By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
In June of 1991, People magazine’s cover story read “Miss America’s Triumph Over Shame,” but it had taken Marilyn Van Derbur 53 years to break free of the shame she has lived with as a survivor of incest.
From age 5 to 18, her father would come into her room at night and sexually penetrate every part of her body. Feeling as if no one could help her, Van Derbur kept this a complete secret until she was 24, several years after she had been crowned Miss America in 1958. It wasn’t until she was 51, however, that a newspaper reporter took her story public as it hit the front page of The Denver Post on May 8, 1991.
There was no more hiding, and Van Derbur was asked to speak publicly. Reluctantly she eventually agreed, and hundreds of sexual assault victims came out to hear her speak. Van Derbur knew she had found her purpose.
“It was the first day I realized I didn’t feel shame anymore,” she said.
Van Derbur has continued to devote much of her adult life to raising national awareness and understanding of sexual abuse and its long-term effects.
“I was given this mission, and there’s no doubt in my mind that’s why I was Miss America,” she said. “This is what I was put on earth to do, and I will do it to my last breath.”
DAY AND NIGHT
“How can you repress 13 years of the nights of your life? It’s difficult for me to understand. It’s difficult for anybody to understand,” Van Derbur said.
Her book, “Miss America By Day,” tells the story of how as a child and a teenager, she was able to get up and go to school, sing in the choir, be on the swim team and the ski team, get A grades, even when she knew what she was going home to.
“If there’s no way out, and there was no way out, then for me I had to split, or dissociate the night from the day,” she said. “Then for me to heal, I had to integrate the night child I had split off and go back and remember to feel the feelings. That happens to most of us in our 40s.”
Van Derbur speaks to help survivors, and to help prevent more sexual abuse from occurring.
“If they want to take a step in their life, I will help them do that,” she said. “That’s why I’m coming — that’s my purpose. My other purpose is to educate as to how we protect our children.”
Van Derbur said she helps parents understand how to talk to their children about inappropriate touching.
“We have to talk to them,” she said. “Because they don’t know that even one touch can hurt a lifetime.”
The evening at the TimberHearth in Cordillera includes Marilyn’s inspirational presentation and book signing, as well as a meal and cash bar.
Van Derbur said that anyone can get in touch with her via email through her website, missamericabyday.com.
“I am the only one who sees them,” she says of the emails she re-ceives from survivors, “and I answer every single one.”