The Term “Hysteria” Came from Patients With Repressed Memories of Child Sexual Abuse and Trauma

“No patient is eager to discover that she [or he] was violated by people she loved and trusted. In fact, patients tend to cling to their doubts long past the point where most impartial observers would be convinced.” ~~Harvard Mental Health Newsletter

The term “hysteria” is derived from the Greek word for the uterus. “Hysteria” was used for hundreds of years as a term for a mental disorder in women. In the late 19th Century, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot began the first systematic research into this disorder.

Charcot’s work inspired Sigmund Freud of Vienna and Pierre Janet of France. Janet and Freud discovered through their research that “hysteria was the result of unbearable emotional reactions to traumatic events, most often from incest or other sexual trauma.”

Janet proposed that people with hysteria were unable to integrate their traumatic memories, and those memories were set apart from normal memory processes. Through the years, mental health practitioners found that the only way to relieve the patient from their suffering, was to help them integrate the memories and the emotions into consciousness.

Dr. Jennifer Freud’s “betrayal trauma theory” is that the victim’s amnesia for childhood abuse happens for survival, in the face of terrible suffering –and not because of the suffering itself.

In a number of ways, recovered memories are not like continuous memories. Most first appear in the form of a flashback, a bodily sensation, a sensory impression or memory, an intense effective response -such as a panic attack- or even a dream. These sorts of memories can be “remembered” in the body and senses. They might be described as snapshots, often without context or sequential ordering, but are vivid in some details and laden with intense emotion. Memories often come up while hearing something on television, or watching a television show or film. Something might “click” in the mind, accompanying a terrible feeling of panic or extreme emotion. The person may not even know why they are reacting to the image or dialogue.

In many cases, memories are often originally triggered by some external event in the environment, a personal experience, or an event.

Linda Stoler found forgetting more likely in women whose abuse was a family secret, likely happening to other related children, but who could not get any adult to believe them or to intervene.

Repression is also more likely found in victims whose abuser/s developed and displayed a public persona as an exceptionally “good” person, and in victims who were told, or otherwise made to believe that the sexual abuse was their fault, their idea, and were groomed for self-blame.


Source: Recovered Memories, Linda Stoler, Kat Quina, University of Rhode Island. Anne P. DePrince, Jennifer J. Freyd, University of Oregon. Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, Volume Two
Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, April 1993
Posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, Headlines, Health, News, repressed memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Abuse? What Abuse?… Please Pass the Potatoes”

Repression and dissociation of trauma is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

I don’t particularly like the word “disorder” because I believe that memory repression is an ingenious, rational, and methodical way for a child’s mind to handle severe trauma, sexual abuse, death threats, and extreme emotional betrayal.

Repressed traumatic memory is normally diagnosed as “dissociative amnesia” or sometimes called “psychogenic amnesia.” There are several diagnostic features for dissociative amnesia. The main component is one’s inability to remember vital, personal information, and this lack of memory is too substantial to be explained by normal forgetting. The memory loss can last months, or years –often, decades.

Most professionals use two different terms to explain how a victim ends up with amnesia for a sexually abusive experience in childhood. “Repression” was defined by Freud as a method of defense in which a victim of severe abuse or trauma forces the overwhelming, extraordinary, and horrifying events out of the conscious mind and into the unconscious.

Pierre Janet preferred “dissociation” as the explanation for blocking the distressing information. Janet believed the trauma was split off from the conscious mind rather than pushed away. Experts continue to interchange the two terms and some disagree about which mechanism is utilized by victims, although, dissociation seems to be the preferred explanation among mental health professionals. It is possible that some people mentally “split” from the trauma and others repress it. Maybe some victims do both.

There are many significant factors about traumatic amnesia that have not been widely discussed. Some of the common causes of the amnesia can be any or all of the following:

  • The trauma or abuse began at an early age.
  • The trauma or abuse continued for an extended period of time, usually years.
  • The abuse involved rape and intercourse or other forms of violent acts.
  • There were threats to the victim or their loved ones.
  • The victim’s need for self-survival was a major part of the abuse (The abuser was a trusted care-giver or parent, and or, there was a lack of protection by the other primary care-giver or parent).
  • The child had an inability to express what was happening.
  • The experiences were so personally overwhelming and horrific, that retaining the memory of them, would cause extreme psychosis, suicide, or “craziness” (insanity, madness).

Each of these very significant reasons can directly contribute to DA, but denial, shame, and guilt can indirectly contribute to the amnesia.

Let’s examine the theories for why dissociative amnesia takes place:

Nature’s System of Self-Survival:

Human beings have an intrinsic fight or flight system. When an authority figure, a primary care-giver, or a powerful stranger is sexually abusing a child, then the fight mode is normally ineffective. The child is physically powerless, so when fleeing is impossible, the child must escape mentally.

Physical Threats and Heinous Acts:

Threats of death and harm to others or pets are probably more linked to dissociative amnesia than the child’s age and some research supports this. Heinous acts -that are so shocking or frightening to the victim-  would also contribute to the victim’s psychological need to mentally remove themselves from the abuse.

