WHEN IT comes to public policy, the media should have no qualms about asking Senator Scott Brown the tough, uncomfortable questions. But pressuring Brown to describe the details of the sexual abuse he experienced as a child is an entirely different matter: If the senator says he doesn’t want to discuss it, he shouldn’t have to.
Some have suggested that because Brown disclosed in his recent memoir that he was molested at a Cape Cod summer camp, he’s now obliged to name the counselor who allegedly abused him. But Brown has repeatedly said he’d rather not, because discussing the incident is difficult for him and his family, and because he’d like to move on with his life. That’s an understandable position, 41 years after the incident took place. Victims of sexual abuse deserve the chance to process their experiences in their own ways and at their own pace — even if they are public figures who have written about their trauma. That nuance seems to be lost on those suggesting that Brown will somehow be culpable if the abuser he’s unwilling to name turns out to have victimized others.
If anything, Brown’s disclosure has demonstrated the power of one person stepping forward to make allegations of abuse. In the two months since Brown first discussed what happened to him on Cape Cod that summer of 1970, over a dozen former campers from Cape Good News in Sandwich have come forward with their own allegations. As a result, the camp has lost its accreditation. Camps, schools, and other institutions that work with young people would be safer places if more sexual abuse victims felt emboldened to tell their stories. That means encouraging a public discourse that listens to them without forcing them to reveal more details than they are willing to discuss.