Maybe it all unfolded just that way, but what child in similar situations could possibly hope to live up to that larger-than-life example? What message is the senator sending to the child who could not fight back? The boy who could not break free? The girl who was forced to submit?
Did Brown sleep through the clerical abuse scandal in Boston? Did he miss the fight for the Violence Against Women Act? It’s true that “telling” is good, but it’s not nearly good enough for a United States senator who has chosen to market his childhood trauma as an all-American success story.
We do more in 2011 than encourage victims to disclose their sexual abuse. We mobilize resources to support them. We hold perpetrators accountable. Even Oprah is closing up her confessional booth, having exhausted audience interest in a ceaseless parade of celebrity incest and sexual abuse survivors who mistake graphic particulars for political action.
Scott Brown is not Roseanne Barr or Tyler Perry. If he is going to exploit a painful past in the run-up to his reelection campaign, shouldn’t we expect more than the “shocking details” he delivers in his quickie Book of Revelation? We did not spend the past 20 years dragging sexual abuse and domestic violence out of the shadows only to be told that victims just need to suck it up.
No one confuses the memoirist with the historian. But Brown is in the mythmaking business, weaving childhood hardship into a narrative that casts himself as the inspirational hero of his own life. He and his ghostwriter have rewritten the well-worn fable of the American Everyman, an ordinary guy who, fueled only by his dreams and his determination, overcomes the odds to achieve extraordinary things.
But Brown’s emphasis on the individual’s capacity to bend circumstances, no matter how horrific, to personal will is a disservice to those without his remarkable ability to shake off the past. The hundreds of traumatized children counseled every year by Boston Medical Center’s Child Witness to Violence Project. The 30 domestic violence victims in Massachusetts, age 2 to 75, who were sent to their grave last year by their abusers. The thousands of sexual abuse victims worldwide who are forcing the Vatican to confront its decades of complicity in crimes against children.
Brown claims he wrote his book for people like them, to reassure them that “we each create our own playing fields and that we are all capable of overcoming whatever challenges might otherwise hold us back.” Because he “knit back stronger in the broken places,” he tells us he would not change his childhood—not the sexual assaults, not the violence perpetrated by psychopaths against his mother and kid sister. I suspect his mother and sister might feel differently, but this is Scott Brown’s story, not theirs. It is the story of a very special man, unique among the sexual assault survivors I have met during a long reporting career in not devoutly wishing that the abuse had never happened.