One repression case involved a woman who had been forced to eat her own vomit and drink her own urine. She was also forced to eat her feces after it had been smeared on her.

To the adult survivor of child sexual abuse, that included death threats, remembering the abuse can be equated with severe punishment or death.

Truddi Chase on Oprah

Truddi Chase on Oprah

Truddi Chase, author of When Rabbit Howls, was threatened with death if she told, and her mother reinforced the threats by telling her that she would kill her if she misbehaved. Truddi went through the same experience as I did when she began to write her own book. She felt she was “breaking the rules” by writing her story. She was an adult and the threat was gone, but to her subconscious mind, the danger was very real. For Truddi Chase, and me, telling our story was equated with death. (note: my book manuscript went on hold several years ago when I had to deal with major life changes and new memories of sexual abuse that I have not disclosed on my Blog).

People wonder how a person can block out repeated and brutal experiences, but it makes more sense to repress shocking trauma than to have a clear recollection of it. Not only did I do exactly what my father told me to do when he used a knife to threaten me with death, but I obeyed his threats so well that I pushed the abuse and the threats, right out of consciousness. We can’t disclose what we don’t remember. Self-survival is the strongest component in human nature. By blocking the abuse out, I assured myself of keeping the secret and thus, staying alive. If my mother would not protect me, I had to do it myself.

Frequency of the Abuse:

Repeated events allow a pattern of defense to be generated. The victim might automatically and instinctually teach themselves a sort of self-hypnosis. They may also begin the process of denial, numbing or ‘leaving their body’ during the abuse.

In the book, Betrayal Trauma, by Jennifer Freyd, she explains how continuous trauma and betrayal by a primary care-giver can create the need to develop amnesia for survival. When a child is being molested, raped, or threatened by the person who is providing them with shelter, food, medical care, and emotional attachment, then the child cannot react in a normal way to the harm being done to them. Even though the abuse is degrading, painful, and brings terrible trauma and shame, the child is forced to try and survive in the home with the perpetrator. Repression is sometimes the only way the child can endure the cruelty, and at the same time, physically and emotionally survive. This is why dissociative amnesia is more likely to be found in cases of incest.

When memory repression is found in circumstances where the abuser was not a family member, but someone the child loved or trusted (like a priest or family friend), then the amnesia may be more connected to shame, guilt, denial, and threats of death. Although, in some cases, being sexually abused by a priest can equal the depth of betrayal by a parent.

Age the Abuse Took Place:

Some experts still believe that a significant factor in repression is the age of the victim at the time of the first sexual assault (many mental health experts have minimized this reason). The theory is that if a child is pre-verbal when he or she is first abused, then the violation would not be understood in a context that allows the victim to form any thoughts about it. If the child is too young, then the abuse would not be symbolized and it would go unspoken. Therefore, it would remain unorganized in the mind of the child, and subsequently, not comprehended. The young child would have no understanding, or judgment, of what is happening to them.

Even if the abuse continues after the initial trauma, and the child is abused well into their teens, every subsequent act of sexual abuse will still be blocked out by the older child, or teenager. This is why Marilyn Van Derbur blocked out her father’s rapes –even when he was still raping her at age eighteen.

Denial and Grief:

In families like mine, the only way to survive was for everyone to blind themselves to what was happening. If everyone is acting as if nothing is wrong, if the child is incapable of understanding what is going on, and if the perpetrator acts normal when he is not actively being abusive, then the child would have every reason to question their own reality. The family then reinforces the victim’s denial and the child is never allowed to outwardly suffer emotionally or to grieve.

In a 1992 case of repressed memories, the victim was raped at around the age of ten by her father. The victim was told by her father that disclosing the abuse would break up the family and that he would kill her. She was also given the responsibility to initiate the sexual encounters, which she did, but only to stop him from molesting her younger sister.

When the child attempted to tell her mother about the “white substance” on her genitals, her mother did not help the child, she instead gave the child a book about menstruation. This girl was forced to behave as if nothing was wrong. She was not given the opportunity to properly express her pain because her mother would not hear her. She was also forced to take care of herself, and her mother was subtly telling her that she needed to protect herself from getting pregnant with her abuser. When a child is forced to suffer in silence, unable to grieve, and forced to protect themselves, the child can easily begin to repress the abuse. But this method only lasts so long. The day eventually comes when the memories, psychological dysfunction, or an illness surfaces.  If childhood trauma and emotional grief is not spoken about, then the body will do the talking.

Maternal Abandonment:

Professional research confirms that mothers who look the other way to the sexual abuse, or who directly allow the abuse to happen -blaming the child, or allowing the perpetrator to have easy access to the child- is a contributing factor in traumatic memory impairment. It makes perfect sense that a child’s self-protective system would immediately need to shift into high gear when their mother does not rescue them from a predator, and instead, embraces the victimizer. Sometimes the mother also participates in the sexual acts, and this magnifies the need of the child to mentally block out the events. As Lenore Terr M.D. says, “Denial stops memory before it gets much of a start.”

Lack of Validation for the Victim:

Skeptics ask why so many victims of the Holocaust remember details about their traumatic experience. Many war crime victims do not remember much of their experience, and others remember nothing at all.

Nevertheless, the tormentors in the war were not trusted family members and there was no secrecy about the crimes within the prison camps. It was common knowledge among everyone in the camps that suffering and imprisonment was taking place and the victims had each other to validate what happened each day.

Prisoners of war did not go to school, to the office, or to social parties during their time in the camps and then later return to being victims of war crimes after the normal activities had ended. They did not take vacations with their perpetrators, or go to church or a synagogue with them.

In addition, people rarely tell victims of war they were never imprisoned, that it was their imagination, or blame them for being prisoners of war. More importantly, friends and relatives of war crime victims do not coerce them into thinking that their captors were “good” hardworking people who loved them.

Prisoners of war were eventually liberated at some point by people who confirmed the atrocities and who provided them with some kind of help. In concentration camps, there was also a great deal of corroborating evidence. Victims of war often have tattoos with their camp number or there are military documents about being liberated.

People who endure prison camps don’t normally have the same level of interpersonal shame and guilt that a victim of child sexual abuse does. Even if guilt and shame had been a factor during the camp imprisonment, it was not a secret guilt or a secret shame. Incest and child sexual abuse involves deep humiliation. It is a dirty secret that was perpetrated by a loved one, or trusted care-giver.

Children of war were not being raped by a parent and they did not engage in family meals, celebrations, or loving moments with their victimizers. They did not have to deal with the confusion that a child of incest endures when they try to find reality in the midst of two different worlds. One world is full of pain, rage, fear, betrayal, guilt, and isolation. The other is one of birthday celebrations, Merry Christmas dinners, movies, popcorn, and trips to Disneyland.

As noted in Behind the Playground Walls, a child being abused within the family makes accommodations in a “world where few things are as they seem and the power of the abusers is pervasive and magical.”

This conformity creates defenses that are seen as crucial by many children. They block the bad, only remembering the good, or at least what is humanly bearable. For many children, it is more useful to repress the trauma than to retain the memory of it.

It is not usually advantageous for a child, or an adult, to preserve the knowledge that someone they loved sexually violated, abandoned, or threatened them. Repression and dissociation allows the child to remain attached to the parent or other loved one who is assaulting them, and simultaneously providing the child with food, shelter, and the necessities to live.

In Memories of Sexual Betrayal, an incest victim revealed she had been forced to watch her father rape and sodomize her sister. She then described that after a night of sexual abuse, life was back to normal the next day. Her mother was preparing the family breakfast and her father was reading the paper. She said, “Everything was just as it had been the night before when I went to bed.”

Jennifer Freyd points out that repressed memories of incest is more likely to be found in families that are somewhat functional.

I see Marilyn’s face saying, ‘I am going to keep his secret and pretend that nothing is happening…It’s even a secret from myself.’

I see Marilyn’s face saying, ‘I am keeping his secret and pretending that nothing is happening…It’s even a secret from myself.’

Marilyn Van Derbur and her sister Gwen, came from a prestigious and outwardly functional family. Even though both sisters grew up in the same home with the same sexually abusive father, and the same mother who ignored the signs of abuse… the dynamics of the two sisters were very different. Consequently, the sisters displayed two very different coping defenses.

Marilyn, who felt no anger for her father while growing up, was the one who repressed the abuse entirely. Gwen on the other hand, felt hatred for her father and wanted to kill him. The remarkable difference is that Gwen has always remembered being sexually abused by the father.

In 1992, Ross Cheit began having dreams and memories of being molested almost nightly by a camp counselor for the San Francisco Boy’s Chorus named William Farmer. Ross had spent the summer at the camp as a child. Cheit’s memories began to return after two separate incidents. The first was a phone call from his sister. She was calling to tell Ross that she was sending her son to a San Francisco Boys chorus. The other trigger was a newspaper article about Father James Porter who molested and raped hundreds of young boys, decades earlier.

After Ross Cheit remembered that his perpetrator was his camp counselor, he searched for more victims and discovered that other perpetrators also worked at the camp. Cheit subsequently discovered an enormous cover-up at the boy’s camp. He found at least a dozen other victims who had been molested by Farmer or another camp employee.

Madi Bacon, founder and director of the Boy’s Chorus, openly admitted to Cheit that Bill Farmer had done questionable things with some of the boys at the camp, but Madi Bacon blinded herself to it.

Madi Bacon told the boys many times they were lucky to have Bill Farmer, and this is how she helped create a distorted reality for the boys at the camp. She generated the image of a respectable perpetrator, while denying his dark side, and she pretended the camp was a joyous and normal place for the boys.

Madi Bacon said she kept things at the camp a secret because she wanted the camp to have “a happy ending.”

Madi Bacon is the epitome of those who shove child sexual abuse under the rug. She is just like all the mothers who choose not to see incest going on because they want the outside world to see a “normal-looking, happy” family. In this case it had been the reputation of the camp which was preserved over the children’s well-being.

