This week, Senator Scott Brown revealed, in anticipation of the release of his forthcoming memoir, that he was sexually and emotionally abused as a child. Sexual and emotional abuse of either children or adults is horrific and, unfortunately, widespread.
In this moment, I am not even going to attempt to address the issue in its complexity. I not only believe what Senator Brown says, I also feel for him and, on one level, admire him for talking about his experiences and, hopefully, making it easier for other victims to seek help and to talk without shame about being abused, as well as for us as a society to talk more frankly both about violence prevention as well as compassionate, effective, and timely treatment for survivors of abuse. More will, I am sure, be said here about Brown's memoirs and experiences in the coming days.
What I want to do now is ask some questions.
First, and as a prelude to others: What did or does Brown's experience teach him about violence and abuse, about victims, and about rights?
For example, as a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse, one would think that Brown would have first-hand and deep sympathy for other survivors of violence, including rape and sexual abuse of women. Why then did Brown, as a candidate in Massachusetts, work to make it harder for rape victims to get access to emergency contraception?
As Kathleen Reeves wrote on RHRC in January 2010:
In 2005, Brown, a Massachusetts state senator, proposed an amendment to an emergency contraception bill that would have allowed doctors or nurses who didn’t like EC to refuse treatment to rape victims. Far from irrelevant, the amendment was shocking then and is shocking now.
Reeves quotes an interview with Brown by Megan Carpentier:
Megan Carpentier takes Brown to task brilliantly on Air America, responding, in particular, to his claim that the right to withhold EC is “not about the victim.” In 2005, Brown defended his amendment as follows:
“Through our conversations, I’ve heard, ‘what if somebody has a sincerely held religious conviction about dispensing the emergency contraception medication? What about their rights? How do we address those?’ ’’ Brown said on the Senate floor, according to a State House News Service transcript.
Brown added that a rape victim would be referred to another facility at no additional cost. “It’s not about the victim."
It is, indeed, about the victim. Could you possibly even fathom one of the very sympathetic interviewers on ABC, CNN, The Today Show or some other venue turning to Brown and suggesting, "but this was not about you, right?"
Brown has also publicly articulated a pro-choice stance and ran as a pro-choice candidate which of course put him in good stead in Massachusetts but not with the rest of the GOP or the Tea Party leadership.
However, his pro-choice positions are strained by lack of an evidence-base.
“Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but I think we need to do more to reduce the amount of abortions,” he stated. “And the difference between me and maybe others is that I'm very – I'm against partial-birth abortions. I'm against federal funding of abortions. And I believe in a strong parental consent notification law.”
Problems: One, no such thing as partial birth abortions, so if he is pro-choice he has not examined the evidence. But more salient is this: His stance on "strong parental consent."
Wow. Would he have asked his abusers to take him to the police or the social services agency so he could report them? No? Well, the fact is that not only don't parental consent laws not work, they are most egregiously detrimental to the very teens most likely to have been in Brown's position: young girls who live in abusive family situations, or who may even be victims of incest, and who fear telling their parents what they need, often for fear of violence from their families. These laws are the construct of a movement that is unconcerned with the emotional and physical well-being of teens in difficult situations or with their futures. They are concerned with putting up roadblocks to access for teens to evidence-based, compassionate reproductive and sexual health care. They are concerned with funding "crisis-pregnancy centers." These do not provide compassionate care to victims of violence, rape or other abuse.
There is much else to explore here.
But my questions are these:
First, will Brown's veracity be challenged by the tidal wave of "violence- and rape-denialists" that descend on every woman who publicly discusses abuse? For the record, I do not wish this on him. I do, however, think it will be interesting to see what level of compassion from the usual suspects Brown garners in his story than has been accorded so far to say, Lara Logan? And how will revelations by a "pin-up" macho male senator affect the discussion around emotional abuse of women, which is regularly dismissed as being a problem by violence-denialists and the far right?
How will Brown's experiences inform his role as a lawmaker?
Will he agree to the drastic cuts being made by his party to shelters, public health programs and other social services that actually help victims of violence and those in need of health services?
Does he agree with the effort in the House to "redefine rape?" And if not, why has he not spoken out about this?
What role can Scott Brown play in bringing reality to debates and to policies that most heavily affect women, and even more dramatically affect low-income women and their vulnerable children?
In short, does Brown now understand it is in fact about the victim?
There are several roads Brown could take. I am interested to see where he turns.