Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Incest - Interview with Marilyn Van Debur

Unfortunately this is not a theoretical issue only relevant to non-Jews. Having talked with people dealing with child abuse in the frum community - they view this as a troublesome reality. One which is harder to aknowledge because there is infinitely more shame involved than normal abuse. One rav told me of a case where he authorized going to the police - but the community activists drove the family out of the country. BTW people involved in incest don't look or act any different than the rest of us.

Guest Post

Here's an interesting interview from 5mos ago with Marilyn Van Debur, 72-yr-old former Miss America turned incest awareness activist. Said she rec'd 8,000 letters from across the country after she, in 1984, went public with her story. Now if that # reflects just those who took the action of writing in, and no doubt responding in cases similar to hers (father-daughter), imagine the greater scope that that implies for the phenomenon generally!

Part 2 of the interview offers more of a look into her father's pathology.

She's the author of an autobiography _Miss America By Day_, which--if you're not already familiar with it--seems to have resonated with other survivors and helped people in relationships with survivors: See here the Amazon comments (never read it myself, but she's quite articulate in the above interview)-

Found it referenced in the Comments posted to the Morris-Rosenblum-Lesher-Rosenblum back&forth. (The comments section on the last two parts of that actually seems to be where the action is.)


  1. This is a very insightful interview.

    Have any guidelines been offered by Gedolei Torah as to how to speak to one's children about something like this?

    The truth is that the more closely related people are, the greater is the issur. People are used to be being loose with uncles and other close relatives but al pi din the greatest harchakos should be applied to close relatives even where there is absolutely no chashad.

  2. Wow! What an amazing interview.

    The most moving part for me what when she saw that her husband still loved her after she let him know about the abuse, and that people still spoke to her, and admired her, after she went public with it years later.

    "It's exhausting to try to be perfect... an exhausting way to live... Everyone now knows the worst thing there is to know about me, and I don't have to do this anymore. *sigh of relief*... It was very freeing. I didn't think it was going to be, but it was."

  3. Guest Poster (Followup)July 26, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Happened upon a few articles:

    The People Magazine article she authored in 1991 gives a sadly illuminating portrait of the deep-lasting & far-ranging effects of child sexual abuse:

    It took Ms. Van Debur almost three decades to tackle her psychological problems, which affected almost every area of her life and not very visibly to those beyond her intimate association (husband, family, minister).

    The NYT coverage of the time, by contrast, was minimal.
    Such issues at that time were no doubt not on the social radar. Publications such her book (in 2003) have helped change that fact.

  4. It's spelled "Van Derbur"


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