After an emotional and difficult phone call to Bill Farmer, Ross Cheit waited for a promised apology by mail, which never came. Farmer refused to admit much responsibility at all and acted as if the abuse was no a big deal.

He probably learned that from Madi Bacon.

A contributing factor to Ross Cheit’s repression was most likely due to the fact that each morning, after Ross was molested by Farmer, life was back to normal. Everyone engaged in his or her daily routine, including Bill Farmer and Ross Cheit.

If an adult continues to tell a child wonderful things about the person who is abusing them, and creates the fantasy of an all-American home, then the child will cling to that false image, instead of relying on their own experiences. When a child has no sense of self-worth and cannot even trust their own experiences, and when the majority of the other family members do not acknowledge what is happening… the child will say to themselves, “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it never happened.”

Blog One

When a child, who has just been raped by his or her father, comes to the dinner table to find that everything is normal again, and no one says a word about the molestation or rapes, and the child hears “please pass the potatoes” or “would you like some more milk?” The child is forced to choose his or her reality.

Does the child choose the reality of the incest and rapes, or is it the pleasantries and falseness of the dinner table?

The victim chooses the dinner table in order to survive.


Behind the Playground Walls: Sexual Abuse in Preschools, Jill Waterman Ph.D, Robert J. Kelly Ph.D, Mary Kay Oliveri MSW, Jane Mc Cord, Ph.D, 1993, The Guilford Press page 242
Stacey Lannert, Free Stacey Lannert Website, Stacey’s Writings
Dissociation, Repression, and Reality Testing in the Countertransference, Jody Messler Davies, Memories of Sexual Betrayal: Truth, Fantasy, Repression, and Dissociation, Jason Aronson Inc., Edited by Richard Gartner, Ph.D, pages 60-61
Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Child Abuse, Jennifer J. Freyd, Harvard University Press, 1996, page 45, 76, 77, 78
Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found, Lenore Terr, M.D. Basic Books, 1994, page 146
Bearing Witness A man’s Recovery of His Sexual Abuse as a Child Mike Stanton The Sunday Journal Massachusetts edition of The Providence Sunday Journal Volume CXI, No. 19 A-1 May 7 1995
Bearing Witness A man’s Recovery of His Sexual Abuse as a Child Mike Stanton The Providence Journal Morning Edition of the Providence Journal Bulletin South County Monday May 8 1995 A-8 and A-9
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, Washington D.C., American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Recovered Memories, Linda Stoler, Kat Quina, University of Rhode Island, Anne P. DePrince, Jennifer Freyd, University of Oregon, 2001)
Posttraumatic stress associated with delayed recall of sexual abuse: A general population study. Special Issue: Research on traumatic memory. Elliott, Diana M.; Briere, John U California-Los Angeles Medical Ctr, Child Abuse Crisis Ctr, Harbor Campus, Torrance, US Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1995 Oct Vol 8(4) 629-647
The Recovered Memory Project” Ross Cheit, Memorandum and Order, pp. 1-2; Hewczuk v. Sambor, C.A. 91-6562 February 18 1993
Lenore Terr’s work described and quoted in Betrayal Trauma, pages 138-139, Freyd, 1996, Harvard University Press
Betrayal Trauma, page 139, Freyd, 1996, Harvard University Press
In a personal letter to me, used by permission via personal correspondence.
Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found, Lenore Terr, M.D. Basic Books, 1994, page 129
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When Rape or Incest Results In Pregnancy

Dear Readers,

I am about to engage in a very disturbing subject. This article has the potential to trigger emotional, physical, or psychological reactions in anyone who has become pregnant due to rape or incest, or anyone who has ever been forced into an abortion.

Someone might ask themselves: “How can anyone block out ever having been pregnant or forced into an abortion?”

Because the mind has the ability to block out all kinds of trauma –not just rape, death threats, physical assaults, child molestation, or torture.

Pregnancy is a very possible result in cases of rape. The scientific consensus is that rape is as likely to lead to pregnancy as consensual sex. Some research suggests that rape might even result in higher rates of pregnancy than consensual sex.

When a woman finds out she is pregnant from a rape, or from incest… the discovery and pregnancy are part of the original trauma, and can be so emotionally overwhelming to her, that she can block out the pregnancy and having a traumatic procedure – like abortion- performed on her. This would be especially true if the woman’s relationship with the rapist was inter-familial.

Some women, and teenage girls, have given birth without even knowing they were pregnant. My guess is that this situation could be more common than we think in families where incest is taking place.

Last week, when I decided to write this article, I was reading the morning news, and one of the first reports I saw was “Father, accused of getting his 11-year-old daughter pregnant”

Apparently, Michael Adkins, 33, of West Virginia got his 11-year-old daughter pregnant. Both parents were involved in forcing the child to have an abortion.

Michael Adkins was originally arrested in March 2014, and charged with sexual assault, incest, sexual battery, child neglect, intimidation by a witness and conspiracy.

Michael and Amanda Adkins

Michael and Amanda Adkins

According to authorities, Michael, and his wife Amanda, the girl’s step-mother, arranged two abortions within 15 days for the eleven year-old.

Amanda had been charged with child neglect, creating risk of injury, intimidation of a witness, obstructing an officer and conspiracy. Since then, both have cut plea deals and are scheduled to be sentenced in November.


There are beautiful accounts of young teens who choose to give birth to their rapist’s child, some of those cases are due to incest, like Tressa Middleton, an eleven year-old girl, raped by her 16-year-old brother.

Other young girls are forced into abortions after rape or incest -forced against their will- and experience tremendous trauma and anger over being forced into aborting their child.

One brave 15 year-old, whose father had been raping her regularly, gave testimony of how her parents took her to a strange hospital after she became sick with flu-like symptoms.

At the hospital, she and her parents found out she was 19 weeks pregnant. Her father flew into a rage and demanded she abort the child.

In spite of the pain and guilt I felt, knowing who the father of the baby was, it was far better to have a baby than the alternative – to kill it. I refused to have an abortion. My father flew into an uncontrollable rage and demanded that I consent to the abortion, or that the doctor do it with or without my permission. The doctor refused because of my wishes. My father demanded that an abortionist be found – regardless of the cost.

Traumatized by being strapped down by three nurses, the teen continued to scream that she didn’t want an abortion. She was injected with muscle relaxants -against her will- and eventually placed under general anesthesia, and her child was murdered.

I was told that an abortion would solve my problem, when it was never really the problem in the first place….I grieve every day for my daughter. I have struggled to forget the abuse and the abortion. I can do neither. All I think of is, “I should have done more, fought more, struggled more for the life of my child.” My situation may not be common, but I know it’s not unique either. The emotions and problems I’ve had to deal with as a result of my abortion are common. The trauma of the rape and abuse were only intensified by the abortion. The guilt of knowing my baby is dead is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I was violated and betrayed over and over by my father, who God created to love and protect me. I was humiliated, hurt, and yes, violated again by the abortionist.

Her father continued to rape her after the abortion.

This young woman was twenty years-old when she wrote her account of the abortion in order to help others. She is still healing and it is still very difficult for her to share her story as there is so much shame, trauma, guilt, and depressive emotions connected to such an experience. She has not shared her story with many people, as it can feel like a horror story to the victim.

There are many beautiful human beings who were conceived from rape or incest, but each case is unique, traumatizing, and complicated.

If you were raped by a family member (or a step-father), and forced into an abortion, and cannot handle the devastation, shame, guilt, or traumatic feelings of horror…then please privately (personal and confidential) contact my therapist to help you. I promise you, that you will feel immediate relief and will continue to improve with the sessions.

Contact me (Alethea) to get in touch with my therapist…


Dellorto, Danielle (22 August 2012). “Experts: Rape does not lower odds of pregnancy”. CNN Health.
Posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, Denial, dissociative amnesia, Headlines, Health, News, Priest Abuse, rape and abuse, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Mother Let Him Rape Me — Then Stayed Married To My Dad

“My father raped me, and my mom didn’t leave. It took years to find the power to forgive” by

Click here for her full story.

Sharisse’s story has been experienced by millions of women, in countless countries around the world. Her situation is common, even in seemingly normal families –even in middle and upper class families where the parents are college educated, high-functioning, and appear to be a well-adjusted family to their neighbors and friends.

At least 44% of mothers do not protect their child when their spouse or boyfriend has raped, or is raping, the child.

In addition, the anger towards the mother is usually not addressed by the victim. It is often shoved under the rug, or repressed, and it is downplayed by a society that tells the victim (or adult survivor) that their mother “was a victim too,” or “she did the best she could.”

Most of the time, this is not the case. usually the mother willingly protects the rapist out of her love or loyalty to him, or religious beliefs, or to keep the paychecks coming in, or to not be shamed in front of the neighbors.

My “mother” protected my father for every reason above…but mostly because she resented me, was jealous of me father —as if I was ‘the other woman,’ and because she considered me as the sexual aggressor. This is a VERY common mother/daughter relationship in incest families.

Victims and adult survivors need to allow themselves to feel their anger towards their mothers, and to express it in a non-violent way. They need to be able to say they are angrier at their mother than their rapist. Society cannot silence women and children who are very angry at their mother -and justifiably so- because the women who protect child rapists are the ROOT cause of why child rape and incest continues. It is also the foundation of a tremendous amount of repressed anger that is often not dealt with by child sexual abuse survivors in the therapy setting.

Please see my series on mothers who don’t protect their child from a child molester, or child rapist, and how it can affect the child. This series of articles includes the case of a mother who offered her seven year-old daughter as a sexual present to her husband for his birthday. The mother soon began molesting her daughter along with her husband. Click here to read the four part series.


Posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, Headlines, Health, News, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Former Miss America, Incest Survivor, Shares Her Story

…“Scuff, scuff, scuff.”

