A member of the performing group The 5 Browns recalls asking her sister if she had been sexually assaulted by their father. After that, she said, the world as she knew it turned upside down.
Deondra Brown said she and her sister then realized they both had been assaulted by their father — something they had never talked about before.
“We carried that guilt and that shame alone,” Brown said. “We waited 15 years to say the words out loud — ‘We were sexually abused.'”
Brown spoke at BYU during Sexual Assault Awareness Week, covering topics discussed in a 2018 documentary about The 5 Browns. Their story gained notoriety because of their careers as professional pianists. Music has been a source of therapy and an escape from their family tragedies.
“Music, as you can imagine, has been a large part of my life as long as I can remember,” Brown said. “It’s part of what we did; it was a part of who I was.”
She continued by sharing she and her siblings shared everything with one another. Successes, failures, ups and downs. Brown said music was the chance for her to live in the moment and that she could lose herself in it.
“I could throw myself into the music as a wonderful distraction,” Brown said.
After their discovery, the sisters and siblings knew they had a choice before them, and they decided they couldn’t just sit by and put other young lives at risk, Brown said. That is when they went to the authorities and reported their father.
Brown said they were lucky everything happened in Utah because of local laws regarding statutes of limitations. Despite the fact that it was 15 years after the abuse, they could pursue their case and their father was put behind bars.
“It’s your job to report and let the authorities do their job,” Brown said. “Be that hero that the child is wishing and praying for.”
With that in mind, Brown advised the audience to have patience with victims. She said many victims may never want to seek out their legal options, and that’s OK. She said it’s important to give them the opportunity and freedom to talk when they are ready.
“Let us have a voice when we’re ready, and when we’re ready, we’ll come forward,” Brown said. “It takes time to find the courage to talk about it with anyone. Sometimes it takes physical time to strip down the guilt and shame that’s built out over time to realize that you did nothing wrong.”
Brown said the other thing to keep in mind is to not discount what the victim is feeling. She said that oftentimes the emotions felt by victims are too numerous to list.
“If a victim is feeling it, whatever it is, is valid. We have to let ourselves feel it in order to work through it,” Brown said. “It’s a lot to take in, and some days it’s quite overwhelming.”
As a final thought, Brown said another important thing to remember is to remind victims they need to be patient with themselves, too. She said the path to healing is individual and looks different for everyone.
“The abuse will always be a part of me and a part of my story. But it’s not the end or the focus,” Brown said. “It doesn’t define me, and it definitely doesn’t define my decisions.”