SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – The numbers are shocking. Nearly five children in Utah are sexually abused each day. And most often it’s not a stranger but the child’s own parent who is behind the abuse. For years it’s been treated as a family secret. But experts say it is time to bring it out in the open for the sake of children.
“At the time it was a perfect storm for incest,” said Deann Tilton who grew up in the 1970’s and claims her father molested her.
Steven Ewell is currently an inmate at the state prison in Gunnison.
“For some reason I had an attraction to my daughter,” he told a hearing officer during a review of his case.
In 2011 in a Provo courtroom, Judge David Mortensen told Keith Brown of his role in life.
“It is obvious a home should be a refuge and a safe place and a parent should be a protector,” said Judge Mortensen.
Brown, father and manager of Utah’s well known pianist group, “the 5-Browns” was not a protector but a pedophile.
He’s serving up to a life sentence for sexually molesting his two daughters.
“As a teenager I felt alone,” said Deondra Brown. “I felt really alone. I felt shamed and dirty.”
It turns out Brown is not alone. According to the Department of Public Safety in 2013:
- there were 1,661 cases of various types of sex abuse between a parent and child.
- 623 cases involved a grandparent and grandchild.
In 2012, DPS reports:
- 929 children were sexually molested by a parent.
- 715 grandchildren were molested.
“Often, very sad it’s been passed inter-generationally for many, many years within families,” said Joann Schladale, executive director of Resources For Resolving Violence. “And the people who have perpetrated it come to me and say it was just done in our family.”
Prison inmate Ewell started molesting his four year old daughter and the abuse spanned almost a decade.
“I would go in the mornings and lay down with her and stick my hands under bra and underwear,” Ewell said. “I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew I needed help. I was scared.”
Jackie Chilton remembers a frightening childhood because of her father.
“Even at 4 and 5 years old I knew something was wrong because I was afraid of him,” recalled Chilton.
Chilton says her dad molested her for years before she got the courage to tell her mother.
But growing up in the 70’s, the abuse was kept quiet.
“I dropped out of high school I couldn’t focus I was in a constant state of shock,” she said.
Tilton who has now become an advocate at the University of Utah, grew up in Spanish Fork.
“I never forgot the abuse. it was very confusing behavior for me,” she said.
She grew up afraid of dark for a different reason. Night time was when her dad would sneak into her room.
“My dad said don’t tell mom about this,” she said. “It was first time it was validated. He had a grip on my mind and the fear of punishment and the fear of breaking up the family.”
She never told anyone.
Being a survivor herself, Deondra Brown of the 5 Browns understands why.
“It’s a very solitary crime and because of that the victim doesn’t realize there are so many others out there like them,” she said.
At a recent seminar focusing on treatment, experts hoped to shed light on a disturbing problem. There’s always been resources for victims who come forward. But Schladale said it starts with prevention and the tools to empower children to speak up.
“I believe it is the parent’s responsibility to teach little toddlers healthy boundaries, things about touching themselves. to have healthy boundaries within that family,” she said.
Bobbie Pugh is a mother and a therapist with a non-profit group for abused children.
“Teaching them that they have a voice, ‘this is my body, it’s my body if i say stop you stop,'” Pugh said. “It’s important to let children know that they have a voice.”
The state legislature passed a new law extending the time when a victim of sex abuse can report the crime and still get it prosecuted.
And efforts to make schools teach children about sex abuse begin next year.
“My father considered me his property,” said an elderly man who is speaking about his abuse years ago.
He is featured in a new campaign by the Attorney General’s office. The public campaign is called “One With Courage.” It launches April 28th.
According to an early release statement by the office it’s mission is “Protecting children is the responsibility of every adult. One With courage is a campaign that provides adults with the tools they need to keep Utah’s children safe from sexual abuse.”
“Life gets better, but it’s not an overnight process,” said the elderly man featured in the campaign.
And through support groups, survivors are learning ways to move on.
“It is not my fault,” said Brown. “I can still go on and do all amazing things I would hope to do in my life.”
Brown and her sister set up a foundation for survivors. She said it’s a way to let others know they’re not alone because there’s too much at stake.
“When I feel overwhelmed some days, I look at her (daughter) and think, I really am optimistic that you are going to have a better life than I did and I will do everything in my power to protect you as your mother,” she said.
Good for Utah.com news.