Out of the Shadows

The 5 Browns Musical Sensation Speak Out About their Sexual Abuse

It is agreed amongst most mental health and child protection professionals that child sexual abuse is common and a serious problem in the United States. Even though child sexual abuse has become more visible to us, because of the media and internet, it has been going on for centuries. The recent Penn State and Syracuse University sexual abuse scandals are just two more examples that it’s time to make the safety and protection of our children a priority.

What goes on behind closed doors at church, school, and home is often dark and sinister. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Other governmental research has estimated that approximately 300,000 children are abused every year in the United States. These figures however most likely under estimate the prevalence of child sexual abuse in our society, as it’s vastly under-reported.

My post today is about helping the victims of sexual abuse to come out of the shadows, by giving them a safe, understanding environment to name their molesters, share their stories, and begin to heal. I highlight the sexual abuse of the three women from the 5 Browns, the musical prodigies from Utah, to show how sexual abuse of children can occur even in families of high cultural visibility. Child sexual abuse does not have a particular face. It happens in every country, culture, and at every social economic level.

In 2007, Deondra, Desirae, and Melody Brown decided to talk about being sexually abused by their father, Keith Brown, for more than a decade, beginning before they were fourteen-year old. Their ability to endure all that they had suffered, to make sense of what they had lost, and the courage they showed in moving forward to heal themselves is an example of their faith and resilient spirits.

The Brown children were known as “Wholesome Mormon prodigies, and their father was widely respected as a self-made talent manager who had a penchant for buying expensive things. It was a first in the history of Juilliard’s’ School of Music to accept five members into the school from one family. The older daughters Deondra and Desirae left for Juilliard in 1997, leaving behind Melody, their junior by several years, who remained at home. (The Five Browns Speak Out).

Confidence in Protection

It took over ten years for the Brown girls to break the cycle of sexual abuse. Why, like so many other victims of sexual abuse, did they remain silent so long? There’s a well-known concept in psychology called Confidence in Protection that gives us insight into why victims of child abuse often don’t report what is happening to them. Parents have the specific developmental task of directing their children to the real dangers and threats in the world. They teach children a range of behaviors that keep them out of harm’s way, like crossing the street only when the light turns to green, to avoid talking to strangers, walk home from school with other children, and a variety of other behaviors that protect the welfare of children. They learn to say no to things and people that can harm them. Confidence in protection is a vital part of one’s growing self-esteem.

Parents must teach children that the world is not always a friendly, wonderful place, and the people in it are not always interested in their welfare. At first, children learn to seek out appropriate authority figures, like a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult to help them to deal with danger, if there’s a need. It is hoped, that in time, the child internalizes the learning, and will be able to take actions to protect themselves on their own.

The developmental task of internalizing the knowledge and procedures to protect oneself gets circumvented for sexually abused children. The parent, clergy or educator, the “trusted authority figure”, who is supposed to guide and mentor them and protect their welfare, is really a predator, their Mr. Hyde. This puts the abused victims into a murky place where there’s a fine line, if any at all, between the good and the bad guy. And, pedophiles are very good at confusing their victims along these lines. They isolate their victims, making them think that the sexual abuser is vital to their welfare and survival. The molester grooms the victim into a position where he or she  is less able to stand up for themselves.

The victim is denied of the right to say no because they are often confused as to the meaning of the abuse and the character of its perpetrator. The confusion, shame and isolation that follows leads sexually abused victims silently into the shadows, to face their trauma alone.

“You just shove away into some back closet somewhere the part of you that has become damaged”, said Deondra Brown, “You try to move on with your life.” Sexually abused children are deprived of the right to say no to abuse (The Five Browns Speak Out).

Just think of the ramifications that a person has to consider if they bring the sexual abuse out into the open. Take Desirae Brown, for example, she worried that her family would get torn apart, if she told the truth about what was happening to her. She felt desperate and powerless to do anything about the abuse.

“Even as a kid, Desirae Brown said, you realize if your parents go to prison you are going to be put in foster care, and I didn’t want to be taken away from my siblings. It all seems so scary, and so it paralyzes you” (The Five Browns Speak Out).

Confidence in Protection at the Cultural and Institutional Level

Protecting the predator instead of the sexual abuse victim is becoming more common today in some church and university settings. What has happened to our culture and its institutions that confidence in protection as a sign of culture’s development and sophistication is no longer operating or valued?

Pathological narcissism is the answer. In cultural historian Christopher Lasch’s landmark book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979), he explores the roots and ramifications of the normalizing of pathological narcissism culturally and warns of the demise of a culture that succumbs to diminishing expectations for ethics and morality and behavior. For Lasch, “pathology represents a heightened version of normality.” I believe that pathological narcissism and its diminishing expectations for moral and ethical behavior is what is happening at an institutional level (church and education). Their dogma and operating rules and regulations set them apart from cultural norms outside its system. This makes it easier for such institutions to carry out a “Do not ask, do not tell, just deny” mentality.

