Abuse victims network cancels involvement with circus visit
A major statewide network for sexual assault victims will not be involved with the Carson & Barnes Circus when it comes to Palos Hills this week after officials claimed they were caught off guard by the circus’ plan to involve the organization.
The Oklahoma-based circus previously billed the sixth annual event as “Survivors Under the Stars,” a benefit for sexual abuse victims without the city’s knowledge.
The circus, which has shows at 4:30 and 7:30 pm. Monday and Tuesday, initially planned to let the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault open up an information booth outside the circus tent and string up a memorial of T-shirts created by rape victims.
However, the plan was canceled after city officials said the circus was neither the time nor place for the benefit. Circus officials also canceled a candlelight vigil for rape victims, murder victims, and missing children amid fire safety concerns.
“It’s certainly within their rights and authority to do it,” said Polly Poskin, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault executive director. “If I would have been the tourism director, I may not have had the same response.”
Although the group will not be participating outside of the Palos Hills circus, its local chapters still plan to set up information booths outside the football-field-sized tent during its stops throughout the state.
Involving the ICASA was the idea of circus performer Jacque Hollander, who sued soul singer James Brown for $106 million in federal court in Chicago in 2005, claiming he raped her at gunpoint in South Carolina in 1988. The case was dismissed.
Hollander joined the circus this year as a music producer and songwriter. A song she wrote, “I am the Circus,” is set to be performed during the circus while she leads a parade of children into the ring. She plans to carry on with her portion of the show despite her disappointment with the city.
“I saw those kids’ faces at the last show and thought to myself, ‘wait a minute, I have nothing to be ashamed of,’” Hollander said. “I am bringing Palos Hills a beautiful act.”
Also disappointed with the city is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Virgina-based animals rights group sent out a letter last week to city officials condemning the circus for animal abuse.
“If Palos Hills hosts this cruel outfit, it will virtually be underwriting animal abuse,” wrote Delcianna Winders, PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement. The letter noted the $3,714 fine the United States Department gave the circus in April 2012 for a series of animal-related violations.
Among other violations, the USDA noted the circus failed to provide adequate shelter for its animals; a trailer used to haul animals had an eight-inch hole in the floor; improper control of an elephant allowed it to fall down a steep slope and onto its side; and, an elephant handler walked away to talk on his phone while one adult and six children remained saddled on an elephant.
Mary Jo Vincent, Palos Hills’ resource and recreation department commissioner, said she had never seen the circus mistreat an animal. She said the circus once paid for a vet to travel to the city’s circus to treat a llama that had suffered a cut.
“Their animals are always clean,” Vincent said.” They seem like they are well-fed and watered.”
Kristin Parra, whose family owns the circus, took issue with PETA’s claims that the circus abuses animals.
“I think the animal rights groups definitely are targeting circuses and are trying to make it where the animals are not allowed in any circuses at all, not just us,” Parra said. “They are targeting the whole circus industry.”
Parra also said the USDA inspected the circus earlier this month and there were no problem.
“What we want is for people to come out and see our animals first-hand and make your own decision,” Parra said.
“Come out and see how well cared they are and how these animals are loved. We want people to come out and see it for themselves and not listen to what the activists groups are saying.”