TRIGGER WARNING: The article below contains descriptions of alleged sexual abuse. Readers have the option to choose whether to read the article further or not to. Mr Warburton Magazine acknowledges that this content may be difficult to read for trauma survivors and will always strive to care for their readers’ well-being and safety.
The COVID-19 lockdown brought us binge-worthy reality TV. We were looking for an escape, something to take our minds off our seemingly impending doom. A show like Selling Sunset, with its high glamour, beautiful homes, and stylish agents, was impossible to look away from as we sat in homes in our sweatpants. In this setting, we first meet Amanza Smith as one of the castmates. She fits in seamlessly at the Oppenheim Group, selling multi-million dollar homes to wealthy clients with twins Jason and Brett Oppenheim running the company (which sometimes seems like more of a modeling agency than a real estate agency). The homes are perfection, and the women are flawless, but it’s also a reminder not to judge a book by its cover. We don’t ever know what someone’s real struggles are – no matter how beautiful they are on the outside or how fabulous the home they are standing in is. Amanza comes across on the show as stylish, beautiful, authentic, and a bit of a badass. But, if you really pay attention, you can also see she has inner strength and a zero fucks mentality that’s often the sign of a survivor.
Mr. Warburton Magazine sat down to talk with her about her life journey and found out why she has such a unique mix of strength and vulnerability, and it’s not at all what you might expect.
“It’s important for me to use this platform to share my whole truth. It’s a reality show, and some of the drama is heightened, but my reality is that if I am going to go on television to be authentic, then I need people to know exactly who I am. Exactly what’s going on and why I am the way I am. I have not been able to give a fuck about superficial things for most of my life, and it’s important for me the share why.
It is no secret that Amanza has gone through struggles in her personal life, and being on a reality show made those struggles public. She married NFL player Ralph Brown in 2010. They had two children together, divorced in 2012, and shared 50/50 custody of their children. When Amanza signed on to do the show, she was a part-time single mom, and she planned to film the show during the week when her kids were with their dad. A month after signing on to Selling Sunset, her world turned upside down. Ralph, the father of her children, vanished into thin air. She has not seen or heard from him since September 2019. Amanza describes his sudden disappearance as the straw that broke the camel’s back. It forced something to the surface that she had held back for years, and it was time for her to let it out.
In an exclusive interview, Amanza revealed that she had been sexually abused from when she was three years old until she was 11.
“I put on a very strong face, which comes from the fact that from the time I was three years old, I was sexually abused by someone very close to me, and I had to pretend it was not happening.”
The abuser was her stepfather. When she was not in the care of her mother and stepfather, she was with her grandparents (her stepfather’s dad), where she was also sexually abused by her grandfather. Amanza described her childhood as having no safe place. To compound and confuse it all, her mother was physically and emotionally abusive. All this is a lot for an adult to take in, but for a child, without the language to tell, it’s an intense feeling of not being safe. At a young age, she developed a layer of protection and denial that she would build upon her entire life. It worked. Until it didn’t.
Of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator (Rainn.org)
Amanza worked hard to block it from her mind, but as time always tells, it will come out somewhere if you can’t speak your truth. For her, it was all put in perspective when she was pregnant with her son, and she looked at her daughter, and she finally understood what happened to her was not ok.
“Until God gave me a baby girl, it did not click. It hit me one day when my daughter was almost two, and I was pregnant with my son. I imagined everything that happened to me happening to her. And it changed everything. Suddenly everything made sense. All of the things I had struggled with in my teens, addiction in my 20s, ways I felt I failed, was not motivated, and felt in some way different from my friends.”
According to Rainn.org, the effects of child sexual abuse can be long-lasting and affect the victim’s mental health. Victims are more likely than non-victims to experience the following mental health challenges:
· About four times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse
· About four times more likely to experience PTSD as adults
· About three times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults
Denial and self-distancing are very common for survivors of abuse, and it is a coping mechanism that allows them to get up and continue. It’s even more common in a society like ours that raised many of us with the message that sexual harassment and assault are typical, expected parts of our lives. Look at some of the movies in the ’70s and ’80s, like Sixteen Candles and Animal House –which promote sexual misconduct by turning rape into a joke. It played a role in the public perception and societal acceptance of sexual assault. The #metoo movement was progress, and more information is now available. However, the statistics clearly indicate the severity of abuse in our country.
Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted (Rainn.org)
One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult (Rainn.org)
As Amanza sits talking with us, she embraces her past and acknowledges her pain.
“I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I would change nothing in my life. I would be born again, and I would live the exact same life of trauma and abuse. I would do it all over again because I am strong enough. I was chosen to go through that. Now I can be a voice to help others get through it.”
Amanza is settling into herself in a way that inspires others who have struggled. She is a single mom who changed her career at 40, and every day, she becomes stronger. That’s not to say that she does not still have her struggles, but she can provide for her kids what she never had – safety and love at home. She joked that her son’s most significant hardship was that she was working and unable to drive him In-N-Out Burger to his school for lunch.
The contrast between her childhood and the one she provides for her children is colossal. None of it is easy, though, and the struggle after childhood trauma is ongoing. She describes days when it’s hard to get out of bed. Her instincts to intensely protect her kids are evident whenever her kids spend time with friends – she has a laundry list of questions about who will be in the house. She encourages parents to talk to their kids and ask questions. Trust your instincts. If you need to ask your child about abuse, something is there. Don’t just ask once. Keep asking and let your child know that if they tell you about it, you can keep them safe.
Amanza’s mom asked her once if she was being abused, and she did not have the words to talk about it. After all, she was a child, and child molesters are master manipulators. Her mom never asked again. Despite her past, she is making progress and doing the work, and it all begins by talking about it, facing her pain, and walking through it.
I’m still walking through my pain. I just can afford to buy better shoes now. – Amanza
This warrior has no regrets. Still, she wants others to learn from her, and she understands that she went through trauma and still experiences depression and anxiety but pushes through it and wants to encourage others to do the same. If she has one regret, it would be that she wishes she had the realization earlier to talk about it and begin to heal — recognizing that trauma is debilitating. It’s ok, though, because now is her time to talk about it, and she hopes it’s yours too.
“I’ve done so much work, which has changed how I live my life. I hope that other people can see this interview and talk about it sooner. It’s a weight off your shoulders and the only way to take your power back.”
Production Credits: Photographer: Grace Fries | Editor – in – Chief /Creative: Derek Warburton | Hair & Makeup: Daisy Dennis using Derek Fabulous x FACE Stockholm | JR Style Editor: Robin Leiva * | Art Director: Alexander Silkin | Video: JR Luat | PR Agency: Modern Day Communications Edited by: Ley Calisang
Editor’s note, December 22 2022: Mr Warburton Magazine initiated contact with Ms Amanza Brown Smith’s mother and stepfather for further comment regarding the allegations of abuse prior to publishing. Unfortunately, there was no response from Ms. Smith’s birth mother after several attempts to reach out. While her stepfather spoke and acknowledged his past relationship with Amanza, he declined to comment on the allegations at this time. As for Ms Smith’s step-grandfather, he passed when she was 15 years old.