Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It took time for the women of The 5 Browns to come to grips with the sexual abuse they experienced as children.
It took growing up, leaving home and heading to Julliard, coming into their own and learning more about who they are.
Only then did the wrongness of what had happened really hit them.
"For the average person who has survived things like this, it's an average of 14 years before they can come to terms with what happened and be able to talk about it and can be able to start moving past the things that have happened before," Deondra Brown said Wednesday. "You have to be able to have the luxury of that time to be able to heal. You can't be on a strict time schedule."
She described that time away from home as a "big awakening" that allowed her and her sisters to "dig through that back closet" to the abuse from years ago. Desirae Brown added that most of the time, 80 percent to be exact, children who are abused are abused by parents and stepparents.
"There's tremendous pressure in the home to keep things quiet and so I think a victim needs that distance of time and sometimes physical distance to be able to come to terms with what happened," she said.
Per legislation that passed in 2008, Utah law allowed Deondra, Desirae and their sister Melody to bring charges against their father for abuse spanning 1990 to 1998, at times when the sisters were under the age of 13.
In March 5, 2010, Lone Peak police began investigating Keith Brown, father to the prodigious siblings, including brothers Ryan and Gregory. At the conclusion of their investigation, Lone Peak police recommended 600 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child against Brown for abuse suffered by one of his daughters. The recommended number of counts for the other daughters on all other charges, including object rape and forcible sexual abuse, is unknown.
Brown, 55, struck a deal with prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to sodomy on a child, a first degree felony, for which he received a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. He also was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison for each of two counts of sex abuse of a child, a second-degree felony. He was ordered to serve the sentences concurrently.
There is no statute of limitations in Utah on when child sexual abuse cases can be filed, which allowed for the Browns' case to move forward.
Now, Deondra and Desirae say they are on the "ground floor" of the issue, working with senators and other lawmakers to see that similar laws are passed on a federal level to protect children in every state. That way, Deondra Brown said, the time it can take to understand and face the abuse would not mean a perpetrator goes free.
"A lot of times, you're still as a child in that home environment and so it's difficult to do what needs to be done in order to put these criminals away," she said. "We're kind of fighting for rights of children and rights of adults to be able to heal in their own timeframe and not having people tell them how long or short they should have."
The foundation they've started, the Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, has already helped them connect with others who have similar experiences, concerns and interests about the laws. But while the Browns have been lauded for taking a stance and being willing to tell their story in such public forums, they say the abuse can divide families.
"I think that's something that survivors should expect rather than be surprised by," Desirae Brown said of the divide. "It's not going to make it any less hurtful and so I think people feel like there's a sense of: "We need to hear both sides of the story.'
"There are not two sides to this story. There's only one and that's the survivor."
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