Maybe the bravest thing you’ll read all day: A guest blog from Lois Kulas

Marilyn-Van-DerburFifty-seven years have passed since Marilyn Van Derbur was crowned Miss America. Approximately fifty million viewers tuned into the pageant in 1958. She instantly became known across the U.S. Girls and women wanted to be like her. Men wanted to date her. It was a different world for women, and appearances were more important than truth.

Or, so it seemed. Never did she imagine that her truth could be set free.

It wasn’t until she reached her 53rd birthday that she was finally able to say out loud in public, “I am an incest survivor.” Some people doubted her story. At that time, Marilyn confirmed what so many sexual abuse victims felt when she said, “If people are not going to believe 53 year old me, who would believe a child.” When her sister said her prominent father had sexually abused her, too, her story was more widely embraced. Once she started talking, she didn’t stop. She shifted her focus from motivational speaking to telling her story and helping people understand the effects of sexual abuse. And, she helped countless survivors.

Yesterday, 77 years old, poised and still beautiful, Marilyn Van Derbur kicked off Sexual Abuse Awareness Month, by speaking at the Child Abuse Prevention Breakfast in upstate New York, in the same county where I grew up. I attended, because her book helped me find a way to talk to my brother, parents, and kids, about the sexual abuse that occurred while I was a child. They had no idea it had gone on. By finally being able to tell, I gave my family an opportunity to love me for my whole self. I needed to go there to meet Marilyn, because nowhere else could this bit of healing occur for me. Coming back to my old hometown, feeling lighter and stronger, ready to stand up, was freeing.

Marilyn Van Derbur’s book, “Miss America By Day,” is a more than a memoir. She tells her story, which is validating to survivors who have struggled for years. Her story is followed by a guide and addresses topics such as, “Is It Safe to Tell,” “Conversations With Children,” and “Trauma Doesn’t Have to Last a Lifetime.”   It did feel that it would last a lifetime to Marilyn at one point, and it does for many victims. The healing process takes time, but with support, it can happen. She also mentioned that abuse histories cannot be compared. She emphasized what mattered in healing was not so much what was done, but how the abuse made a person feel. She stated, “I wrote the book, not because I want someone to learn more about me but so readers can learn more about themselves. And so that loved ones can better understand the brutal recovery process and never again say, ‘just get over it.’”

Statistics on sexual abuse are frightening. She mentioned in her book that the largest age group of offenders of young children was 14 years old. Sexual offenders aren’t all older men, as one might expect. She emphasized that it is our job, as adults, to talk about it and let kids know how devastating even one event can be. Kids need to hear from us to know we will support them, no matter what, if they are victimized. They also need to hear from us about not being a victimizer.

At the end of Marilyn Van Derbur’s talk, she asked that survivors who felt comfortable, please stand. I stood. And, a few others along the periphery of the room stood, with the vast, exposed middle of the room devoid of anyone standing. The secrecy and shame that victims of sexual abuse carry is strong, even well into adult years. Statistics say there were many victims still sitting. Maybe, one day they will be able to stand. They need to be ready. I get that. As Marilyn asked, “How can we ask our children to speak up if we haven’t been role models for doing so?” It is time for the shame victims have held to be thrown back at the perpetrators. The shame belongs to them. It is time for survivors and supporters to stand in solidarity, talk about it with each other, and talk to our kids. Let’s all stand up and say, “No more!”

For more information, go here.

Or here.

Or here.

Or here.





Published by datingjesus

Just another one of God's children.

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  1. I hope others can share in the courage and healing you and Marilyn Van Derbur share.
    Difficult for some…impossible for others…to shed the comfort reticence can supply.

    1. It did seem impossible for me for a long time. But, child sexual abuse is a crime. That needs to be clear for kids and teens. It is not personal business that should be handled quietly or hidden. The child should not ever feel ashamed. There has been a long history of secrecy, and not just in the Catholic Church, but in families and society, too. It has made life very difficult for some, unbearable for others. Psychological effects can linger for many decades. It can become a real health issue into adulthood. Adults need to be brave so kids can be brave. It was that thought, that got me to say it, “out loud”. We all need to start talking, for the sake of our kids (& us).

      1. It’s an incredible brave thing that you just did, Lois. I stand with you.

        1. Thank you! You were standing first, and I am here to join you. We are out there and we will not be quiet about it!

      2. Milton comes to mind:

        Sonnet 16 (On His Blindness)

        When I consider how my light is spent
        Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
        And that one Talent which is death to hide
        Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
        To serve therewith my Maker, and present
        My true account, lest He returning chide,
        “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
        I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
        That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
        Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
        Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
        Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
        And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
        They also serve who only stand and wait.”

  2. Brava, Lois Kulas. From my long-ago friend Ethel who was raped at CHURCH CAMP to my student who put herself between her grandfather (who had abused her) and her younger sister so he wouldn’t attack the sibling to my in-law’s daughter who was attacked by her COUSIN, I am constantly stunned at the stories I hear and at the stories of the efforts to keep it all quiet. Shame indeed. The shame is that in SOMEbody’s mind, this is an okay thing to do, and that others are afraid of the fallout of reporting.

    1. Unfortunately, the silence of the family mirrors the silence of the institutions, like schools and churches, and vice versa. The need to hold the family/institution together seems to outweigh the needs of any one member. How many stories have we read about mothers who knew or should have known, but kept silent? No different except in scale from when a bishop keeps quiet about an abusive priest.

      1. Exactly, Cynical Susan! The shame does not belong with the victims. I am so sorry for what your friends and family went through.

        sharon, unfortunately, we see that a lot. I’ve come around to thinking the family and institution is stronger when held together by truth. Society can change one person at a time. I figure, if I want things to change, then I have to change. That means, I have to talk about it.

  3. Thank you leftover, sharon, Cynical Susan, and dj for your words of support.

  4. Dear Lois, you have made a difference in the lives of many people today.
    When I hear stories like yours I want to go back in time and hug them.
    Thank you.

  5. I have never been in a community of survivors, I’ve only known a few throughout my life willing to share. This is mostly a silent journey, burden to carry. But carry we do. Your stories are treasures – and I weep – “and I rise!”

    1. It is my hope that the poison of silence be released. I hope people talk about me, or other survivors, “behind my back”. I hope what they say is supportive, and I hope a young victim hears them and decides, ” It’s safe to tell.”

  6. I hope so too Lois. But my reality lives in isolation. I finally told a few people, but they’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to say so it just lives inside and I do my best and carry on. And it comes with me – everywhere. An odd companion.

    1. I am so sorry, Bonnie, for happened to you and that your reality lives in isolation. When I first tried to talk about it, one of the very few I told did not respond well. It only took one awkward interchange to put me into about 22 more years of silence. It tore into me and eventually my outside shell could no longer hold it in. So, I finally got help.

      It’s taken about 10 years of working through things and slowly opening up to the people closest to me to get me to where I am today. I don’t mean to minimize the burden or the difficulty in speaking. We each have our own path. It felt risky to talk. Some relationships were damaged, some were affected, and others were strengthened. But, it was more risky to hold it in, and remain an island of hidden truth. I couldn’t let anyone really know me. It was hard for me to feel loved. It was isolating, and I don’t wish that for anyone.

      I think as more public discussion occurs, people get better at being less uncomfortable about hearing about it and more uncomfortable about tolerating it. Marilyn Ver Derbur asked, “How can we ask our children to speak up if we haven’t been role models for doing so?” I did not have a good answer for that. And, I want children to speak up and avoid my painful, lonely path of secrecy. So, for better or worse, it is the right time in my healing journey to speak and speak loudly. I hope you can find a way to keep talking in a way that’s helpful. You are not alone.

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