by Steve Palopoli on Jun 04, 2013
More than one accuser has made allegations of child sexual abuse against the late Bob Brozman.
The story of Bob Brozman’s death has been one shock after the other for those in Santa Cruz who knew him, played with him or just admired his music. First, there was the initial, confusing news of his passing, which was vague enough that different outlets reported different dates. In time, it became clear that he had been found in his home on April 23.
The cause was initially said to be heart failure, but within a few days it was common knowledge that he had committed suicide. The story was about to get a lot uglier.
Because Brozman was only 59, and a much-loved figure both locally and in the global guitar community, many people who knew him latched on to the story that chronic pain from an automobile accident in 1980 had worsened and left him suicidal, in fear that he would no longer be able to play. It seemed a possibly credible motivation, even for a man who had reportedly been making rehearsal plans just hours before his death.
But it wasn’t. In fact, it appears that the story actually originated not from Brozman’s friends or family, but from a Guardian reporter who misinterpreted what he had been told in interviews, and reported it in his obit as fact. Though Brozman did complain of pain in the years before his death, the story that it led to his suicide took on a life of its own, circulating through the local, national and international media. Several people I interviewed immediately after his death related it to me, but in retrospect it appears they had gotten it second-hand, either from the Guardian story, one of the subsequent obits, or someone who had read or heard one of them.
None of them were prepared for what came next. Shortly after the Santa Cruz Weekly cover story on his death hit the streets, a much more sinister possible reason for his suicide came to light: there were accusations of child molestation against him.
Some of the people connected to these allegations began posting in the comments section of our web site. One was Gary Atkinson, Brozman’s former UK tour manager, who declined to be interviewed for this story, but laid out the charges of “severe sexual abuse of a child” on the web site.
“This abuse happened some years ago, spanning a period of time from when his victim was a toddler through to being a young teenager,” he wrote. “In more recent years he repeated this abuse on another underage person. All of his victims were well known to him. In addition, I tell can you that whilst he was in the U.K. [in] 1994 on tour, he sexually abused my own daughter who, at the time, was nine years old. I have never forgiven him and I never will.”
This post and others sparked a sometimes angry debate among commenters. Offline, too, I got outraged emails and phone calls demanding that Santa Cruz Weekly take down any references to the molestation charges, arguing that the accused was no longer around to defend himself, and claiming that there couldn’t possibly be any legitimacy to them.
But it quickly became clear that this was in fact a legitimate part of Brozman’s story, with more than one accuser involved. This has led to some painful soul-searching on the part of many who were close to him, to say the least.
None of the media outlets that eulogized Brozman have reported on the molestation charges. Meanwhile, Internet message boards have generated everything from seemingly useful insider insight to ludicrous misinformation. Predictably, the most extreme rhetoric has been split between those labeling Brozman “an evil monster” and comparing him to Hitler, and those—fewer and fewer—claiming nothing can convince them of the truth of the allegations. Reactions to the revelations have ranged from shock and denial to acceptance and anger, and various combinations of all of the above.
One person who is not surprised at the sheer devastation Brozman’s story has wrought is Amy Pine, co-founder of Survivors Healing Center, a Santa Cruz organization that offers group therapy to survivors of child sexual abuse, and works to raise awareness of the issue in the local community.
“The public at large wants to believe that anyone who would molest a child would basically have ‘perpetrator’ written across their forehead,” says Pine. “That they would look a certain way, or they would be sleazy, or they would be weird. And you know what? Most of the time that’s not true. My clients have been molested by lawyers, judges, doctors, musicians, teachers, Boy Scout leaders—people you don’t want to believe would possibly do something like that to a child.”
Pine co-founded Survivors Healing Center in 1987, and she says it is a constant struggle to raise the visibility of the issue, as the general public is either unwilling or unable to grasp the scope of the problem.
“Child sexual abuse is pandemic,” she says. “What we know in the United States is that one out of every three or four girls, and one out of every six boys, has been sexually abused by the age of 18. It may be a single incident, it may be more incidents, it may be multiple perpetrators, it may be long term. But it happens. A lot.”
Because of Brozman’s death, there is much about his story that may never be known by anyone not directly involved. There will likely be no investigation into the molestation charges now. There may be suits or settlements one day, but I couldn’t find any record of the mysterious “pending court date” that some have claimed specifically motivated Brozman’s suicide.
If it was a civil case, it wasn’t filed locally. If it was a criminal case, it would be subject to a complicated tangle of different statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse, which vary from state to state—some states have none at all, while California has a statute of limitation of six years, but several loopholes.
I didn’t expect that anyone I approached who was close to this story would want to go on the record about it, and that proved to be correct. In time, more information may come to light, and Brozman’s story may evolve further, for better or worse. But for now—like Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter, Michael Jackson and other music figures whose legacies were tainted or outright obliterated by child sexual abuse cases—his has been instantaneously altered. Almost overnight, he went from one of Santa Cruz’s most-talked-about cultural figures to one of its least-discussed scandals.
Pine’s insight into our society’s darkest secrets might explain why.
“One of the only things more taboo than child sexual abuse,” she says, “is talking about it.”