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.