By Jenny Hills
Lexington, Ky. (Knight-Rider) — On the surface, it looked like your run of the mill carnival, complete with games of skill, rides, cotton candy, and clowns. However, many of the area’s leading charity organizations claim the event was an exercise in gross insensitivity and psychological torture.
“When we first heard that the Dreammakers Foundation was sponsoring this carnival for abused and neglected children, we were thrilled. We couldn’t believe that someone would put together something like this for our kids,” says Sherman Haskell, a member of Open House, an area safe house for abused girls. “I wish you could have seen their faces when we told them a carnival was being held in their honor.”
But when Haskell and the children arrived at the event, he was immediately sickened. “You can’t imagine my horror when I saw exactly what sort of carnival Dreammakers had put together. It was quite heartbreaking.”
According to witnesses, the festival featured games openly mocking child abuse, a charge the event organizer denies.
“Come on, what kid doesn’t like playing Whack-a-Mole? I mean, it’s fast, it’s fun, it’s an all-around good time,” says Wyatt Duvall, chairman of Dreammakers. “And piñatas. Kids love piñatas.”
However, Haskell says that the piñatas were not the usual collection of donkeys, mariachi players, and sombreros. They were teachers, coaches, even priests. “It was just perverse,” Haskell says. “Everyone knows that abuse is cyclical. So very often the abused becomes the abuser. This is not the way to break the cycle.”
The Dreammakers chairman disagrees. “What better way to get back at your abuser than by confronting him, albeit symbolically,” Duvall says. “There’s a lot to be said for using your aggression in a positive, self-esteem-building way. And I believe that is something that we’ve helped these kids do.
Duvall adds that the children were allowed to choose which piñata they wanted to swat. “The overwhelming favorite, hands down, was Uncle Bart, the drunken wife-beater-wearing construction worker. When Bart’s hard hat splits open and the candy comes raining down, it’s a cathartic moment for these children, but it’s also one of joy, of laughter,” Duvall says. “I just want to show them that they can laugh at their problems and overcome their pain.”
However, one child psychologist says that Duvall’s brand of therapy is far from amusing. “I really have no idea what they were trying to do other than to further traumatize these children. Many of them are already psychologically scarred for life,” says Lynette Simmons. “Abused children don’t need this sort of treatment. No one does.”
The carnival also featured several other games which attendees found inappropriate. One game rewarded children for throwing beer bottles at fine china, while another encouraged the young to whack a rubber head with a frying pan.
But most shocking of all, carnival-goers say, were the clowns. “I don’t see what the big deal is with the clowns. I mean, what kid doesn’t like to have his face painted? We just have a different way of doing it,” Duvall says.
At the Dreammakers carnival, clowns painted the faces and arms of children using cigarette butts dipped in paint. “Of course, some of the children cried, but, you know, some kids are just afraid of clowns,” Duvall says. “And those are the children we need to reach the most.”
Attendees also claim the clowns were drunk, a charge which Duvall readily denies. “At no time, before or during the carnival, were our clowns under the influence of alcohol. Sure they smelled like it, but that was because we doused each one of them in it, you know, for the effect.”
Area charity organizers are considering filing a lawsuit against Dreammakers.