The sounds of expensive felt soles making their way down the hall of a Denver mansion in the middle of a night.

The slow turn of the door handle on the private bedroom door of a 5-year-old girl.

The child recalls from memory that they were the sounds of terror and of horror in her home.

And she says she listened for them every night of her life until she was 18 years old.

Her father wore these shoes, remembers Miss America 1958 Marilyn Van Derbur.

Marilyn and her father

Marilyn and her father: a photo can tell a thousand words

The late father was a wealthy and prominent Denver businessman and philanthropist. The Boy Scouts building in Denver once had his name on it — since taken off — and he was a chairman of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said Van Derbur.

“He played the piano. He loved poetry. He was one of the finest speakers I have ever heard … Mother was beautiful, gracious, lovely. You would look at my family and think, ‘It could never happen,’” said Van Derbur.

Miss America 1958, author of the prize winning “Miss America By Day,” says she is a childhood incest survivor and discusses the incest and the aftermath with passion and obsession in a telephone interview with The Times.

Her father was never charged nor convicted for the crimes the daughter says happened in her childhood and he died before she went public with the story.

However, her mother was still living when the story originally came out in the Denver Post, but before her daughter came out publicly.

Van Derbur brings her story here for the Oct. 14 Gingerbread House Bossier/Caddo Children’s Advocacy Center Partners in Prevention 2014 Luncheon. The event is presented by the Ballengee Foundation.

“Proceeds from the luncheon will help the Gingerbread House continue to provide all services free of charge to victims and their families,” said executive director Jessica M. Millen.

“What I have been able to share with America, is that ‘Incest doesn’t just happen in ‘those’ families.’ … What people need to understand is this (incest) could happen to anybody,” Van Derbur said.

And it does in nine parishes, predominantly Caddo and Bossier Parishes, which Gingerbread serves, Millen said.

Although incest itself is not broken down in figures in 2014, Gingerbread House served 649 victims of child — boys and girls — sexual abuse.

“The children were ages two to 14 — from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest of the wealthy families, from the blue collar workers to professionals. On the average, we see 54 new children every month,” according to Millen

“This year, we are up to 66 a month, a 22 percent increase,” she added.

She says the biggest threat to children are people they know — from parents to a parent’s boyfriend, to the babysitter and others.

“Her’s (Van Derbur) is a message of powerful survival,” said Gingerbread House board member Waynette Ballengee. “It will be an inspiring, astonishing story to learn how she rose above it. She has a happy marriage and has raised a child.”

So, a questions begs to be asked: Where was Van Derbur’s mother when her father visited her bedroom and that of an older sister? (Two other sisters shared a bedroom and were not molested.)

Well, one night only, there was the “clip, clip, tap, tapping” of expensive stiletto-size heels of house shoes known as “mules” on the linoleum.

When the sound came, everything stopped in the bedroom. There was no sound.

“It is over,” thought Van Derbur. “Finally, it is over.”

But the tapping sound turned around and disappeared into the night.

Her mother knew, said her daughter.

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van derbur, seated with her family, Sept. 7, 1957, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo)

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van derbur, seated with her family, Sept. 7, 1957, in Atlantic City, N.J.

Years later, Van Derbur finally went to tell her mother.

“I was sobbing uncontrollably and tried to get the words out. Her arms were folded. She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t believe you. It is in your fantasy,’” said Van Derbur.

“I felt I had been slapped. I walked out the door,” she continued. “And came home sobbing.”

In a subsequent meeting, her mother, then 88, said, “I have no tears for you. I have no tears,” Van Derbur said. “I was with her when she died. I had no love for her.”

In all those years, Van Derbur never talked about her life.

Nor how she endured what she describes.

“I found a way to separate my mind, to departmentalize, to repress all those memories … The trauma was so severe,” she said.

She said as difficult as it may seem, she was one person at night as her father touched her, and the next day was a popular high schooler, and later college student, who graduated from University of Colorado, Phi Beta Kappa.

In the interview with The Times, Van Derbur talks fast and furiously about her life and what she has done with it after her life began to “implode” at 39. When her own daughter turned 5 — the age Van Derbur was when she recalls that her father began abusing her — it triggered memories and feelings she had long buried deep within her.

She said her body suddenly went into physical paralysis and she was hospitalized for weeks. The struggled continued for years.

In her early 50s, she went public, after the Denver Post ran a front page story on the incest.

“Most adults do fairly well with their lives until they are in the late 30s or early 40s. We are forced to go back and heal childhood wounds and relive,” said Van Derbur.

The Denver Post story, done without an interview with Van Derbur, was headlined “Miss America Overcomes Shame.” It was just one of many stories about her life, including one in People magazine.

Van Derbur thought her life was over when the story was made public.

“People will turn away,” she thought. “No one will see me as the same. No family will want their son to marry my daughter. No university will accept my daughter.”

She didn’t know what to do.

She was surprised when people begin to tell her how proud they were of her.

And, when her sister came forward, too, Van Derbur felt people would believe her.

