Aria Sanborn is shown May 9 in the apartment she shares with her daughter, Selma, 5, in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Aria Sanborn knew she had to escape. She also knew what would happen if she failed.

Sanborn had lived for nearly 20 years inside a small rural mobile home in Liberty with her siblings, mother and abusive stepfather, Wade Brayman. She had attempted escaping Brayman’s house several times before but failed each time.

Using physical force, a distorted reading of the Bible and emotional manipulation, Brayman exercised total control over Sanborn. He stipulated everything from the people with whom she could socialize at school to what she wore and ate well into her adult years.

To this day, Sanborn is still healing from nearly two decades of what would later be described by a judge as “cult-like” physical, sexual and mental abuse inflicted by Brayman, who was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison for his actions against his stepdaughter, after years of judicial proceedings and delays.

Sanborn testified during the trial, and she’s speaking up now so that others don’t have to endure what she did.

“I never wanted people to find out because it was shameful, but there had to be that time where I was able to speak,” Sanborn said in an interview. “If I didn’t, he’d do it again. And another child would grow up with the shame and heartache and pain that I did. And I can’t allow that.”


Sanborn remembers one escape attempt in the winter when she managed to get out of the house but slipped in the icy driveway. Brayman tackled her and buried her face in the snow until she could hardly breathe and stopped struggling. Her previous attempts are why Sanborn was cautious when she found herself alone in the house one morning in 2017.

“My head was just like, ‘You need to get out of here,’” Sanborn said. “So I literally put on two T-shirts, two skirts, because I wasn’t carrying any clothes with me, I grabbed the car keys, the family cellphone, and I ran. I didn’t know if there was gas in the (family) car but I got in. I was able to just speed right away and nobody came out of the house.”

Sanborn and her mother moved in with Brayman in 1999, when she was 13. She would not escape until she was 30.

Sanborn said she has grown a lot since escaping the rural mobile home Brayman trapped her in, although she says her healing journey is still ongoing.


Brayman’s warped interpretation of the Bible was the basis for all of his abuse, Sanborn said. It’s been one of the hardest wounds for her to soothe, although Sanborn said her continued faith has been the backbone of her healing.


At the end of each prayer they would say as a family, “in Jesus’ name, through Wade, amen,” Sanborn recalled.

Wade Drew Brayman, 65, appears for his sentencing hearing April 30 at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast. Brayman was found guilty by a jury in March 2023 of repeatedly sexually assaulting his stepdaughter several years earlier — while she was a juvenile and an adult — at his home in Liberty. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel file

When Brayman refused to let his children leave their rooms or the house for weeks at a time, he said it was because the Bible instructed them to fear worldly authority.

When Brayman raped Sanborn or beat her siblings, he said they were not being subservient enough to him, and by extension, the Lord.

“His favorite verse read, ‘But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,'” Sanborn said. “He would remind me that in the Bible, there’s a headship principle: God, the man, the woman, the children. He reminded me that he was head over me, over and over again.

“I was truly indoctrinated to believe that no matter what he did, I had to obey because he was the God-given man over my life.”

Brayman used this justification to inflict all sorts of punishment on Sanborn, her siblings and her mother. For instance, Brayman often used food as a weapon in his house.


He was a volunteer at food pantries in the central Maine communities of Winslow and China, so he would bring home food from his job that would otherwise be thrown away. Because he was the family’s lone provider, Brayman used that position to cement dominance over his family.

There were many nights, often consecutively, when Sanborn or her siblings went without food for not fulfilling Brayman’s desires — sexually or otherwise.

If they hadn’t done a chore to Brayman’s satisfaction, it wasn’t uncommon to go hungry for the night. If she or her mother cooked a meal he didn’t like, he would dump it on the floor and force them to clean it up.

“If we were not in compliance to his rules, he would not allow us to process or cook food. It was set to rot,” Sanborn said. “There were some days that we would make breakfast, he would get mad at one of us, and it would sit there all day. We’d end up eating it cold for dinner, if at all.

“He controlled and got everything he wanted.”

Brayman enforced what he called a “buddy system” inside and outside his house, demanding that either he or his wife remained with Sanborn and her siblings at all times in order to dissuade more escape attempts.


While volunteering at a food pantry with Brayman and her mother, Sanborn would meet one of her lifelong friends in Ashley Powell.

Powell provided a sort of respite for Sanborn outside of Brayman’s house, taking her on long car rides, listening to boy bands and doing other activities forbidden by Brayman.

“She’s always been sweet, always been kind, but kind of shy at first,” Powell said. “We would have the occasional girl talk and listen to music she wasn’t supposed to with her parents. I would go to their house all the time but she was never allowed to spend the night at my house. Never more than a few hours.”

