse from a multiplicity of angles that take it from the personal and the particular to the universal.

"I'm hoping to share my story from the first moment of abuse all the way through my process of healing," he said. "And I want to cover it from an emotional perspective, but also a legal and clinical perspective." Several legal, medical, and psychiatric experts already have signed up for the film.

Neulinger said he hoped his film would show lawmakers that the current legal system often adds to, rather than helping to heal, the pain of the abused child.

He'll discuss how he spent a decade in and out of courtrooms and therapists' offices as his uncles and cousin went through the legal system. Lawrence and Stewart have admitted the abuse and were found guilty of various felonies in 2000. Seven years later, Howard, who continues to deny the charges, struck a plea deal, pleading guilty to five misdemeanors.

"When I was 7 and I told my parents, I thought the nightmare could . . . be over," Neulinger said. "But . . . I had to relive the pain of my experiences in vivid detail to doctors, detectives, the prosecution team, over and over again in horrible detail.

"The fact that it took me 17 years to finally move on in my life is not OK," he added.

He said his film would offer suggestions on how the criminal justice system could help minimize the victim's trauma.

Rewind to Fast-Forward will not stop with the victims of abuse, but will investigate how many abusers themselves were victims of abuse. Both Lawrence Nevison and his son Stewart have said they were sexually abused as children.

"If we really want to reduce the numbers of children victimized by sexual abuse, it's our job to make sure every victim goes through a proper and efficient healing system," Neulinger said, "so when they go out in the world as adults, they are not walking wounded. That they are not going to repeat the cycle."

He added, "It's by helping to heal abuse survivors that we can protect the children of the next generation."


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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