Most people see only good in Sen. Scott Brown’s, R-Mass., recent revelation that he suffered sexual abuse as a child. A few suggest he did it for book sales, political gain or both. ’m not so sure it gets him much of either, but so what?
Most people see only good in Sen. Scott Brown’s, R-Mass., recent revelation that he suffered sexual abuse as a child. A few suggest he did it for book sales, political gain or both.
I’m not so sure it gets him much of either, but so what? Child sexual abuse makes billions of dollars every year for pornographers. Why shouldn’t reporting the incidence make money, too?
As for political benefits, the topic makes most people squeamish, which can backfire in politics, as it does at dinner parties when I talk about my work. It’s just not the kind of thing people like to think about –– no matter how strongly they may feel about tougher laws and better justice for victims.
Even if Brown’s motivation is selfish, it helps protect boys and girls alike from abuse when a powerful man talks about an experience some see as evidence of weakness.
“Why didn’t he scream and run away? Why didn’t he tell someone?”
These judgmental questions are run-of-the-mill for most victims. Studies show the primary reason we harshly judge victims is because it gives us distance from those we see as vulnerable. The more we think of victims as different, the easier it is to believe, “That could never happen to me.”
But the sad truth is that it doesn’t matter what “type” you are. A perpetrator will either exploit or create conditions that maximize opportunities for victimization, whether the target is a weak pipsqueak of a child or a tough nut like I was.
At a very young age, my reputation as a Pippi Longstocking-kind-of-kid was well established. The waiter at a local European restaurant told my grandfather not to waste his money on charm school. I thought it was because I was already charming enough. And because I could read at age 3, my kindergarten teacher had me read to the class when she went to meetings with the principal. I told the students this meant I was the “teacher.”
In fifth grade, I ran a school in my basement for the kids on my street complete with report cards that had to be signed by their parents. When a girl in my baton-twirling class could no longer afford lessons because her family had fallen on tough times, I brought her to the administrative office and argued that, as a community center, they had a duty to allow the girl to take lessons for free. They let her stay. I was about 10.
Clearly not a wallflower, I was nevertheless sexually assaulted at age 8 by a teenage boy who asked me to help him retrieve a ball from under his porch. He was the brother of my girlfriend and son of a police officer –– what was to fear? I followed him to his house, six doors down from mine, on my rusty, old blue bike. Then, he put his hand in my shorts and gave me a nickel not to tell. I took the nickel and told right away. He got in some sort of trouble, and my parents were very supportive but didn’t make a big deal about it.
I tell this story sometimes to point out that very few people, even the seemingly toughest “types,” can say they’ve never been assaulted or aren’t close to someone who has been victimized.
So Brown’s story isn’t particularly shocking, and I hope all members of Congress will one day answer the question: “Have you or anyone close to you ever been sexually assaulted?” It’s nearly impossible statistically for there to be even one “no.”
I don’t do child advocacy work because of what happened to me, and I don’t expect Brown to give an extra damn because of what happened to him. It should be enough for all of us that an entire class of people is being brutalized with impunity.
One needn’t have suffered race-based violence to fight for civil rights laws on behalf of people who were targeted based on skin color. The same should go for children and sexual abuse.
Kids need the kind of empowerment that comes from all adults supporting full and open reporting of sexual abuse together with meaningful legal redress as the only pathway to effective prevention. Brown’s leadership in this regard is an excellent step in that direction.
Wendy Murphy is a victims’ rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast .