Sexual assault is so devastating and personal, you understand why people chose to remain anonymous, why we rarely meet the one in five girls and one in six boys who are victimized before they even turn 18.
When victims do come forward, it’s more often the grown-up woman who wants to tell all – not the grown-up man.
Then you meet Austin Brown, 22. He was 11 years old when he was raped, and he wants desperately to tell his story.
“To help other kids,” he said from underneath a white and black Hairy Dawg cap.
Up until now, fear forced him to keep the molestation secret, but there was another reason, too.
Austin Brown is gay. He feared that if he opened up about the abuse, people would assume that’s why he’s gay and that he welcomed his male abuser, even though his abuser was his own father.
Austin knew since the fourth grade he preferred men to women, starting with his sixth-grade social studies teacher.
“I had a crush on him,” Austin said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I started bringing him gifts, hanging around his class just to be able to see him.”
When he shared his feelings with his father, he exploded.
“He told me I was disgusting,” Austin said.
But weeks later, Austin was awakened from a deep sleep one night by his father, who sexually assaulted him.
Austin always knew there were two sides to his dad. He could be playful and loving one minute and the next beat him until he bled and put cigarettes out on his back.
Sometimes he’d offer an apology and things would return to normal.
“Then he’d return at night when my mother was sleeping,” Austin said.
Austin tried a few times to tell his mother, but he could never speak his father’s name.
He was 16 when she finally put two and two together and confronted her husband.
By then he was molesting Austin’s younger brother, too, and Austin was a total mess.
The happy, outgoing kid with lots of friends was now a loner who cut himself.
“I felt empty,” he said. “I felt dead. Gross. I hated when someone looked at me and said I know how you feel. I checked out pretty early. I didn’t mean to. I just couldn’t be there for myself or anyone else.”
Angela Williams, founder of Voice Today, a non-profit organization with a mission to break the silence and cycle of child sexual abuse, says that’s pretty common for child molestation victims. Many often suffer from suicidal tendencies, addiction and eating disorders.
“Perpetrators keep children silenced by fear, manipulation, intimidation and shame,” she said. “They threaten their safety or the safety of someone they love. They make them feel consensual in the act and their victims take on responsibility for the abuse. Victims lose their voice and become powerless. Often they are at a place of desperation losing all self worth and value.”
There’s good news for victims who want to see their abusers punished. In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House bill 17 that extends the statute of limitations for a child sexual abuse civil suit and gives adult survivors of child sexual abuse access to closed records of their investigations.
In 2008, Austin’s father, Steven Malcolm Brown, was convicted of aggravated sexual molestation and sent to prison to serve a 25-year sentence.
Just before his 21st birthday last year, Austin decided to tell his mother the rest of the story.
He told her he is gay.
“Coming out really helped,” he said. “It took a huge amount of the weight off me. I’m happy now where my life is heading.”
His journey toward healing is nowhere near over. Austin knows that, but he’s trying.
At least, he can hold a job now. He’s a night manager at a local CVS.
But more importantly, he can look outside of himself long enough to care for others. That’s big. That’s one of the reasons he wanted to tell me his story.
But there’s another reason, too. He said he wouldn’t have made it this far without the kindness of friends and family.
None of that would’ve happened had he kept the secret. Now he wants to shout it from the rooftop, which is the best advice he can give to anyone going through the same thing, who might be feeling guilty and ashamed like he once did.
Tell someone. If they don’t believe you, tell someone else.
“It’s true that most people aren’t going to be accepting, but that’s not always the case,” Austin said. “There’s hope.”
If you’re a child in danger or know a child in danger, dial 911. You can also find help at 1-800-CHILDHELP or log onto www.voicetoday.org for additional resources.
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