A conversation with author, producer, actress, and child sexual assault survivor, Jan Broberg.
After years of childhood manipulation and sexual abuse by a close family friend, Jan Broberg, co-author of The Jan Broberg Story, host of The Jan Broberg Show, and producer of Peacock’s A Friend of the Family, decided she was done keeping her story inside.
“When I got into my 20s and early 30s, I told my mom we should start talking about this publicly and do some public speaking,” Jan says.
Ever since then, Jan and her mother have written two books together, done countless public speaking events, and have consulted on A Friend of the Family, a Peacock mini-series detailing her experiences, hoping to reach other victims of abuse and build a community of support.
“This story needs to be told,” Jan says. “Because this is how [my abuser] manipulated me! And maybe that will help somebody else…draw a conclusion between the dots.”
As told in A Friend of the Family and The Jan Broberg Story, Jan Broberg was abducted and sexually abused by a close family friend, Robert Berchtold, from ages 12-16. However, the manipulation started when she was even younger.
In the years prior to her kidnapping, Berchtold convinced Jan that aliens were real, serving his future plans to kidnap and brainwash her. Over the course of the several weeks Jan was kidnapped, Berchtold convinced Jan that she was half-human, half-alien, and that the only way she could save her home planet was to have sex with Berchtold, and bear his child.
“The moment I woke up with my arms bound in that trailer… that was the day my happy carefree childhood came to an end,” Jan says. “Because suddenly I had the weight of an entire planet on my shoulders.”
Like many other survivors of abuse, it took Jan years of healing and therapy to finally shed the manipulation and fear. However, around age 30, 14 years after she realized Berchtold’s tale had been a lie, Jan took a course with Landmark Education that changed her life.
“It was such a cathartic experience for me, that by the end of it, it was like the clouds parted, and I was like,‘Oh, there’s the rest of my life, I’m in charge, I get to decide,’” Jan says.
Ever since that moment, Jan has been able to hang up the coat of abuse whenever she likes, per her own free will: Free will that was taken from her for so long.
In 2017, Jan founded The Jan Broberg Foundation, an organization which provides an interactive survivor community, as well as resources to help those now in recovery. Through retreats and a weekly newsletter, Jan is able to fulfill her goal of helping people like her take their lives back into their own hands.
“I don’t have to fix it, but I can provide resources, and give a community where we’re all in this together, because we share this common thing called child abuse.” Jan says.
In Jan’s new Peacock limited series, A Friend of the Family, the real-life Jan Broberg appears twice on-screen: once as herself in Episode One, and once as Jan’s Therapist in the Season Finale, which was released for streaming on Thursday, November 10.
At the 29th annual Austin Film Festival, I had the opportunity to speak with Jan, where she shared openly about her experience working on the show, both as a producer, as an actress, and, in the pilot, as herself on-screen, alone on a soundstage.
“I just felt like I was drawing the whole world to me, I’m a way where I could go, ‘Please pay attention, please know that this could not only happen to you, but it has happened to someone you know,’” Jan says.
According to Jan, both the pilot’s opening message and her role as “Jan’s Therapist” were important moments for the show.
After talks with the Studio and producers, Jan and showrunner Nick Antosca decided that there needed to be dashes of adult Jan in the series: to remind audiences that they can watch the series without being afraid for Jan’s life.
“We want people to know that they can watch this series, and it’s not going to be child abuse and the child dies,” Jan says.
It was also important to Jan that the story was non-gratuitous: that, instead, it was a story about psychology, to teach audiences how groomers operate.
“One to five children will be prayed on in the course of a pedophile’s life,” Jan says. “Berchtold wasn’t done with me.”
Building on the story she tells in her book and the series, Jan recently went on a journey with Dateline’s Andrea Canning, to speak with Berchtold’s next victim, Heidi Hicks, who he began to manipulate less than a year after he left Jan.
“The mother was the intake nurse at that mental hospital [Berchtold] was in,” Jan says. “He even had her name put in the school record as Heidi Berchtold, instead of Heidi Hicks.”
This documentary is currently streaming on Peacock, available for all subscribers to see. Jan wants to help other victims and survivors recognize their abuse, so they can begin to recover.
And, in doing so, in being brave and sharing her story, Jan has accomplished what her seven year old heart always wanted to, before her happy childhood was stolen by a deranged pedophile.
“I wanted to be actress,” Jan says, smiling. “From the first time I was in the Sound of Music as “Gretyl”, I thought, ‘This is what I’m born to do.’”
And, now, she does that, and so much more: helping survivors across the world.
For more on Jan Broberg, The Jan Broberg Foundation, her book, The Jan Broberg Story, her podcast, The Jan Broberg Show, or “A Friend of the Family”, visit her website.
Thank you so much to Jan Broberg for your time and energy. Your story is truly an inspiration, and it was a pleasure to meet you.
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About the Thoughts Blog:
Before Payton wrote pilots, before articles and poems, Payton wrote in her journals and on Google Docs, always titling the entry: Thoughts. For this reason, this blog was easy to name.
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