Scott Brown's dilemma

By EDITORIAL  |  February 23, 2011

By focusing on his personal story of tragedy and triumph to the exclusion of his politics, Brown hopes to hone the edge he'll need when he faces reelection in the cranky but still progressive state of Massachusetts.


The biggest shock, of course, in Brown's memoir — surprising his family, his friends, his constituents and his party — are his revelations that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. While this shocking revelation was already making headlines, Brown officially went public with his story in an interview on 60 Minutes, CBS's news magazine, the day before Against All Odds was published.

Despite our analysis of the political aim of Brown's non-political memoir, we extend to Brown our sympathy, and our respect for the courage it takes to come forward on issues of sexual abuse.

Although Brown puts it less graphically, as a boy he was the victim of an attempted rape by a knife-wielding teenager whom Brown successfully fought off with a rock.

And at summer camp a teenaged Brown was molested and abused in what most authorities would consider a serial set of attempted rapes.

Brown, for his own reasons, has not named his assailant and has steered clear of terming his abuse "attempted rape." And while that works in a literary context, it does have political implications.

Perhaps Brown shied away from using the word "rape" because it is out of fashion with his Republican colleagues. As many rape survivors have been trying to explain to Brown's political party, rape is rape. Unfortunately, House Republicans do not to feel the same way. Many are trying to weaken the protections that rape and abuse victims fought for years to win.

The mainstream media hasn't been faring much better. When CBS correspondent Lara Logan allowed her network to make public the fact that she had been raped while reporting in Egypt, she broke what the Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker recently referred to as a "code of silence" practiced by women reporters. That didn't stop assorted jackasses from questioning Logan's motives.

The press has not applied this line of questioning to Brown. (Although, after his revelation, pre-sales of the memoir on Amazon jumped 800 percent.)

Our point isn't that reporters should be questioning Brown, but instead that there is a consistent double standard applied to coverage of rape, which reveals a blatant and troubling sexism that is oozing back into mainstream culture.

Brown's party is in large measure responsible for that. In the past two weeks, Republicans in state and national offices have revealed their true feelings about victims of sexual assault by attempting to play semantics with rape victims' bodies. In fact, Republicans would prefer that we no longer refer to rape victims as, well, rape victims. Scott Brown, by their measure, should be referred to as an "accuser."

It will be interesting to see what Brown says about the Republican-inspired effort to put abuse and rape back in society's closet. As a victim and a survivor with a powerful public platform at his disposal, the minimum the public should expect is that Brown speak out against Republicans who want to pretend that sex crimes do not exist.

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