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Brown describes beatings, sexual abuse in childhood

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By Mark Arsenault and Christopher Rowland
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown, describing a childhood of family violence and strife, reveals in his new autobiography that he was sexually assaulted as a 10-year-old by a summer camp counselor on Cape Cod and suffered beatings at the hands of abusive step-fathers.

The vivid recollections of the Republican senator from Massachusetts portray a world of drunken parents and scarce means, a life spent moving from house to house in Wakefield, Malden, and Revere. It was a life that taught him to fend for himself, he says.

“Like a fractured bone, I have knit back stronger in the broken places,’’ Brown writes, in one of the few moments of reflection in a book that mostly hurtles through an eventful life — from youthful trauma, to young basketball star and law student, to parties at Studio 54, and ultimately to the US Senate.

The book, “Against All Odds,’’ is scheduled for release on Monday, the morning after Brown appears in a “60 Minutes’’ segment. The Globe obtained a copy of the book yester day.

Brown has said previously that his childhood was punctuated by violence, but the details and the disclosure of sexual assault have never been revealed and provide new insights into the shaping of the senator.

Brown shocked the political establishment in by vaulting from his post as a virtually powerless state senator to the US Senate, where a year ago he took the seat held for decades by the late Democrat Edward M. Kennedy. Brown’s book fills in many more familiar elements of his now-superstar life: his passion for sports, his male modeling and nude photo spread in Cosmopolitan magazine, his attractive family.

Brown discloses that, as a youth, he shoplifted numerous times, lifting a three-piece-suit from a department store, and stealing steaks and hamburger from supermarkets. He expands on a previously disclosed incident, when he was caught in a record store stuffing albums by Black Sabbath and other rock artists into his overalls and was admonished by a judge to straighten up.

Brown’s most striking disclosure is that he was fondled by a camp counselor when he was 10 years old, during the summer after fourth grade, at a religious camp in Cape Cod. He does not disclose the name of the camp, which he described as Christian. He says he will never forget the perpetrator.

“I can remember how he looked, every inch of him: his long sandy, light brown hair; his long, full mustache; the beads he wore; the tie-dyed T-shirts and the cutoff jeans, which gave him the look of a hippie,’’ Brown writes.

Brown said the abuse occurred when he went to the camp infirmary. The counselor followed him into the bathroom.

“I was standing there with my pants down and he came right up next to me and asked me if I needed help, and then he reached out his hand,’’ Brown writes, continuing with a graphic description of the encounter.

Brown said he screamed and ran outside. The counselor told Brown later he would hurt Brown if the incident was revealed.

Brown kept quiet, though he told his family he didn’t want to go to camp again. Even so, he was back the next summer — and so was the counselor. Nothing happened, Brown writes, but he was always on guard.

The assault was a hard lesson, Brown writes. He felt there were no safe havens and no one he could “truly trust.’’

According to background material issued by Brown’s office yesterday, Brown, when he was a state senator, advocated for bills at the State House to protect sexual abuse victims.

In the book, Brown says the incident with the counselor was not the first time he faced a potential sex abuser. Another episode occurred when he was about 8 years old and living in Malden. Brown befriended a 13-year old boy from the neighborhood. Late one winter afternoon, the friend approached Brown in the woods, threatened him with a knife, and commanded Brown to perform a sexual act, according to Brown’s account. Feeling desperate, Brown says, he hit the teenager in the face with a rock and ran away.

In the 1960s, Brown’s divorced mother, Judy, was remarried to a truck driver Brown identifies as Dan Sullivan. The family moved to Revere. Brown writes that on the morning his younger sister was being born, he was supposed to wake up his stepfather and get him out of bed.

“He rubbed his face and caught sight of the clock, and the next thing I knew, he balled his hands into fists and began smacking me around,’’ Brown writes.

When the beating was done, his stepfather threatened to kill him if Brown told his mother, Brown says.

“I knew that he would kill me,’’ Brown writes.

Not long after, Brown woke up in bed to the sound of screams. He ran to see what was the matter.

“My mom was screaming and yelling, and crying big choking sobs, and he was hitting her, his fists landing blow after blow,’’ Brown writes.

Brown says he rushed him and bit him through his pants. “He tasted of soiled Dickies fabric, of coarse male hair and sweaty skin, but I bit down hard, right on the inside of his thigh,’’ Brown writes. “He began pounding my head until my brain rattled like a Jell-O mold turned upside down.’’

Neighbors called the police. “It took a few more months before Dan Sullivan was gone. But from that night on, I knew that I had to be the man of the house, that I had to be the protector above all other things.’’

He battled physically with a second abusive stepfather, he writes, in a brick house in Wakefield. “I actually called the Realtor and went in and took the tour and relived kind of where everything was . . . to make sure I wasn’t . . . dreaming,’’ Brown told “60 Minutes,’’ according to a press release promoting the CBS program. “As I left, I said, ‘Man, I wish I had the money. I’d just buy this thing and burn it down.’ ’’

Brown writes that he understands his mother’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship, writing that she had no profession or identity of her own.

Brown writes in his book that his biological father was mostly absent from his early life, and that his family grew up with little money, recalling that the largest things in the family refrigerator were blocks of government-issue cheese.

He writes that he found salvation in basketball, which he saw as a ticket to a better life.

Brown reveals that his infamous Cosmo centerfold picture from 1982 was actually the second time he posed nude for the magazine. For the initial shot, Brown was not in top shape and it showed.

“I looked pale and I wasn’t physically toned; I probably needed to lose 10 pounds.’’

The Cosmo staff told him to come back in two weeks in better shape. Brown embarked on a crash diet of nothing but three cans of tuna per day. He worked out feverishly and visited a tanning salon. “When I returned to New York I was bronzed and toned.’’

In a national publicity tour that followed his magazine spread, people referred to Brown as “the Cosmo guy.’’ He found himself one night in the back of a club with “leggy women with plunging necklines’’ and piles of cocaine on the table. Brown said he ordered an orange juice, shunning the drugs because of his recollections about his abusive stepfathers.

In the book’s acknowledgments, Brown thanks writer Lyric Winik for “the care she gave to help put my story into words.’’ Winik also helped write Laura Bush’s autobiography. Brown’s book was sold to publisher HarperCollins for an undisclosed sum.

Brown opens and closes the book on the same theme, insisting he would not undo any hardship.

“I would not change any part of the experiences that have been woven together to create the larger whole,’’ he writes.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com.