Victims and advocates praise Brown for going public about childhood

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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Victims of child sex abuse and their advocates yesterday praised Senator Scott Brown for going public with the abuse he suffered as a child at a summer camp and said they hope his acknowledgment will prompt elected officials to strengthen laws against predators, and convince more victims to come forward.

“Senator Brown’s decision to speak publicly about his own abuse helps lend a voice to survivors around the world,’’ said victim Gary Bergeron, 48, of Salem, N.H., in a phone interview.

Bergeron, who was abused as a middle school student by a Catholic priest in Lowell, said Brown’s admission comes after victims of priestly abuse blazed a trail in the Boston area in 2002, when the clergy abuse scandal first broke.

“One of the things that clergy abuse survivors helped do almost a decade ago in Boston is open the door for survivors around the world to speak about their abuse,’’ he said.

Another victim, Bernie McDaid, 55, of Peabody, also commended Brown and said his revelation suggests attitudes about child sex abuse are changing.

“The fact that a politician of this caliber is coming out publicly . . . it just shows that it’s safer now in society to talk about this,’’ said McDaid, who was abused by a priest when he was between the ages of 11 and 13 as a student at a Catholic school in Salem.

Bergeron and McDaid, who were abused by the same priest, are cofounders of the group Survivor’s Voice, which advocates for victims of child sex abuse.

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping abused and vulnerable children, said she has long regarded Brown as a supporter of legislative efforts to curb sexual abuse.

About five years ago, he was among supporters of a bill that extended the period of time in which a victim of sex abuse could file charges against a perpetrator. Around the same time, he called sexual abuse the “number one public safety issue affecting us here in the Commonwealth,’’ at a press conference with several lawmakers and then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, according to the State House News Service.

Bernier said the extended reporting time measure is now law, and as a result victims have up to 27 years past their 16th birthday to bring charges. She said Brown’s Senate office recently cosponsored a federal bill that would, among other things, limit the ability of those convicted of sex abuse from working in a variety of settings. Brown’s office, she said, has asked her group for input on that initiative.

For his work at the state level, Brown earned the Spirit of Compassion Award in 2008 from the advocacy group Community VOICES, which works on behalf of sex abuse victims, according to executive director Laurie Myers. She said word of Brown’s own abuse came as a surprise.

“It was shocking news, really,’’ she said. “I’m sure the reason why he’s sharing it is because he’s strong enough to do that. He’s amazing, he really is.’’

Other advocates said yesterday that they hope the Legislature will go even further in rolling back the statute of limitations and other protections for child predators.

“Hopefully, Senator Brown’s revelation will send a message to the Legislature, which will serve as a wake-up call with regard to the statute of limitations and the need to abolish it,’’ said attorney Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, who has represented hundreds of victims of child sexual abuse in civil lawsuits.

Barbara Talkov, executive director of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, a statewide coalition of child advocates, said someone of Brown’s stature going public also sends a powerful message to young people who have suffered abuse more recently.

“It takes a lot of courage of go public — even if you’re writing a book, too, you’re still going public,’’ she said. “More kids and teenagers will see this, too. Here’s someone who is a public figure, well respected, and he’s not afraid to talk about it.’’

Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of the website, which publishes information on priests accused of sex abuse, said she hopes Brown will be the elected official from the Massachusetts delegation who emerges as a leading voice for victims in Washington.

“He’s helping an untold number of victims, especially men,’’ she said. “I think it’s really courageous of him to reveal that. . . . If he can help make institutions more responsible and more protective of children, that would be an amazing legacy.’’

Michael Levenson and Patricia Wen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at