Marilyn Van Derbur’s Story: Still Compelling and Still Powerful Evidence of Repression for Childhood Sexual Abuse

This article is very old, but still relevant today.

Did Daddy Really Do it?

~Los Angeles Times, Katy Butler

“On May 8, 1991, seven years after her father’s death, a graying, impeccably groomed former Miss America named Marilyn Van Derbur walked to a podium in a small auditorium on the University of Colorado’s Denver campus. Announcing a family gift of $260,000 to a university research program on child sexual abuse, the onetime Outstanding Woman Speaker in America said that her late father, Francis–a millionaire philanthropist whose name was inscribed on the local Boy Scout building–had repeatedly violated her between the ages of 5 and 18.

Marilyn and her father, who raped her from ages 5-18

Marilyn and her father. He raped her from ages 5-18

Van Derbur said she had no conscious memories of what her father had done to her until she was 24. She had coped, she said, by somehow splitting herself. A high-achieving “day child” skied, played the piano and studied hard–utterly failing to incorporate any awareness of a mute, terrified “night child” whose legs, she said, were repeatedly pried apart in the darkness by her father’s insistent hands.

Van Derbur thought she was speaking only to the people in the room that night, but a reporter was there taking notes. Her secret–the kind once taken to the grave or contained in the female domain of gossip–was about to cross the border into the public realm and become news.

Within a day or two, radio talk shows were debating whether she was lying, deluded or telling the truth. Her total “forgetting” of repeated horrors for many years seemed to defy common sense.”

My notes (in blue): It does not defy common sense, it makes sense that a person would totally block out incest when they came from a family where everything on the outside appeared normal, and the family members were functional in society, well-educated, or “respectable” members of the community.

Marilyn’s sister Gwen says she never repressed the incest her father perpetrated on her, and Gwen says she hated her father. Marilyn, who totally dissociated from the incest, says she loved her father, and her “body betrayed her” with her father. 

I believe the love Marilyn felt, and the hatred Gwen felt, contributed to one daughter repressing the rapes, and the other always remembering them.

I also find it interesting that Marilyn blocked out the incest and she is the one of the two sisters, who says her body experienced pleasure with her father. Not only is it highly common for a victim to experience pleasure during the physical contact with their abuser, but it is linked to repressed incest memories -due to the trauma bonding, the father/daughter incest emotional bond, and to attachment with the perpetrator… 



“Three days after the speech, Marilyn Van Derbur’s oldest sister, Gwen, an attorney in Hillsborough, Calif., told the Rocky Mountain News that she, too, had been molested by their father–but she had never forgotten. With that, most questions about Marilyn Van Derbur’s credibility and memory ended, and last year her father’s name was removed from the Denver Boy Scout building.”

I have a problem with those who would only believe Marilyn because her sister Gwen came forward. What about the hundreds of thousands of people who have no one else in the family to back them up? Are they any more, or less, credible? Not in my opinion.

Each and every case of repression should be taken on an individual basis. Marilyn’s story was very powerful without her sister coming forward. 

“If people aren’t going to believe 53 year-old me, then who by God, is going to believe a child?” ~Marilyn Van Derbur

Looks normal enough, right?

Looks normal enough, right?

“The revelations began in the 1980s at 12-step meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics; they were whispered to a new generation of mostly female therapists whose clients were financially independent women. By 1994, more than 800,000 women had bought a self-help book called “The Courage to Heal.”

Repression and dissociation for childhood trauma has existed, been written about, and documented for hundreds of years.

“A window had opened, letting in darkness rather than light. Never before in history had so many women accused so many seemingly respectable men.

Little attention has been paid to the feelings of parents accused of abuse–either the innocent or the guilty. Now a comforting counter-explanation for the nation’s wave of incest revelation is being advanced: The problem is not abuse so much as an epidemic of false memories of it, fomented by therapists who suspect it when none has occurred.”

Anyone who is just beginning to recover from having been sexually abused, or if you are having memories of being sexually abused, or traumatized in childhood and have heard of a “false memory syndrome” …… I want you to know there is no scientific proof of any such syndrome, nor any documentation of massive cases of “false memories.”

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was started in part by an admitted pedophile (Ralph Underwager), and by the parents of a highly respected psychology professor (Jennifer Freyd), who, as an adult, remembered being sexually abused by her father in childhood. Both her parents have denied Professor Freyd’s allegations, and they formed the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” in retaliation of the accusations, and in my opinion, to silence sexual abuse survivors and child victims.

“Loftus, a cognitive psychologist and an eminent memory researcher at the University of Washington, is not a therapist but a hard scientist, an expert on the malleability of memory. She is skeptical of all therapeutic theories (such as the concept of “repression”) that have never been scientifically proven and skeptical of “recovered memories” of abuse because, as she writes in her book, she was secretly molested by a male baby-sitter when she was 6 and has never forgotten.”

Elizabeth Loftus was not traumatized. Loftus thinks that just because she did not repress an incident –an incident of molestation by a non-family member– that it means all cases of repression are false, or questionable. I have read Loftus’s account of the molestation, and it barely constitutes “abuse” in the true sense of the word.

Loftus has also made a good amount of money testifying for accused child abusers in court.

You can read about Loftus’s “memory research,” which was more like lying to children than research, by clicking here: Science-experiments-or-lying-to-children?

