Marilyn Van Derbur – You Have To Confront The Terror

Categories: Other
Marilyn Van Derbur, crowned Miss America 1958, stood tall and beautiful as she possessed looks, wit, and intelligence. Van Derbur also had deep down within her, a devastating secret – one secret that even she did not speak or admit. From the age of 5 until she was 18, Marilyn’s wealthy and prominent father, sexually molested her. As a coping mechanism, Van Derbur processed the tragic nightlife by dissociating herself from the abuse. She did this by creating two people or personalities within her- a daytime child and a nighttime child. Neither was aware of the other’s existence. The feelings of abuse of this kind, or any kind, are “too intense for a child to absorb; that’s why children split their minds”, explains Van Derbur. Marilyn is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She gives survivors of sexual abuse the most valuable gift of all, hope.

As a member, a major contributor of donations, and as an important keynote speaker for the Kempe National Center for Prevention and Treatment for Child Abuse and Neglect in Denver, Van Derbur, age 55, told her story to a supportive audience. Unbeknownst to her, a newspaper reporter also attended. The next day, her story appeared as a headline in the Denver newspaper. For a few days following the public release of her story, Van Derbur felt that she had been violated once again. But then Van Derbur’s sister, Gwen, revealed that she, too, had been abused by their father. People began coming up to Marilyn to thank her for coming forth with her story. Gwen persisted to comfort her sister Marilyn in the fact that everyone would have to believe her now that the two stories coincided with the other. Marilyn worried that, “if people didn’t believe me, who would believe a little child?” She returned home to call all the television stations and the newspapers to give them her unlisted phone number.

Marilyn preaches that “we need to educate the community about the long-term effects of incest. Until some of the long-term effects become general knowledge, we’re not going to turn the corner”. In her case, the long-term effects included tens of thousands of dollars in therapy, not covered by insurance. At one point, Van Derbur went to therapy sessions four times a week. Although to this day, she cannot fall asleep without medication. She used to wake up without fail at 2 a.m., waiting for the terror that was once expected during the night. Her own journey to recovery began when a caring minister sensed that something was very wrong with her. At age 24, her youth minister asked her the unthinkable question, “Did your father ever come into your room at night?” That question jolted her repressed memories.

Matters came head to head when Van Debur’s daughter turned 5 years old. Beginning with a state of physical paralysis, Marilyn began to break down, mentally and physically. She later realized that her daughter’s age had instigated feelings about the abuse that had begun when she was 5 herself. In an attempt to gain some control over her life, Van Derbur confronted her father. As a response to the confrontation, her father told Marilyn that ” if I had known what it would have done to you, I never would have done it”. She didn’t believe his words then. She does not believe them now. She learned in recent years that he never stopped violating. Her mother initially did not accept Marilyn’s story of the abuse to be true. Only after her sister Gwen said that she had also been abused by their father, was their mother forced to believe that incest had occurred in her home for 18 years.

Van Debur wants to spread the word to anyone else who might have lived in the daylight while harboring a night-child. “You have to face the terror”, Marilyn urges. At the age of 45, Marilyn Van Debur began her journey from darkness into light by speaking the word, “incest”, out loud, by revealing the secret that had caused her so much suffering and shame for so many years. Since that time, she and her family have helped establish an adult survivor program in Denver, and she has co-founded two national non-profit organizations formed to strengthen the laws protecting child victims of sexual abuse. Of the utmost importance, her courage has inspired countless other victims to come out of the darkness and into the light.


2 responses to “Marilyn Van Derbur – You Have To Confront The Terror

  1. Your brave works have helped so many. You have been through a terrible struggle to survive and as I faced my own similar story I read about yours and it gave me courage. I wrote a memoir of my own abuse and recovery “The Remembered Self: A Journey into the Heart of the Beast”. It was very hard to write and I still suffer from horrible nightmares, though after intense therapy I am so very much better. This subject matter must be brought to light as the news stories validate that incest and child sexual abuse are rampant. Bless you for telling. MJ Payne

  2. True. You must confront the terrorist in the living room, the alcoholic serial rapist searches for an adult to repeat the various forms of degrading sexual trauma. It happens.North Carolina passed a law against spousal rape but refused to convict. The fight for humanity goes on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *