Domestic violence speaker overcomes life of terror

by Rebecca Burylo
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

10/11/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- Her innocence was annihilated at age 5, and the ensuing silence from her family and society ultimately led to a life of sexual and physical abuse and two years of pure terror.

Tahiera Brown, clothed in deep purples, stood Oct. 3 with her chin high before an audience at the Air University's Academic Facility. She exemplified a survivor's strength in light of overwhelming tragedy.

Sharing horrific details of her abuse both as a child and later as a wife and mother as well as the terrorization she endured at the hands of her stalker-turned-captor, Brown accepted the opportunity to speak at Maxwell during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

April Jones, the Family Advocacy Program's outreach manager with the 42nd Medical Group, approached her with the idea to share her experiences with the military.

"The key point to take away from her story is how she survived and how she's using what she went through to make an impact to those who need to hear her voice," Jones said.

Her story

Brown grew up during the time of cotton picking and hard work. Men dominated society and ruled their wife and children with hardened control, Brown said.

She recalled several accounts of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of men throughout her life. Not once was she ensured such actions done to her were wrong.

Instead, she grew up believing the molestation she endured at ages 5 and 6 and then the beatings from her stepfather and later her husband were her fault.

"No one spoke to me to help me understand that it was not my fault. I withdrew into a little ball into my soul," she said.

Brown's mother would also emerge from behind closed doors covered in bruises. So it was no surprise to Brown when her own husband, after an arranged marriage, would beat her the night of their wedding.

"I learned how to keep silent in a domestic violent home," Brown said. "It was common knowledge and acceptable that a man could beat his wife and children during those times ... They were considered the man's property."

Brown would continue to be beaten by her husband, even while pregnant, until she filed for a divorce. It would be eight years after the divorce when he would finally leave her and her children in peace.

In 1986, Brown would meet yet another abuser on an elevator to work. He held a knife to her throat after stalking her for months.

"If it was not my life story, I would not believe so many things could happen in any person's life," Brown said. "I did not know my life was going to go through a traumatic change where a man was going to take over my home. It defines me now. It defines my journey."

The stalker released her from the elevator, but Brown found he had taken control of her children and her home.

"I was threatened constantly, I was choked, I was beaten, I was raped, I had guns pulled on me, I had knives pulled on me," she said. "He just took over my home. Day to day, I was waiting to die, hoping to die."

Brown's son and daughter also were abused at the hands of the stranger she could only identify as a co-worker.

For two years, Brown was forced to obey her captor in order to keep her children alive. He would dress her, bathe her, lock her in handcuffs and tell her what to say, what to do and where to go.

After witnessing her own daughter's molestation, Brown knew it was time to act.

As a way to escape her tormentor and find protection for her family, she induced a drug overdose that she hoped would lead her to the care of a hospital.

The drugs that put her into a coma led her to the safety of medical care.

"I had lost all hope of saving myself. But I made up my mind to save my children. I could no longer stand by and watch a man, a stranger, torment my children anymore," she said. "In my mind, it was not suicide. I chose an act that I could get help."

She woke up from the nightmare under intensive care at a local hospital. Brown suffered from amnesia, but she and her family were safe and their captor was tried and sentenced for his crime.

Her story of freedom elicited awed responses from the audience.

"It's overwhelming that someone could go through so much pain throughout the entirety of their life," said Kristin Haynes, who works with the 42nd Medical Group. "For a while, it didn't seem like she had any life in her, but now she has a wonderful husband who is obviously her light at the end of the tunnel."

Now a successful author, speaker and business owner of both a publishing and a film and television production company, Brown hosts an online television series and advocates for domestic violence awareness.

Living in Birmingham, happily married, Brown travels the country sharing her story with colleges, libraries, high schools, elementary schools and elderly care homes.

"Today I am free," Brown said. "I made a lot of sacrifices to be free and I am here with you today to encourage you to believe in yourself and to tell you that you are worthy to be loved, you are worthy to be appreciated and you are worthy to be respected."