And she helped create an adult survivor program at the Kempe National Center, now recognized as the Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse.

Before she came out publicly, Van Derbur confronted her father.

“I drove as fast as I could to get there. The house I grew up in was very big. This was the most difficult thing I had ever done.”

She even made notes because she wanted to be very specific, but she says she didn’t go in anger. At the end of conversation, he lay a gun in the palm of his hand and said if she had come any other way, he would have killed himself. She had no doubt he would have killed her first.

In seven years, she called her father a second time, but before she could get to the house, she received a phone call from her mother that her father had died of a heart attack.

The sounds in the night she says she heard have stopped for her.

For many area children, they have not.

So, for the children and the adults who have never found peace, Van Derbur speaks.

Her message is powerful.

EVENT: Gingerbread House Bossier/Caddo Children’s Advocacy Center Partners in Prevention 2015 Luncheon.

Benefits: Gingerbread House.

When: Noon, Oct. 14 at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino, Shreveport.

Presented by: The Ballengee Foundation.

Admission: $125, individual; $1,500, table for 10; $1,500 to $5,000, sponsorships.

Information: 674-2900.



Posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, Crime, dissociative amnesia, false memory syndrome, Health, News, repressed memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amnesia for Sexual Abuse More Likely Found in Victims With Multiple Abusers, Fear of Death, Violent and Extended Abuse

Going through my storage closet and boxes. Found another research article linking total amnesia for having been sexually abused as a child, or teen –linking it with death threats, extended abuse, violent abuse, and multiple perpetrators.

Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children

“A sample of 450 adult clinical subjects reporting sexual abuse histories were studied regarding their repression of sexual abuse incidents. A total of 267 subjects (59.3%) identified some period in their lives, before age 18, when they had no memory of their abuse. Variables most predictive of abuse-related amnesia were greater current psychological symptoms, molestation at an early age, extended abuse, and variables reflecting especially violent abuse (e.g., victimization by multiple perpetrators, having been physically injured as a result of the abuse, victim fears of death if she or he disclosed the abuse to others). In contrast, abuse characteristics more likely to produce psychological conflict (e.g., enjoyment of the abuse, acceptance of bribes, feelings of guilt or shame) were not associated with abuse-related amnesia. ”


Charles R. Figley, Dan Sexton, M.A., Journal of Traumatic Stress, January 1993, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 21-31
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Child Sexual Abuse and Disease: A Story of Hell To Hope

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van derbur, was sexually abused by her father, including rape for almost thirteen years. Marilyn has talked about being physically paralyzed from head to toe because of the incest. This is only one aspect of the many physical problems that Marilyn had suffered because of her father raping her for so many years.

Frank Fitzpatrick was sexually abused by Father James Porter as a child. Frank has publicly revealed how being sexually abused by a man created sexual confusion, causing Frank to feel that he might be gay or bisexual.

Incest survivor,  Rachel Downing, was sexually abused by her father, an Episcopal minister, and she says he killed Rachel’s animals in order to silence and punish her.

As an adult, Rachel suffered from physical problems that were unable to be diagnosed, and she endured depression from the time she was a child. She went to the emergency hospital seventeen different times within three months for pain in her abdomen. Doctors eventually surgically opened her up in order to find the cause of her pain; they found nothing.

Family and friends often tell people who were sexually abused as a children, “let it go” “move on with your life” or “don’t allow it to affect you.”

It’s not like we don’t want to let it go. Do people actually think that abuse survivors enjoy suffering?

Victims of trauma and severe prolonged sexual abuse, do not have a choice. A person cannot consciously attempt to push aside what happened. This is ineffective and causes more severe problems.

Here are some of what is felt or experienced by a child being sexually victimized by an adult:

  • Betrayal
  • Deceit
  • Sexual pleasure
  • Sexual confusion
  • Guilt
  • Fear of death
  • Fear of the good ending at any moment
  • Constantly walking on egg shells
  • Shame
  • Secrets
  • Lies
  • Hatred
  • Rage
  • Emotional attachment to the victimizer
  • Isolation
  • Entrapment
  • Physical Pain
  • Feeling worthless
  • Inability to trust anyone
  • Fear connected to not knowing what is going to happen
  • Fear from death threats
  • Trauma
  • Boundaries being crossed

Here is a partial list of what the adult survivor feels as a result of having been sexually abused (some of this is also experienced by the child during the time of the abuse).

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling estranged from others
  • Feeling crazy/different
  • Feeling of having a short life span
  • Nightmares
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Hypervigilance
  • Dislike of being touched
  • Frequent or uncontrollable crying
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe Depression
  • Fear of a punishing God
  • Poor body image
  • Feeling sexually stimulated inappropriately or when there is no conscious reason for it.
  • Frequent, excessive, unwarranted, washing (especially of the genitals or breasts)
  • Abnormal fear or hatred of men
  • Abnormal fear or hatred of women
  • Self-harm
  • Amnesia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depersonalization
  • Physical symptoms

It’s not very easy to just put it all behind you and to “not allow it to define your life.”

