Cissy Houston says she didn’t know about the alleged sexual abuse her daughter, Whitney Houston, endured as a child until days before the premiere of Whitney, the family-supported documentary of the legendary singer that premiered last week.
In the new documentary, Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald was able to confirm from family and a close associate of Houston’s that she had been molested as a child by their cousin Dee Dee Warwick, sister of legendary singer Dionne Warwick.
Now Cissy tells PEOPLE that she first heard about the allegations two days before the film’s May 16 premiere in Cannes.
“We cannot overstate the shock and horror we feel and the difficulty we have believing that my niece Dee Dee Warwick… molested two of my three children,” Cissy said in a statement on behalf of herself and Dionne. The statement acknowledged that the situation is tough because “neither Whitney nor Dee Dee are here to deny, refute or affirm … How can that be fair to my daughter, to Dee Dee, to our family?”
During his interview with the director, Houston’s brother, Gary, revealed that both he and his sister had been molested at a young age.
“Being a child—being seven, eight, nine years old—and being molested by a female family member of mine. My mother and father were gone a lot, so we stayed with a lot of different people . . . four, five different families who took care of us,” Gary said in the film.
The singer’s former assistant, Mary Jones, also revealed that Houston had been molested. In the film, Jones recalled the moment Houston told her about the abuse: “[Houston] looked at me and said, ‘Mary, I was molested at a young age too. But it wasn’t by a man—it was a woman.'”
“She had tears in her eyes. She says, ‘Mommy don’t know the things we went through.’ I said, ‘Have you ever told your mother?’ She says, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe you need to tell her.’ She said, ‘No, my mother would hurt somebody if I told her who it was.’ She just had tears rolling down her face, and I just hugged her. I said, ‘One day when you get the nerve, you need to tell your mother. It will lift the burden off you.’”
Jones stands by her decision to tell truth, confirming to PEOPLE that “I struggled tremendously deciding whether to share this secret or keep to myself.” J
She added: “I deeply love and respect Dionne, Cissy, and their entire families, and my intention was never to embarrass anyone in the family, but rather to bring to light that Whitney was subjected to something painful and troubling as a child. And it’s something that happens to other innocent kids and goes unspoken too much.”
The documentary opened to $1.2 million from 454 theaters following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, according to The Hollywood Reporter.