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Denise Brown Urges Penn State to 'Banish the Darkness' of Domestic Violence

by on October 07, 2014 10:22 AM

Denise Brown has told countless audiences all over the world her story, but she still choked up at Penn State on Monday while talking to students.

“I lost my sister and it still kills me every time I say it,” Brown said to the crowd gathered in Heritage Hall. “My sister was murdered 20 years ago.”

Denise is the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, the woman at the center of the O.J. Simpson murder case of 1994. Though Simpson was acquitted after a highly publicized eight-month-long trial, the decision remains disputed and controversial.

For Brown the story is simple, and there’s no disputing the facts: she lost her sister and best friend to the “monster of domestic violence.” Since then, she’s become an outspoken advocate for survivors of abuse, having helped successfully lobby for the national Violence Against Women act of 1994.

Looking back on their childhood, Brown said that the death of her sister is even more surreal. They moved to the United States from Germany at a young age, learning English in a mere three weeks and forming a bond that would last until her sister’s death.

But despite how close they were, Brown had no idea her sister was being abused until it was too late.

“My father and I found Nicole’s notes and diaries after she was murdered and I thought, ‘Oh my God. Why didn’t she tell us this was going on in her life?’” Brown said. “It was a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about it.”

She read about how her sister was locked in a wine cellar and beaten throughout the day by her husband, who would leave the cellar to go upstairs and watch TV – then come back down to beat her some more.

She read about how she was pinned up against a wall and stuck in a hotel room in Hawaii, then dangled over the balcony outside their room. Brown was stuck and sickened knowing that this had happened – and that she was there at the time, at the same hotel, unaware.

“This cycle of violence was something I knew nothing about,” Brown said. “And in reading her diaries after and knowing she went through this, I couldn’t imagine her horror and how scared she was.”

Brown said that the issue of domestic violence is one that exists in all communities and affects all people. Abusers can be charming, and there can be good times in the relationship – but verbal abuse can grow into physical abuse, which spirals into a “a cycle of violence about power and control over another human being.”

“Three to four women die every day at the hands of someone they love and are supposed to be able to count on, and 73 percent of cases of domestic violence go unreported,” Brown said.

Speaking to women in shelters across the country, she learned how many women lie to doctors in emergency rooms after being abused. She learned about the “emotional tightrope” of fear they walked every day. She learned that, until the Violence Against Women Act passed, very few resources existed for these women.

For Brown, every person alive has certain rights that should never be taken away: the right to be yourself, the right to love and be loved, the right be treated with respect, the right to make mistakes and the right to say no.

“And now we have you, new advocates to go out and speak on this issue,” she told the crowd. “The more we talk about this, the more we can educate people, break the silence and banish the darkness.”

Brown urges anyone suffering from domestic abuse – or anyone who knows someone suffering from abuse – to reach out to the resources available to them. In our region that includes the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Penn State’s Center for Women Students, and the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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