People who offer this “advice” to survivors of trauma and sexual abuse either say it for their own self-comfort (if the abuse survivor puts it behind them, then others don’t have to be made uncomfortable hearing about it), or they have abused a child themselves, or they are repressing trauma of their own and don’t want to face it.

In this post I would like to share with my readers how seriously ill the incest made me and how much I have overcome and healed in myself.

The purpose of this information is not to draw sympathy or attention to myself; it is to inform people that incest and child sexual abuse can cause severe damage to the victim’s immune system and vital organs, such as the heart and bladder, as well as affecting their psychological state and emotions. This post is also to show that there is hope for every survivor, no matter how badly they suffer.

Twenty-one years ago I suddenly came down with an illness that doctors say has no cure or treatment. I was scared out of my mind because I was suffering from incapacitating, frightening physical symptoms that caused me unbearable suffering. I spent countless hours in doctors offices and hospitals (and once in an emergency room), having my body probed, poked, examined, violated with instruments and scanned. After $30,000 in medical bills, the experts told me that they could find nothing wrong.

After a year with no diagnosis, an ear nose and throat specialist finally diagnosed me with chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, which is now known as myalgic encephalomyelitis.

I remember sitting in the office of one of the specialists. I was frightened and full of uncertainty and desperation. The specialist said to me, “There’s good news and bad news about this disease. The good news is that you are not going to die, and the bad news is that you are not going to die.”

It was not until I was well into the labyrinth of the illness that I truly understood the depth, and truth, of his words. On the days when I was bed-ridden with a fatigue that is indescribable, I simultaneously suffered from chronic diarrhea, constant stomach aches, ringing in my ears, short-term memory loss, pain in my heart area, vice-grip headaches, choking for no reason, inflamed lymph nodes and dizziness.

In addition, every night for years, as I lay my head on my pillow my heart pounded so loudly in my ears that I thought it would stop from pure exhaustion. If I did manage to fall asleep I was soon awakened by a feeling of forgetting how to breathe and I woke up gasping for breath.

For over a decade, I woke from nightmares so tormenting, that they were beyond imagination — nightmares so vile and disturbing that I wanted to die when I woke up. For years I experienced sharp pains in my vagina. Pains that no doctor could find the origin for because they were caused by being raped by my father when I was in grade school.

When I managed to crawl out of bed during the day, food caused me to want to vomit or I shoveled meals in my mouth at alarming rates –for me, food had nothing to do with sustaining my body. For me, food represented the sexual abuse.

I also began to experience the feeling of having a full stomach all the time –whether or not I had eaten. Then there were numerous days at a time when I could barely eat at all because food made me so nauseous and dizzy that I was afraid of eating. The fullness in my stomach was created by being forced to perform oral sex on a female family member.

Then there was the pathological hunger. A debilitating hunger that never ceased. Even when I was full or nauseous, I was always hungry. One day I ate four burritos and was still starving.

During those years, I continually suffered from shingles outbreaks. Shingles is a virus of the nervous system and can be serious. It attacked my head and ears with pain, and a very ugly bubbly lesion always formed down the left side of my neck. Through therapy, I was able to find the root cause of the shingles outbreaks and they are gone.

I also do not suffer from migraines anymore.

In 1997, four months before remembering that my father had sex with me as a child, my bladder erupted into one of the most excruciating symptoms of all. For four months I could barely urinate. I went to the bathroom twenty to forty times a day in a futile attempt to expel my urine. Each agonizing time, only a trickle came out.

Gynecologists and a top urologist found nothing wrong with my bladder –even after inserting a tube up my urethra. The next step they wanted to take was to put a scope with a camera up my urethra. I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I then chose to allow the therapy to heal me because it was the only method of treatment that was healing my other physical suffering. My instincts were right, because after I finally remembered the incest, my bladder slowly became better and eventually healed completely.

Child sexual abuse is very serious and can create physical illness and disease. It can cause mental torment, death and suicide. Don’t ever let anyone think you are crazy or “faking it” or that you should just “think positive” and forget about your pain and suffering.

I have surmounted an incredible -nearly unbelievable- amount of physical suffering and disease from all the sexual abuse, trauma, and multiple abusers I had as a child.


This photo is me now. It depicts how much joy a person can experience when they heal and recuperate their drive for life, and their gratitude for having climbed a mountain and stood at the top with confidence and with liberation from fear, guilt, shame and anger.

If you, or someone you know, needs help, please contact me for the number of my therapist. She helped me heal from diseases doctors say have no cure, or treatment, and she liberated me from my hell. The therapy can be done over the telephone, from almost anywhere in the world.


How Deep the Scars of Abuse? Some Victims Crippled; Others Stay Resilient, Sandra G. Boodman Washington Post, Monday, July 29, 2002; Page A01
A Flight of Mind, Pamela Oldham, The Washington Post, February 18, 2003, Page HE01)


Posted in Child Abuse, child molestation, child sexual abuse, Crime, dissociative amnesia, female sexual offenders, Health, News, rape and abuse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments