It’s 2:30 on a beautiful fall day. Sitting on my porch surrounded by rose bushes, newly in bloom, I am setting up an eye exam when the receptionist on the other end blurts out, “You’re the Jan Broberg with the new series, right?” I reply, “Yes, that’s me, A Friend of the Family starts streaming on Peacock October 6th.” She continues, “So do you remember, you came to my high school English class over 20 years ago, and told your story? I was 15, being abused by a beloved family member. You saved my life. I went home that day and told my mother. I was terrified. I’m now married with two beautiful children. Thank you.” Stunned, I stammered something about how much I appreciated knowing that I had helped her be brave enough to tell someone. How thriving in her life was a day-by-day miracle that she created by standing up for her own health and healing, and how strong I thought she was. We promised to hug each other when I came to the office for my now-scheduled eye appointment. Another one, of thousands, who have shared their stories with me since I opened up about my own.
A Friend of the Family, which airs its finale on Nov. 10, is based on my story. I am “that” Jan Broberg. I was abducted twice and sexually abused by a very close family friend, a father of five whom we met at church. Over the three years before my kidnappings, he manipulated my parents, my siblings, and our community, and groomed me and my entire orbit into trusting him. He was charming and fun, tenderhearted, service-oriented, or so it seemed. He looked like everybody else in my safe, small, Idaho hometown. In the nine-part series, we get to see a dramatized version of how this happened to my family. We focus on the psychology of a master manipulator and how he, she, they, them, operated in 1970, and how they are still operating today, grooming and abusing millions of other children and families right now, in 2022. Unfortunately, this cautionary story is extremely relatable.
The ugly and bitter truth of insidious and pervasive child sexual abuse (1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys), and the grooming tactics used by predators, is hard to talk about. But my family and I decided to expose every awful detail, every mistake made, every subtle sign missed, in order to help even one person see what we did not. Complete transparency and vulnerability left us exposed to harsh criticism and scrutiny. I now see the bravery, honesty, vulnerability and commitment it takes to pry open the proverbial can of worms.
The laser focus of blame should rest on the shoulders of the criminal pedophile who perpetrates these sexual acts of violence on innocent children. Secondly, we must blow the whistle on the patriarchy in families and organizations and systems that shelter abusers and do not protect the child first and foremost. I understand the courage it takes to act and prosecute someone you know, no matter how upstanding that person looks in their community, or home. We collectively must be willing to expose the truth and then to deal with it. I shared my story to give a voice to the millions of other children who have suffered this kind of abuse at the hands of someone they know.
The Jan Broberg Foundation is a place to come together with community support for victims (survivors) and their family members, partners and friends, all of whom suffer the repercussions of grooming, trauma and abuse. We never blame victims or their family members (who did not know); we embrace them, believe them, listen to them, and help them remove the perpetrators from society.
Criminal pedophiles are almost always serial offenders, perpetrating abuse on 30 to 70 child victims throughout their lives, according to the FBI. The stigma of shame is often greater than the courage to protect the child. We must stop downplaying or ignoring child rape and incest when it is a familial or “friendly” abuser. It would be easier for many people to swallow if it were scary strangers who we should fear most, but 97 percent of the time, it isn’t. They are anything but strangers.
There are other common misconceptions we must work to correct: there is an assumption shared by many people that “grooming” refers only to the child, but in fact grooming happens to everyone around the child. The predator often builds trust by dividing and separating family members so that no one suspects them of dangerous behavior. All of this further confuses the child as to what is acceptable behavior, and what is real or imagined, especially when the groomer is a trusted adult within the family circle, congregation, neighborhood, sports team, or school.
In the book I co-wrote with my mother, MaryAnn Broberg, The Jan Broberg Story:,The True Crime Story of a Young Girl Abducted and Brainwashed by a Friend of the Family, we share every detail so you will learn to recognize your blind spots and confirmation biases, to confront your disbelief that it could be someone you know, even someone who lives within your family circle. We remind you that you are vulnerable when you look away, disregard your gut or your “spidey senses,” and second-guess the subtle, almost imperceptible signs and cues. My goal is to expose the truth and inspire others to resist the urge to look away, but instead to educate themselves, to report, and to protect themselves and our precious children.
My ultimate desire is to inspire victims to not only survive, but to thrive; to heal and move forward from their abuse. I believe everyone should have a happy childhood—at any and every age.
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