WEST JORDAN — Deondra Brown is a classical pianist. Rabbi Avremi Zippel is the program director at Chabad Lubavitch of Utah. Aaron Osmond is a businessman and former state senator.
All three were abused as children. And all three haven’t let that dark time in their lives stop them from becoming successful.
“I really do relate to the struggles that survivors experience on a daily basis of trying to come to terms with it and being bold enough to say the words, ‘I am a survivor,’” said Brown, of the 5 Browns piano group.
Brown, Zippel and Osmond serve as ambassadors for a new state program designed to change the conversation around child abuse and empower survivors called Shine. They spoke at a news conference Wednesday outside the Children’s Justice Center in West Jordan, one of more than two dozen in the state.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Children’s Justice Center launched a public awareness campaign, including public service announcements, billboards and digital media earlier this month.
The National Children’s Alliance, national membership organization for Children’s Justice Centers, created Shine as an initiative to end the stigma associated with child abuse and encourage community members to support survivors. Utah is the first state to roll out a campaign of this size.
In 2019, the Utah Division of Family Services confirmed 7,570 cases of child abuse and neglect involving 10,828 children, up 6% over the year before. Child endangerment, domestic violence child abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse top the list of confirmed allegations the agency investigates.
About 70% of the perpetrators are parents, while nearly 18% are relatives.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said reports of caseloads being significantly down during the coronavirus pandemic might lead people to believe that there is less child abuse going on.
“But we’re here to tell you that that’s not the case,” he said, adding cases are underreported as a consequence of stay-at-home restrictions.
Brown said the Shine campaign is unique because it doesn’t dwell on the difficulties of surviving child abuse.
“We’re not focusing in on the terrible aspects of abuse. That’s part of a survivor’s story, but we’re celebrating the fact that they’re here, that they forged forward and that they have so much to offer those of the next generation,” she said.
Deondra Brown and her sister Desirae founded the Foundation for Survivors of Abuse after their father, Keith Brown, was sentenced to prison in 2011 for sexually abusing his daughters over a period of several years in the 1990s.
A woman sexually abused Rabbi Zippel for about 10 years — from age 8 to 18 — while she was employed as his nanny. Alavina Florreich was sentenced to 25 years and up to life in prison earlier this year.
Rabbi Zippel said beyond the pain and torment, survivors are overcome with uncertainty. What does it mean for my life? Will I grow up? Will I have normal relationships? Will I get a job? Will I be OK?
“The greatest gift we can give young people who find themselves in a situation like that is the reminder that yes, absolutely, without a shadow of doubt,” he said. “There are survivors of child abuse that have gone on to pursue their dreams and live the most full and beautiful and meaningful lives possible.”
In 2014, Osmond disclosed that he was a victim of abuse by a nonrelative during an emotional Utah Senate debate on a child sexual abuse prevention bill.
Osmond said he grew up in a “fantastic” family where he was taught values and shared many positive experiences. But they never talked about the risk or potential for abuse.
“Even with our closest family and friends, this kind of activity can occur,” he said. “And what I realized was that I need to be a voice for these other amazing people in communicating the importance of awareness.”
Osmond said he never understood that it was OK to say no to an adult.