How can sexual abuse victims come forth comfortably in any environment that has normalized a do not ask, do not tell, and just deny mentality? A normalized narcissism is what permitted the sexual abuse of Deondra, Desirae and Melody to take place in their home, for over a decade, without anyone knowing about it. Writer Christine Pelisek says wisely that perhaps “The lifestyle of the five young Brown children may have contributed to the girls’ vulnerability.” Home-schooling and a rigorous music practice schedule isolated the children from other people. It was very difficult to escape their molester—their father Keith Brown (The Five Browns Speak Out).

It is the combination of many forces that makes any organized unit—a home, a church, or a school a threatening force of which to be reckoned. It’s understandable why sexually abused people fear taking on the system at large.

It takes Courage

“We showed as much love and compassion as we could toward a man who took so much from us,” said Deondra. “There is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that I got through the most destructive time in my life. I was OK.”

In 1997, the Brown daughters finally admitted it to each other the decade long sexual abuse by their father. It took safety in numbers for them to muster up enough courage to make the sexual abuse known. First they told their brothers and together, they mustered up the strength to fire their father as their manager. They searched their souls for some time before deciding to do something legally. Then, upon learning that their father planned to manage a musical group again made up of women and girls, they decided to prosecute him. In May of 2010, the Brown sisters contacted the Utah County Attorney’s Office and set into motion the decision to prosecute their molester. Early this year, “Keith Brown pleaded guilty to one first-degree felony count of sodomy and two second-degree felony counts of sexual abuse of a child. He received 10-to-life on the first count and 15-to-life for the other counts” (The Five Browns Speak Out).

What we can do to help

I agree with Michele Booth Cole that we must “End the culture of silence” with regard to child sexual abuse. America’s children deserve nothing less”.

Booth Cole recommends four steps that Americans should take to raise awareness and responsible action. This includes to “acknowledge the scope of the problem, shatter myths by publicizing the facts, emphasize every adult’s responsibility to report suspicious activity or known abuse, and provide guidance on how to report and prevent abuse to every adult and institution that serves children” (Child Abuse: Four Steps America Must Take).

Why has it been difficult for us to acknowledge the scope of sexual abuse going on around us? It’s not easy to entertain the idea that this is happening to children. We tend to repress information that disturbs us. Only a few years ago, we were scandalized as a culture by the extent of sexual abuse going on in our churches. Then, after the storm cleared, you rarely heard or read about its perpetrators or its victims.

Child molestation is not something that you want to think about. In fact, it’s very easy to put this issue out of your mind—and heart. You have to open yourself to what is going on before you can act responsibly. To think and certainly to imagine a child being sexually abused offends our sensibilities. It runs counter to our instincts to protect our young, to the welfare and proliferation of our culture and its social roles, and to the nurturing of everything that grows our children into healthy, productive adults.

How can we encourage the victims of childhood abuse to come out of the shadows, if our responses to the issue are phobic? Human beings tend to shrink back from things that they don’t understand. But, our fear of the issue is what allows the sexual abuse of children to continue.

The sexual abuse of children happens throughout the world. People everywhere need to raise their awareness and  take responsible action toward the abuse of children. Let’s emotionally wrap our minds around this pressing issue, so that we can take charge of it. I encourage you to examine your fears about the issue, stay focused, and read up on what is being done about childhood sexual abuse. Above all, don’t ignore it. Let the victims know that we can emotionally handle their suffering; we are on their sides and willing to help.

If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like Icon that immediately follows this post. I’m taking my blog to a new level, as you can see by its new design and features. Soon, there will be many writers sharing their knowledge, experience, and expertise in many areas of living that will help you to live the best life possible. As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. Warmly, Deborah

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2 Responses to “Out of the Shadows”

  1. avatar Lorn says:

    Why isn’t there more research being done on the brain of offenders? Its one thing to raise awareness but I really think science needs to get on the ball in studying this more seriously so we have treatments and eventually a cure for this.

    It seems far too common and no one takes the scientific side seriously.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Lorn, that’s a very very good question. Well, I”m going to speculate right now (I need to do some research on this myself). But, I think it’s because offenders are often imprisoned or they have not been caught to be in a study. I think you are soooooo right on this topic. That it would definitely be good to understand the brain chemistry of the potential to offend sexually. You have got me so interested in this, that I”m going to do a little search on this today.

      I will post what I find on http://www.facebook.com/DrDeborahKhoshabaBlog (Psychology in Everyday Life) Thank you Lorn, Warm regards Deborah.


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