It’s a story that, from the outside, seems unreal, over-the-top, and fit for a Lifetime movie. Held hostage in her own home for two years, threatened daily with the harm or death of her children, and forced to marry against her will, Tahiera Monique Brown was trapped by overwhelming despair and helplessness. Eventually the realization struck that the only way to save herself and her children was through a suicide attempt that resulted in a coma, followed by temporary amnesia. Even so, Tahiera’s message isn’t one of fear, but of strength and freedom.
Thirty years later, Tahiera is dedicated to being a voice for the voiceless. She speaks of being a survivor, of speaking your own truth, and of crossing over into self-reliance. And she doesn’t limit herself to helping other with similar stories. She wants to spread her message of strength and freedom to all victims of all ages, no matter their victimizer.
Tahiera wants anyone being victimized to know that they can be saved. There is someone waiting to help; you only have to signal that you need their help. She encourages anyone being victimized to look forward for someone to act as savior. There’s always a way to leave a message, to signal your need. You only have to be vigilant in looking for that opportunity.
After taking such drastic measures to rescue herself and her children from the Old Man who had terrorized them for two years, Tahiera still had quite the uphill battle ahead, both legally and otherwise. Her suicide attempt led to the investigation and arrest of the Old Man, but even that didn’t protect her from him. Claiming to be seriously ill, the Old Man was moved from the county jail to the emergency room of the same hospital where Tahiera was recovering. He convinced a nurse to deliver a letter to her, telling her that he could get to her from anywhere, and if she didn’t come down to the emergency room and leave with him, he would kill her children and her sister. After he had been returned to the jail, he called the hospital pretending to be a doctor to gain information and access to her.
As she continued to recover in the hospital, her daughter endured the first trial. The Old Man was found guilty of child molestation, aggravated child molestation, and statutory rape for his actions toward her daughter, but there would be an appeal. He wrote threatening letters to her almost daily and sent fake court documents requiring her to appear, telling her the case had been dropped, requiring she visit him in prison, or providing information about a fake trial he created to prove her daughter had set him up.
By the time the appeal went to trial, Tahiera had been released from the hospital. The Old Man was trying to convince the jury that he had brought stability and religion to the family and that Tahiera’s daughter had tried to kill her to have the Old Man to herself. Tahiera’s being called to the witness stand was a surprise to the Old Man—he had not been told she had been released from the hospital. When she appeared in the courtroom, the Old Man demanded a mistrial and then fired his attorney on the spot, deciding to represent himself instead. After Tahiera and her children were questioned multiple times, the jury again returned a guilty verdict on three counts, and the Old Man was given concurrent 20 year sentences. With this declaration, Tahiera finally felt free to move on the the next stage of her life—the healing of herself and her children.
Shortly before the second trial, Tahiera had become a talent scout for the movie No Holds Barred and then for the weekly drama In the Heat of the Night. Here, she found supportive friends and was able to regain custody of her children as well as gain custody of her teenage half-sister, Justice, whom she calls Gussie. Gussie has severe cerebral palsy and the mentality of a 14-month-old child. In the midst of these challenges, Tahiera found out that the sentencing judge had made a mistake and the Old Man would be tried again. After enduring yet another grueling trial, the Old Man was once again found guilty, this time of child molestation and aggravated child molestation, and was given two concurrent 20 year sentences.
With the Old Man finally behind bars for an extended amount of time, Tahiera went on to face many more challenges—some related to the Old Man and some that simply come with living. She finally shared her story in her memoir, Annihilator of Innocence, which was completed in 2002 and published in 2006. She uses her platform to be an advocate for “the least of these”—the homeless, battered women, and sexually abused women and children. But her advocacy doesn’t stop with the victim. She also has a strong message for anyone finding themselves in the periphery of a victim’s life.
It requires great strength to voice your story, and oftentimes survivors are re-victimized unintentionally by those who attempt to tell their story for them. While intending to help, we often end up telling the survivors how they feel and what they think. Victims need time and space to become survivors because they are often overwhelmed by their own story. Tahiera strives to create healthy, supportive alliances between victims and their supporters, and she tells victims that “there is power in walking away.”
Her message to victims who are becoming survivors is simple: “It’s alright to be a survivor; it’s not your fault you were a victim.” She encourages victims to live through their fears instead of being defined by them, to take control of their own story and to “stand up and tell others, ‘No, this is who I am.” She encourages victims with her message: Become your own hero. Do something positive for yourself everyday. Go from victim to survivor by creating an arc from dependency into self-reliance. You can’t take your past into your future. And remember, a “no” is only an opportunity for a different “yes.”
Words by Ashley Hurst
Photos by Rob Culpepper