Lynchburg astronaut Leland Melvin opens up about his rape, hoping to help other survivors

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A hometown hero is talking about his past to help others.

Leland Melvin was the first pro football player to go into space. On the front cover of his book “Chasing Space”, he looks to be at his peak: a big smile, two dogs, celebrating a historic career.

Inside the book, things get more personal.

"There's always another story. And I think you know, for us to be truly authentic and to help others you have to share the things that aren't so pretty,” said Melvin.

When he was 5-years-old he was raped, here in Lynchburg.

“I pushed a lot of that down,” said Melvin.

He says he was afraid of his dad finding out, addressing the people who did it and wanting to hurt them. He had many friends who didn’t have dads and he didn’t want his dad to be taken away.

But when it came time to write his book, he talked with his editor about sharing his experience to help others.

“It happens to so many people. I mean sexual abuse, rape, all of these things happen and we sometimes like to push it under the rug,” said Melvin.

When social media started filling up with the hashtag "Me too", speaking out against sexual assault, Melvin said it was an important step in discussing an issue he has seen not just in his own life, but across the world.

"I was in Malawi talking to 100 girls. 80 of them were from Africa. One of them told me they were so thankful that the dorms have locks because the men can't come in at night. And so when you think about them trying to learn and grow as young ladies. And their concern is will the men come in at night or not,” said Melvin. “And that is the reprehensible piece. And that's what we have to get out there to make sure all children are taken care of."