A man with a Ken doll exterior and a TV-ready family goes to Washington and realigns the image of manhood.
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is sparking desperately necessary conversations with the release of his autobiography, “Against All Odds: My Life of Hardship, Fast Breaks, and Second Chances.” Brown reveals he was sexually molested as a young boy. And he was physically abused by some of the men who cycled through his mother’s life of multiple marriages and divorce.
Brown is the wunder-politico who surprisingly won the special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death.
Brown is a Republican. His victory in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts was a classic underdog move. Adding to the flair was his news reporter wife and two beautiful daughters, one an “American Idol” semi-finalist.
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Prior to that, Brown’s other national moment was launching a lucrative modeling career after earning the title “America’s Sexiest Man,” from Cosmopolitan magazine. The 1982 designation came with a nude photo spread (with private parts discreetly obscured).
Clearly, Brown is comfortable with notoriety in ways not commonly found among politicians. So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that in his book he frankly admits that, as a 10-year-old, he was sexually molested by a camp counselor. And that little boy was made to believe that if he ever told, he’d be killed. So he didn’t.
Cynics, of course, are dismissing this admission as a ploy to pump sales of the book. Brown also admits in the book that he shoplifted as a teenager, part of his existence while shuffling from home to home. Stability didn’t come easy for the young Brown. His mother was on welfare and he was sent to live with relatives at some points. Divulging details like that well ahead of the 2012 election season, when he will have to run again, could be seen as a pre-emptive strike, as one Boston political science professor has argued.
There’s a bit of a double standard in the flak Brown is getting. Certainly, he’s attempting to promote his book. He taped a segment for “60 Minutes,” a portion of which was heavily circulated to drive up interest before the Feb. 21 release.
But people should take care not to insinuate that he is only now divulging details of the abuse to increase sales. Would a notable woman, say a CEO or comparably high-profile senator, be accused of dreaming up a sexual assault for attention-seeking? I think not.
The fact is, men typically find it hard to talk about being victims of sexual assault. And that’s a shame, because we’re a nation full of potential Scott Browns. With divorced and split families, so many young boys are without strong father figures. The isolated young man is prey to the pedophile.
Here is how Brown termed it in a portion of the pre-release of the 60 Minutes interview: “When people find people like me at that young, vulnerable age, who are basically lost, the thing that they have over you is, they make you believe that no one will believe you,” he said.
By some estimates, one in six boys will be sexually assaulted. How do they fare as adults? Women as victims of domestic and sexual violence — we’ve grown accustomed to those images. Not in the sense that it’s acceptable, but in terms of advocacy, domestic violence is a well-known issue.
Thankfully, men in recent years have become part of the dialogue. Many cities host fundraisers where men “walk a mile in her shoes,” literally walking in high heels to raise money for victims of domestic violence.
But where are the images of following the young boys’ footsteps as he watches a mother being struck? What is the psychological damage of the memories they hold, physically out-muscled and unable to give their mother protection? In the book, Brown details how as a 6-year-old he tried to protect his mother from a stepfather and was subsequently beaten by the man.
We often hear of how difficult it is for women to break from the patterns of lining up with abusive men. But by remarrying the same sort of abuser, or staying, what they cast upon their children isn’t so readily discussed.
And it’s commendable to Brown’s sense of manhood that he’s willing to peel away his own model-perfect exterior to begin our understanding.
Mary Sanchez, an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.