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Speaking out against child abuse

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoMarilyn Van Derbur of Denver after being crowned Miss America in 1958.
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CARBONDALE ” It took a very public revelation for former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur of Denver to come to terms with, and open up about something she had kept bottled up as a private secret all her life.

But it was a 1991 article in The Denver Post revealing that Van Derbur, then 53, had been a childhood incest victim, that changed her life.

“And in a way that I never expected,” said Van Derbur, who will give a free presentation Monday in Carbondale to bring awareness to the issue in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Van Derbur, the 1958 Miss America from Colorado, will speak about her experience as an incest survivor with her talk, “Miss America By Day,” at 7 p.m. Monday at the Thunder River Theatre in Carbondale. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and a reception will follow the presentation.

The event is hosted by the Childhelp River Bridge Center, a child advocacy center in Glenwood Springs that serves victims of child sexual abuse in the Roaring Fork Valley. Tickets are free but must be reserved prior to the event as seating capacity is limited to 200. Donations will be accepted at the door.

“It was all over the newspapers,” Van Derbur said in a telephone interview Friday. “It was the third day after the news came out, and I just said to my daughter and husband, ‘I have to get out of here.'”

They went jogging at a nearby track when a woman approached Van Derbur saying she was grateful for what she had done.

After the initial story, Van Derbur’s sister came forward with her story that both she and her sister had been subject to sexual abuse by their famous millionaire businessman father when they were growing up.

“I had not been happy about that,” Van Derbur said. “I just wanted this to all go away.”

But the woman assured her that, “Yesterday, people were asking, ‘why should we believe her? Now that your sister has come forward, they will have to believe you.’

“That was literally the life-changing moment for me,” Van Derbur says today.

Every since that day she has been telling her story publicly ” part of her own healing process after surviving 13 years of incest from age 5 to 18.

“I’m in touch with more adult survivors than anyone else in America, and we’ve all felt that shame in ourselves ” that if people know, we will no longer be respected or admired,” she said.

Instead, her message to her fellow survivors is that they should shift their perspective from shame to pride.

“It took me 53 years to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

“We talk a lot about how we protect our children, and how to teach them that their bodies are their own,” Van Derbur also explained.

The other message is that it’s rarely the “stranger in the park” who is the perpetrator.

“Almost always, we are violated by someone we trust,” she said. “Part of my mission is also to say that it happens in the nicest homes.”

This is the first in what the River Bridge Center hopes will be an annual event around Child Abuse Prevention Month, center director Susan Ackerman said.

“We wanted to do something that brought more community awareness for the general public,” she said.

River Bridge assists local human services and law enforcement agencies in all aspects of child sexual abuse, including investigation, treatment, advocacy and prosecution of offenders. In its first year of operation, the center has worked with more than 115 local children, ages 3 to18, who were sexually abused. In the first quarter of 2009, the center has already assisted 40 local children.

For more information about Monday’s event, call 945-5195. Anyone who cannot attend but would like to contact Van Derbur is encouraged to do so, by e-mailing Marilyn@MarilynVanDerbur.com.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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