After twenty-three years of threats, intimidation, and frightening people who have been sexually abused, I am happy to say that the FMSF nearly has two feet out the door, and people who have stayed strong in standing up to them have helped to push them out that door.

As you can read at the website linked below, not only has total repression for incest, child sexual abuse, and other trauma been well-documented, but it has been corroborated many times through abuser confessions, other victims, eye-witnesses, journals, diaries, criminal and civil convictions, and other highly corroborating evidence:

Marilyn Van Derbur, continues to be a strong force for survivors of sexual abuse, and for children. I recommend her book very much:


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12 Responses to Marilyn Van Derbur’s Story: Still Compelling and Still Powerful Evidence of Repression for Childhood Sexual Abuse

  1. murphy8 says:

    I appreciate that Atler shared an experience in “Miss American by Day” that’s common to many survivors—the mother who knew and walked away. (p. 27). These mothers may pathologize their accusing daughters, calling them suggestible, disturbed, jealous, greedy, etc. Atler says she had been too embarrassed to tell her in-laws about the incest. They were, however, aware of her spells of paralysis and anxiety. Atler’s mother-in-law approached her during a visit. “You know, my darling, these paralysis spells are so difficult for Larry—and especially for Jennifer . . . Bootsie just told me what causes these spells. Greed over the estate.”
    “That was one of the hardest parts of my journey,” Atler says. “The Bootsie other people saw and adored was not the woman I saw . . . I began to understand how sweetly vicious my mother was when it came to sacrificing me to save herself.” (p. 259)

    • Alethea says:

      Thank you for reminding me of this passage in her book. I have just recently been fully dealing with the facade’ put on by my mother when she was outside, or at church….and the person she was behind closed doors. My mother had everyone fooled. My mother was like the scene in Sybil, where Sybyl said, “Mothers are only good when other people are around.”

      • Little Nel says:

        “Greed over the estate”
        It’s bad enough that Bootsie looked the other way when her daughter was being raped, but to add insult to injury with another lie is cruelty at it’s best. The “greed” issue belongs to Bootsie, not Marilyn.

        “You don’t deserve a wonderful mother like me.”
        This was the frequently used “slogan” that came from the mouth of a woman who was convicted of child neglect.

        • murphy8 says:

          Based on your comment, Little Nel, I wondered if the “greed” issue overall belongs to the mother, not to the daughter who was molested. My mother had a choice. Either retain her role as the wife of a physician–or head out on her own with her 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6 children to make a safe life for us.
          My parents joined the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. I wonder how many mothers who knew what their husbands were doing to their children and turned away, joined the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

          • Alethea says:

            My mother chose between me and my safety, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s paychecks and pension.

            The paychecks won.

          • Alethea says:

            Marilyn stated that if her father had lived longer, he would have contributed one million dollars to the FMSF.

  2. Tom Cloyd says:

    Excellent – very well done!

    I treat psychological trauma – PTSD and dissociative identity disorder. I’m familiar with all the material referred to, EXCEPT the Van Derbur case, interestingly enough.

    I read it the entire article very carefully, and found it totally solid. It covers quite a lot of ground, but I found no errors or questionable statements. None.

    I’ll do all I can to bring readers to it.

    The first place I’ll be publicizing it is my Google+ community – Trauma and Dissociation Education and Advocacy –

    Many members there will be interested to read this.

    Well done!

    • Alethea says:

      Thank you Tom. You can read Marilyn’s story in depth by clicking on the link below. It is a compelling case, and she is a fabulous public speaker. You can click on her story from my home page, under “Educational and Informative Links”

      Or copy and paste this link:,,20115294,00.html

      Thanks again for your comment.


  3. Little Nel says:

    “I have to go feed the dogs”

    Melissa’s mother, like mine, and many others, was an avoider who couldn’t own up to her own irresponsible, reckless, and indifferent behavior towards her daughter. What a great example of “cold as ice” emotions brought about by denial.

    Feeding the dogs took priority over her daughter’s needs.

    Marilyn’s mother went to the deli for a corn beef sandwich.

    Is there a connection to food/nutrition for mother’s in denial when faced with the facts?

  4. Chris and Judy says:

    Thank you as always.

  5. melissa says:

    Very powerful speaker of childhood incest, Marilyn.
    I have 2 sisters that are still living. When I had my first memories, I called each one up to ask if they remembered anything happening to them. Older sister said, “Our childhood was so horrible, I have repressed most of it”! Younger sister, “Uncle so and so, did that with me until I was 15”! I asked my mother and she said: “I have to go feed the dogs”! That was 8 years ago, my older sister has since, had dreams where she recalled abuse from an older male cousin. It helped a great deal 8 years ago to have my sister confirm what no one had ever talked about in our family. Now, of course I would not need any back up from any family member, as the memories are so varied and detailed and ran the length of, birth to 16. With out question most people that know me are very supportive and curious of my story and the work I do with others, that have been thru childhood incest.

    • Alethea says:

      “I asked my mother and she said: “I have to go feed the dogs!”

      Classic. Typical. So indicative of the human denial system. It’s like Marilyn, who said that she thought telling her mother would kill the woman. But after Marilyn told her mother about her father’s rapes, her mother went to the corner deli for a corned beef sandwich.

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