“What will it take to prevent or stop child sexual abuse? “It takes all of us,” says the 1958 Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, whose prominent, millionaire father sexually violated her more than 600 times from the time she was age 5 to 18. “It takes people truly understanding how common it is.”
Van Derbur, of Denver, will speak at the Bivona Summit on Child Abuse Tuesday along with current Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan of Brooklyn, who is promoting child sexual abuse prevention during her year with the crown.
Hagan, 24, says her mother, aunt and cousins were all victimized by a relative. The trauma caused her mother debilitating anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder during Hagan’s teen years.
“I just felt like for a couple years I lost my mom,” says Hagan, who advocates for sex abuse prevention being required in schools.
One in four girls and one out of six boys is sexually abused before age 18, according to research cited by the Bivona Child Advocacy Center in Rochester. In 90 percent of cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts — a parent or stepparent, relative, family friend, coach, day care provider, religious leader, teacher or club leader.
Van Derbur told her story in her 2003 book, Miss America By Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love. She’s also featured in Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children prevention video that Bivona, the YMCA of Greater Rochester and other partners are aiming to show to 28,000 adults in Monroe County.
Prevention should start before a child is 2, says Van Derbur. If your toddler pulls away when Uncle Ben or Grandma wants to give her a kiss, don’t make her accept the kiss. “Empower the child before she’s 2 that she can control who she kisses, who she touches,” says Van Derbur, 75. Teach children that nobody should touch their body parts that get covered by a bathing suit, Van Derbur adds.
Talk back to the TV and point out to your children and grandchildren disrespectful behavior, saying, for example: “No one should treat anyone that way.”
My notes: This is powerful advice. It is vital to talk back to the TV and to anyone, in person, who crosses boundaries or who says something inappropriate, or who makes a joke about incest or child sexual abuse. I have had to sit two of my friends down in a conversation to tell them they were not okay in making a joke about incest.
It is imperative to protect your mind and the mind of your children by voicing yourself to the TV set if the show you are watching has bad information. The human mind slowly absorbs the information as normal or factual if you do not do this. Also, the child inside you, who was once violated, can give you psychosomatic symptoms if you don’t defend your inner child, or protect your mind.
“Clearly explain to pre-teens and teenagers that they must never touch someone in a way that makes the person uncomfortable, because such mistreatment can cause life-long emotional scars, says Van Derbur, who suffered crippling anxiety and paralysis for years. (Marilyn’s paralysis was a psychosomatic symptom).
Teens have sexual urges and adults need to talk about how to manage them — just as they educate teens about driving responsibly, she adds.
Hagan, who has 26 cousins of various ages, says being raised to know about good touch and bad touch helped her tell her parents when things happened that made her uncomfortable. “I’m proof that prevention works,” she says.”
You can read Marilyn’s story here: