UPDATE: Miss USA 1958 Shares Story of Surviving Incest

May 02, 2013 -- 8:17pm

Marilyn Van Derbur was named Miss USA in 1958. However, she had a dark experience in her past before her title. She's a a survivor of incest, and she shared her story with residents and students at Cape Henlopen High School.

Starting when she was 5, Van Derbur's father, a prominent Denver millionaire, began molesting her. That abuse happened on a regular basis, and increased in frequency as she went through her teens, until she turned 18. She managed to fight through it by compartmentalizing and repressing the bad memories. It wasn't until she was 24 that the youth minister at her church, after years of inquiring, finally asked her if she'd been abused as a child, and she said yes. When she was in her 40s, she began behaving strangely, and having dreams she couldn't explain. She saw a psychiatrist after doctors couldn't find anything physically wrong with her, and described how hard it was to tell her story while seeing that psychiatrist five days a week for two years.

When she got married, Van Derbur said it took time for her to become comfortable being intimate with her husband Larry. When she had complications while giving birth to her daughter, she refused to allow an anesthesiologist to put her under for a C-Section because she didn't want any part of her body to be put to sleep, because that's when her father molested her when she was younger. The abuse she undered was affecting every aspect of her life.

 She told the audience that for most victims of child sexual abuse, they don't begin to heal the psychological damage done to them until they're between 35 and 50. When she was 53, a reporter from The Denver Post found had that she was a survivor of incest, and the next day, a story about it appeared on the front page of the paper. She says it was her worst nightmare come true, and thought her career was over and that she and her family would lose everything. However, people commended her for her courage. Her sister Gwen was also abused by their father, and shared her story with the paper. Later, Marilyn talked with her father, and he threatened to shoot her if she exposed him for what he did. A year later, after her father died, she told her mother about what her father had done, and her mother said "I don't believe you." Van Derbur says even though her mother had never laid a hand on her, that hurt her more than anything her father had done.

Van Derbur told the Cape community that she understood their pain from the Earl Bradley case. She told residents that the pain will eventually end. Van Derbur explained how inappropriate touching can cause just as much trauma for children as sexual violation. She says 14-year-olds make up the largest number of sex offenders by age group, while 5-year-olds are the largest number of victims by age group. Van Derbur says when her daughter Jennifer turned 5, that triggered bad memories because that's when her father started abusing her.

Van Derbur is the author of Miss USA By Day. After speaking, she signed copies of the book. Proceeds from the sales benefit the communities where she speaks.

Return to: WGMD Local News Blog

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