Powell remembers seeing the “buddy system” as the first indication that something wasn’t right. Powell recalls seeing Brayman or his wife begin following Sanborn everywhere she went during her adolescent years, although she says the behavior escalated as time progressed.

“It got to the point where when they would come over, Aria couldn’t even go into the bathroom at my house by herself, (her mother) would go in with her,” Powell said. “I was like, ‘Well, maybe it’s just a religion thing,’ because I wasn’t very religious and they were. I didn’t quite understand it, but I liked Aria so I just swept it under the rug.

“I think about that all the time,” Powell added. “I could have said something and saved her.”



At first, freedom was not a pleasant experience for Sanborn.

Although it was the first time in years she had true independence, Sanborn remembers feeling her world closing in around her after she ran away from Brayman.

The years of social isolation and religious indoctrination she endured left her petrified of asking anyone for help. Brayman had taught her that anyone outside his home — even other members of their congregation — were to be feared. That they would inflict upon her worse abuse than he did.

“It was so heavy to breathe. I was so confused. I didn’t know which way to go,” Sanborn said. “My mind was everywhere, thinking of all the consequences that would happen if I went back. Even in freedom, he was restricting me.”

Within a few weeks of her escape, Sanborn found herself homeless. Although her pastor and a member of her church had offered her couches to sleep on for a few days, she didn’t have any income or space to call her own.


A peace lily was the first plant Aria Sanborn bought for the apartment she shares with her daughter, Selma, 5, in Skowhegan. Sanborn is pictured earlier this month at the home. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

She would remain homeless for nearly three years, living in a series of shelters and friends’ houses.

“I had nothing. I had no means to buy food, I literally didn’t even have water to call my own,” Sanborn said. “I had to try to build a life but I had no clue what the heck I was doing.”

After a few days, Sanborn’s pastor told her he could not support her more than a few days longer. Shortly after, Sanborn began spending her nights at a Lewiston homeless shelter and her days volunteering at a nearby church.

She bounced for the next several years between homeless shelters and unstable homes.

There were times when she considered returning to Liberty for a warm meal and a sense of familiarity at Brayman’s home, but remained steadfast in her belief that better days were still ahead.

After several months in Lewiston though, Sanborn found her situation untenable. She was actively applying for both apartments to rent and rental assistance, but aid was hard to come by. Sanborn was still without a steady income and the shelter was crowded, only providing refuge for a few hours at a time.


Through a case worker in Lewiston, Sanborn was put in touch with another shelter in Skowhegan called Shelters by Jesus. It was there, she says, where her healing process finally began.


The Skowhegan shelter, Sanborn said, provided a space for her to heal religious, emotional and physical wounds alike. Sanborn both lived and worked at the shelter, sleeping there overnight and working in the kitchen during the day.

For the first time in her life, Sanborn felt like part of a community. She felt truly cared about and accepted.

“It was the first time in years that I wasn’t in fighting or survival mode all the time,” she said. “It was literally like a family with all of us. I didn’t feel homeless.”

Sanborn quickly realized the importance of a strong support structure when healing from trauma. She began opening up about her experiences with others at the shelter, learning for the first time how to tear down the personal walls she’d built to protect herself.


Sanborn, who was approaching her mid-30s by this time, became something of a parental figure for others at the shelter. She learned how to listen to others and provide them with the emotional solace she searched for years to find. It not only showed her how to help others, but how to help herself.

Over the course of several years, Sanborn began working to heal the wounds of her past. She reconnected with family and friends to whom Brayman had cut her contact with years prior. Many of those friends offered food, clothes and other necessities as Sanborn continued searching for a place to live. Those friends, she says, are what helped her find steady ground to stand on.

Although Powell has seen Sanborn grow since they first met in middle school, Powell said she’s more impressed by what has stayed consistent about Sanborn.

“I’ve always been inspired to be as calm and composed as she is,” Powell said. “She was shy at first, but she’s always been kind and sweet and loving. She’s always put others before herself and never had a bad word to say about anyone — even with all she’s been through.”

Sanborn is no longer homeless. After years at various shelters and applying for housing help, Sanborn was granted rental assistance in early 2023. She applied for an apartment in Skowhegan and moved in later that year with her 5-year-old daughter and 12-year-old cat.

Now with a stable roof over her head for the first time in years, Sanborn currently works as a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher in Skowhegan-area schools. Her work has become an important part of her healing process, as she’s now able to provide students with support she never received.

Sanborn wants victims of abuse to know they are not alone, that help is always within reach.

“I’m still in the process of learning to be myself. It may take time, but there is hope,” she said. “Speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to ask if your friends need help.”

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