After all, he had done nothing wrong. What he has disclosed, decades after the fact, was that he was a victim of physical and sexual abuse.
Why did he wait? As a boy, he says, he was afraid his abusers would harm him if he spoke up. “If you tell anybody, you know, I’ll kill ya. You know, I will make sure that – that no one believes you,” his abuser warned him, Senator Brown explains in an interview on the CBS television program “60 Minutes” that will air this Sunday.
And later as an adult? “You’re embarrassed. You’re hurt,” the senator says. Abuse victims may feel needless shame or a sense that they will be seen as weak if they reveal what happened.
But now in a memoir (“Against All Odds”) he says he wants to inspire others to overcome similar obstacles and to have the kind of success that he has enjoyed.
Brown made an impressive debut on the national political stage in January 2010 when he won a special election to replace the late Edward M. Kennedy. The affable, pickup-truck-driving family man from the Boston suburbs won election easily as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state. He became an instant news media star.
But like most people, he hadn’t really coasted through a Teflon-smooth life. His book recounts “savage” beatings by a drunken stepfather and being sexually molested by a summer camp counselor.
In an age when personal lives are quickly laid bare in the media, perhaps Brown couldn’t have kept his secret (which even his mother and wife did not know about) forever. Long gone are the days when President Franklin Roosevelt was able to keep his physical challenges (and his wheelchair) unknown to most of the public, lest he be viewed as unfit to serve.
By publishing his book Brown was able to choose the time and ways of telling his story.
Though politicians regularly decide to confess to moral shortcomings, Brown’s case is different. He was a victim, not a wrongdoer. He may be the first national politician to admit to having been abused.
Child advocates are rightly applauding his revelation, hoping it will encourage others that suffer abuse to find courage, hope, perhaps even the ability to forgive.
Such suffering can lead to a higher purpose. “Like a fractured bone, I have knit back stronger in the broken places,” Brown writes in his book.
Those words should encourage others who may be working to move past their own troubling experiences.