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How the '5 Browns' sisters, abused as children, are working to protect kids

They want to make sure no more kids, including their own, suffer the trauma.
by Helen Ray / / Source: TODAY

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The 5 Browns are most known for their quintet ensemble piano performances and chart-topping classical music albums; what isn’t as well known was the dark family secret: The sister siblings were sexually abused for years by their father.

Nearly 20 years after the abuse, with their father in prison and their mother estranged, the siblings have maintained a strong bond that’s helped them survive. "Now I'm proud to say I've lived through difficult things and I'm still here; we're still performing,” Deondra Brown told Megyn Kelly, speaking about her father’s sexual abuse and an upcoming documentary.

As parents, Deondra and Desirae Brown face unique challenges. Desirae, who has a son and a daughter, ages 4 and 5, and Deondra, who has a 7-year-old daughter, started the Foundation for Surviving Abuse to help provide justice for other survivors.

The 5 Browns, Deondra, Desirae, Gregory, Melody and Ryan, grew up in a Mormon household in Utah where they were homeschooled to allow more time to practice their piano skills. They became the first family of five to attend New York's prestigious Juilliard School, which led to their discovery and success: The siblings had several #1 albums on Billboard Magazine's Classical Album Chart in the early 2000s.

In the fall of 2007, sisters Desirae and Deondra discovered they shared a history of sexual abuse that they had kept quiet for years. When their father began managing other teenage girls, they decided to tell the police.

“One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to not shy away from these topics when your child approaches you,” Desirae told TODAY Parents.

She recently had to heed her own advice. “I’m just coming out of the tiny kid phase where I had to have those first weird conversations,” she said. “I had to remind myself to calm down and breathe, (and remember) body positivity."

Her experience has provided a script for a conversation with her kids. "Don’t let anybody touch underneath where you wear a swimsuit. If you ever feel icky or uncomfortable say ‘stop,’ use the proper names for all of your private parts. Don’t touch anybody’s other private parts, you don’t show yours, no closed doors on playdates, the list goes on and on, and they know those things."

For right now, Desirae has imposed a strict rule: no sleepovers. “I will pick up my kid at midnight. (They can) wear the pajamas, eat all the candy, just don’t stay over.”

"Every family is a little different, but I’m going to err on the protective side.”

Desirae knows to trust that inner feeling and for her, the “overprotective” title is worth it, “I joke that I’m overprotective, but I feel it’s better to be safe than have something happen and regret that maybe you weren’t a little more overprotective.”

According to RAINN, 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 will be sexually abused or assaulted by an adult. “It’s important for parents to realize it doesn’t matter what community you’re in, it doesn’t matter your religious affiliation, it doesn’t matter your income level, it happens everywhere,” said Deondra. “It’s our responsibility as adults to make sure we create an environment where these kids can come forward. It’s not just their responsibility to protect themselves."

Talking about their trauma can be tiring for the musicians, who often speak publicly about it. “It’s a draining endeavor to keep kids safe from sexual abuse," said Desirae. "A lot of people will disclose to us and it wears me down sometimes. But when I look at my kids I know I’m fighting for them. I know how to protect them a little better now than I would have maybe before.”

There’s a payoff for having those difficult conversations. Just last week Deondra’s daughter mentioned she wants to help her mom protect kids when she grows up. “She gets what I do, she understands how many kids are affected by this and to her it’s just part of her life, so she understands that there are those boundaries, even at a small age, that nobody should cross.

"It’s kind of exciting to me as a mom to think that I’m instilling in her this sense of ownership of who she is that I didn’t necessarily have.”

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