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Brown and sister share story of abuse

Their message resonates in push for Violence Against Women law

US Senator Scott Brown and his sister Lee Ann Riley on Friday discussed growing up in an abusive environment.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

US Senator Scott Brown and his sister Lee Ann Riley on Friday discussed growing up in an abusive environment.

The senator remembered a time he bit his stepfather in the thigh to protect his mother from being attacked.

His sister recalled being afraid to fall asleep before their Mom and how she would wait outside her door to be sure “she wasn’t going to get beat up that night.’’

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US Senator Scott Brown and his sister, Leeann Riley, shared painful personal recollections of abuse in their family on Friday, after touring a shelter for victims and meeting with advocates about the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Though Brown had detailed some harrowing accounts in the autobiography he published last year, his sister, who is six years his junior, has seldom spoken publicly about the situation. Her voice cracked with emotion as she spoke of how the federal support might have helped a child like her.

“Mostly, I was confused, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with my emotions,’’ said Riley, of Portsmouth, N.H. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I was embarrassed. None of my friends knew what was going on.

“Kids today with these services have the opportunity to be directed, to talk in confidence, and not be afraid to do so. And I think it makes a huge difference in their lives.’’

The press conference was held at a Metro West nonprofit after a tour of a shelter in a confidential location. It followed similar comments Brown, a Republican, made this week in the Senate chamber as he called for reauthorization of the law.

The Violence Against Women Act would reauthorize federal funding for domestic violence programs and battered women shelters. But the bill, which is regularly reauthorized with bipartisan support, could get mired in the current political sniping over women’s issues.

Republicans are objecting to the bill’s new provisions providing more temporary visas to abused illegal immigrants and expanding definitions of domestic violence to include same-sex couples. Some conservatives have suggested they are being put in a difficult position, supporting those measures or opposing funding for battered women, by Democrats who are trying to position them as antiwomen.

Democrats and women’s groups opposed Republican efforts to protect employers from funding contraceptive coverage based on religious opposition.

Brown, who cosponsored one of the contraception-related amendments, took umbrage at Democratic suggestions that his recent show of support for domestic violence victims is politically motivated. He said that he is speaking up now because the bill is coming up for consideration and that he signed on months ago.

“I’ve been dealing with these issues long before I got into politics,’’ said Brown. “And quite frankly, I think it’s a little mean-spirited to even suggest that it’s not personal. If you’ve read my book and listened to my sister and lived what we lived through, then I think that falls on deaf ears. People know what we lived through.’’

Brown’s autobiography, titled, “Against All Odds: My Life of Hardship, Fast Breaks, and Second Chances,’’ details his mother’s four marriages and abusive relationships and the toll taken on her and her children.

He acknowledged that the issue remains emotional for him, too.

“It’s very difficult to talk about,’’ Brown said. “For a guy who’s perceived a certain way and for people to make inferences that ‘are you doing it for political reasons?’ Well, with all due respect, you didn’t live my life. You didn’t have to come home and go toe to toe with people who were threatening to break your hands while you were sleeping.’’

The senator wore a white ribbon, saying he is now an “ambassador’’ for the issue, and noted that his prior revelations that he had been sexually assaulted at a Cape Cod summer camp led 14 others to come forward with allegations.

“If it helps one person,’’ added Riley, “it’s worth it.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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