“Neutrality helps the oppressor; never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor; never the tormented.”
– Elie Wiesel
Can one person truly make a difference? Taking a good hard look at the multitude of evils and injustices in our communities may tempt us to lose hope for the future – and second guess our capacity to be an influence for good. But the simple truth is that anyone with a desire to do good can make a difference. And we’ve got proof.
Classical music chart-toppers The 5 Browns discussed their foundation for survivors of abuse as keynote speakers at our recent Civic Engagement conference.
In response to a long-term pattern of sexual abuse from their father, who is now in prison, the Browns decided to speak up. They now act as advocates for legal change on statute of limitations legislation – contending for victims of abuse by pushing for legislation that allows them time to heal, and prepare to prosecute against their abusers when they are ready.
From Victim to Advocate
In a vigorous speech, Deondra Brown, co-founder of the foundation, shared her story; a story of growing from a broken victim to a strong advocate for positive change.
“I remember the first time I said the words, I was sexually abused,” recalled Deondra. “It felt both terrible and yet somehow freeing at the same time.”
“News of the abuse hit the media and I thought my world had literally ended…I wondered if I’d forever be branded as a victim and only be remembered by the vicious things that had been done to me, and not the person that I am.”
Abuse knows no cultural or socio-economic bounds, she says. It finds its place in the homes of children worldwide – regardless of race, class, demographic, or religion. Many of its victims are silenced by fear and confusion, with the perpetrators allowed to “play the odds” that the victim will not come forth until it is too late to prosecute.
In many states, there are laws that prohibit victims of abuse from prosecuting unless they do it in a specific time frame. Now Deondra and her sister Desirae fight to eliminate these laws. And they have found great success. They recently worked on a successful bill that became a law to eliminate the statute of limitations for civil cases of current sexual abuse in Utah. And they are currently working on further legislation in Washington DC. “Never before have I experienced such purpose as I do now,” declared Deondra.
Twenty percent of children have been sexually abused, she said. And their voices can be powerful voices for social change.”Our stories are the most important thing that we can share,” declared Deondra. “[They] help move our communities in a more positive direction.”
Raising a Voice in Support of Victims
Speaking as one who was not abused, Gregory Brown encouraged students to be a voice for change. “I was kind of like you not so long ago,” said Gregory, “I was sitting in class, going about my daily life, all the while not knowing that people I knew were suffering like this.”
Gregory encouraged all, but particularly the 80% of people who have not been abused, to cease the silence, and speak out. “The other 80% of us are just at another school event and will probably leave here and go about our lives as we normally do,” admitted Gregory. But he believes that we are all capable of change.
“I have to wonder why it is that it always seems as though the people who are hit hardest by a given issue are the very ones left to shoulder the burden…of standing up for what is right.”
“Whether it is this issue [of abuse] or another issue that is leaving you conflicted or sitting on the fence, my plea to you today is to get up and do something about it. Don’t drown out the protest of your conscience by assuming that someone will else will pick up and do the dirty work that is needed to make things better.”
Finding a Voice
So how did two survivors of abuse become effective advocates for other victims? In answering this question, Desirae Brown stressed the importance of commitment to a cause – as well as having eyes that are open to seeing real issues. She also mentioned a potential hurdle that Mormons may have to get over in order to make a difference.
“In a few short years, we had gone from being broken and scared, to initiating, drafting, and having legislation introduced on a federal level.”
“Sometimes the positivity and hope so intrinsic to the Mormon lens through which we as members view the world, can at times make us blind to what is actually happening around us.”
Desirae suggests that we, as members of the Church, lend our voices to those of victims of abuse. “We don’t have to lose our faith to be passionate about social causes…You can be a whistle-blower and still be a Mormon.”
To lift our vision for the future, and make a difference in the lives of the oppressed, we can remember the words of Gregory Brown. “I promise you that one person can make a difference,” he said. “And the only reason I can say that with 100% certainty is that I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen in the lives of my sisters.”
To donate to Desirae and Deondra’s foundation, click here.
In what ways could you help victims of abuse?