In a stunning revelation, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., told CBS' "60 Minutes" that a camp counselor sexually abused him numerous times when Brown was a child.
During the interview, which airs Sunday, Brown said the counselor threatened Brown with violence if he told anyone about the abuse.
"He said, 'If you tell anybody, I'll kill you. I will make sure that no one believes you,'" Brown said.
Brown, who details the abuse in his book, "Against All Odds," said he hadn't told his mother about it. He also told ABC News' Barbara Walters that he endured physical abuse at the hands of his stepfathers.
"I do remember getting up in the middle of the night and, you know, having to be the man of the family and come and rescue her and getting knocked around pretty good," he said.
Brown isn't the only public figure whose sexual abuse has become public knowledge. Baseball legend Mickey Mantle went public with abuse he suffered from a babysitter. In 2009, actress Mackenzie Phillips said she had had an incestuous with her father, John Phillips, best known as the co-founder of the Mamas and the Papas.
Experts said going public about sexual abuse can become a double-edged sword. In some cases, it can help victims overcome shame and free themselves of a heavy burden. It can also help them heal relationships with their loved ones who didn't abuse them. In some cases, they can mend relationships with the perpetrators.
"Sexual abuse is typically a secret, and it's that secrecy that perpetrates the problem," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor and vice chair of the Emory University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "Being open and honest can free people up to heal, and has the potential to help people and relationships recover."
Eugene Brooks is one victim who knows the power of speaking out. Now 47, Brooks said he was sexually abused by his older brother, starting when he was 9 years old.
"I told my mother, and she didn't believe me, and she wanted everything to be OK. Nothing really ever happened with it," Brooks said.
"I was pleasantly surprised that there were a lot more men coming forward," said Brooks. At first, it was very difficult to talk about it publicly, he said, because he thought people would think he was weak.
"I also didn't want women to know," he said. Brooks now speaks out on behalf of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
While Brooks' experience had been positive, experts said coming forward can sometimes cause damage.
"If you go public without really addressing it to the perpetrator, or to other parties like family members, you can add to the sense of shame and reduce the chance of healing within the family," said Kaslow.
"It's good to come forward with family and friends and people they trust," said Dr. William Bernet, professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. "It is helpful to talk about it, but they can get that from talking among family and friends."
Brooks said his brother refuses to speak to him, and his relationship with his mother became very strained until a few years ago.
"She's still in denial to this day, but I undersrtand why she didn't want to accept it. It would be hard for any mother to accept it."
Experts said speaking out can also help others, who will realize there are other victims of sexual abuse and that there's no reason to feel shame.
That's why Brooks said he continues to talk about his abuse.
"It's been one of the best things I've ever done. I'm helping to change people's lives."
If you've been a victim of sexual abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE or 800-656-4673.