"I think," Steiner added, "that people like Christina Crawford--as with the case with others more recently--are taking a stand on behalf of children. They're making us face the reality of a dark side of our society. In the long run, public awareness is going to protect children. Christina Crawford and groups like VOICES manifest a lot of courage in talking about these issues."
In a brief interview before her talk, Crawford said that in the last two years she has spoken all over the country on the subject of child abuse.
She also serves as a commissioner for Children's Services for the County of Los Angeles, and last year she founded Survivors Network, a nonprofit organization that publishes a free newsletter which provides information from other child abuse victims and lists of books, organizations and resources--"the whole spectrum of information that might be useful to anybody that finds themselves having serious adult problems because of their childhood experiences," she said.
"My work," Crawford explained, "focuses on helping other people who are just now coming to terms with their past and many of them are having a real difficult time, so my work tries to focus on solutions: places for people to go, validations of their experience, understanding by government officials how great the need is, tying what seems like dissimilar problems together through understanding that they were all originally the product of abusive childhoods."
Crawford maintains that "everything from (criminals) to alcoholics to eating problems appear to have their root causes in childhood abuse."
"Up until very recently, that has not been understood," she said. "All the different problems--drug abuse, alcoholism, delinquency, domestic violence--have all been treated as separate issues. So in order to solve the problems, I think we have to figure out what the root causes are and how to deal with that in advance because we can't go on just building endless prisons or putting people through drug and alcohol abuse programs forever and ever."
Despite the time she puts into her work in the field of child abuse, it is not Crawford's main activity.
"Believe it or not," she said with a laugh, "my main occupation is earning a living, and I do that through my writing. I am a writer."
Crawford, who has been married nine years to producer David Koontz and who has a 22-year-old stepson, said she is producing an independent film based on her 1981 murder mystery novel, "Black Widow." She also has completed her third book, "Life Spirit," which she said is about "personal health in relationships" and which chronicles her recovery from a major illness. (In 1981, she underwent a cranial bypass operation after suffering a massive stroke from a clot in the carotid artery in the left side of her brain).
But when not writing, she said, her time is spent on "what I call civic work, or charitable work, and the Survivors Network is definitely a part of that because I am, myself, a survivor. I understand how difficult it is to find the services and to get your life together and so that's why I'm involved in that."
Crawford, who autographed copies of "Mommie Dearest" that were on sale at the beginning of the evening, feels her book had an impact in helping to create public awareness of child abuse.
"There were a number of very dedicated, knowledgeble people working in the field, but I think in terms of the public awareness that it certainly was a catalyst," she said, "and I think that a lot of the work that has been done on a community level has been done subsequent to that."
Asked if her view of her mother has changed over the years, Crawford acknowledged that she has mixed emotions.
"That's natural," she said, "and I think as I have learned more about the ramifications of being an abused child and as I've gotten older and I've had the experience of being a parent, I think I have some more compassion for her. Which is not to say that I excuse what she did. I don't, because she did have the opportunity to get help, and there were people--her friends--who suggested she needed help. And she categorically refused. So although I have compassion for her pain, that is not to say I find excusable what she did."
During her talk, Crawford addressed the other survivors of child abuse who were in the audience.
"We are our own hope for the future," she said. "We are the voices of change. We are the positive forces that will not allow the past to continue poisoning tomorrow. We are the advocates for today's children. We are the fortress against which the arrows of disbelief cannot prevail. We are the custodians of truth and reality.
"You know that your powerful voices will not remain silent any longer."