Surviving the Unthinkable



Author of “Miss America By Day,” child protection champion Marilyn Van Derbur inspires hundreds of thousands with her candid story of survival.

His night time visits began when she was only 5 years old. By the time she turned 18 and left for college, Marilyn Van Derbur’s father had sexually penetrated every part of her body… over 600 times. A serial predator, he had other victims, as well. Marilyn recalls her oldest sister Gwen being “defiant”, then being sent away to boarding school. As a young girl, Marilyn interpreted that act as a strong message: if you disobey, you too, will be forced to leave home. She later learned as an adult that Gwen was also raped by their father. Marilyn said when Gwen learned about her youngest sister’s abuse, she turned “white as a sheet” and shared, “Oh my God… I thought I was the only one. I never should have left you.”

The “Perfect” Family

“50 years ago, you couldn’t have looked at my family and thought anything was wrong,” Marilyn reflected. Her father, Francis Van Derbur, was a prominent figure in Denver society. A millionaire, successful businessman and philanthropist, no one would have suspected he was a pedophile. The youngest of four sisters, Marilyn respects the wishes of her two middle sisters to maintain their privacy and not comment.

When asked about her mom, Marilyn said, “My mother wouldn’t have seen anything — I compensated by being the perfect child.” Marilyn excelled academically in school, was involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities, was even a member of her collegiate ski team and graduated Pi Beta Kappa from the University of Colorado… on top of that, she earned national prestige when she was crowned “Miss America” in 1958.

“How could I get up and go to school, be on the swim team and student council?” Marilyn reflected. “How could I do all that and know what was going to happen that night. Tell someone? Who in the world could I tell? There was no one.”

She does, though, believe her mother was aware something was happening in her room above the garage. She recalls an incident one night when she was at least 10 years old:

“My mother wore slippers with a hard heel. My father was in my room that night when she started down the three steps to the hall leading to my bedroom… everything stopped. My father froze. I froze. We heard her heel on the second step. I thought to myself, ‘Just one more step then 10 steps to my door’… then she was on the third step. There was a long, dramatic pause… then we heard her walk back up the steps. As a child, how could I cope with the knowledge that my mother would never help me? It was at that moment I realized my mother wouldn’t have done a thing for me.”

“Tell someone? Who in the world could I tell? There was no one.” ~Marilyn Van Derbur

For so many child abuse victims, sensory details are a vivid part of their memories. Marilyn recalls lying in bed after dark, waiting for the sound of the garage door to go up. She also dreaded hearing her father’s slippers “scuff” as he walked down the hall to her bedroom. Those memories, though, were buried for years. As a child, she literally assumed two personas. In an interview with People Magazine in June 1991, Marilyn shared:

“In order to survive, I split into a day child, who giggled and smiled, and a night child, who lay awake in a fetal position, only to be pried apart by my father. Until I was 24, the day child had no conscious knowledge of the night child. During the day, no embarrassing or angry glances ever passed between my father and me. I had no rage toward him at all, because I had no conscious knowledge of what he was doing to me. Anyone who knew me would say I was the happiest child. I believed I was happy.”

Repressed Memories Unlocked

A longtime family friend who was Marilyn’s former youth pastor connected the dots for her when she was 24. Their family was so pristine on the outside, Marilyn recalls, “… that it took him nine years to figure it out.” At that point, Marilyn had repressed memories of her abuse. They sat down together and the youth pastor began asking questions like, “Why did you always leave for summer school in college when the love of your life, Larry, was back home for the summer?” He then started piecing bits of her life together, including the fact that she married into an abusive relationship which led to divorce after three months. Marilyn commented, “He said to me, ‘I knew you were trying to destroy yourself, but I didn’t know why.”

She added, “There were so many things I was trying to put together and he asked me THE question, whatever the words were… and I sobbed uncontrollably. The reason I kept leaving every summer is because I didn’t want to be in my room again – I didn’t get it then or consciously know that when I would leave for summer school. The reason I kept leaving Larry, the love of my life since age 15, was that I felt I was undeserving of him. If he only knew my truth…”

Marilyn and Larry

Immediately, the memories of her sexual abuse started flooding back. She realized she needed to share this with Larry. “It was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had,” Marilyn stated. “When I told Larry, he then had to go back in time and realize that after I kissed him for the first time at the door, I then had to go down the long hall to be with my father. I was 5’8’ 130 lbs. and there was nothing I could have done.”

Marilyn speaks adoringly of her life-long love and husband of 40 years. “Larry loved me unconditionally. He just loved me.”

Life Began To Implode

Marilyn and daughter Jennifer

As Marilyn approached the age of 40, her body began to shut-down. She suffered physical paralysis off-and-on for 13 years, during which time she sought help from doctors, including physicians at the Mayo Clinic. No connection was made to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She would later learn her daughter’s puberty triggered buried memories she had so long tried to hide, the stress of which manifested itself physically.

At age 45, Marilyn says her life began to shut-down completely. She recalls:

“All the feelings I repressed… it was as if (the abuse) was happening in real time. In an instant, I was 8 years old again. There were months when I didn’t open the mail or answer the phone. I just tried to get through another day. I didn’t know I would get through the panic attacks or night terrors. I was so terrorized I couldn’t even have a thought.”

She was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward at age 50 where she pleaded with therapists to find a woman who had “… come through the healing process and found peace and joy.” She needed that lifeline, someone who could relate first-hand to the trauma she had experienced… but there was no one they could find.

Throughout this trying ordeal, Larry remained steadfast at her side. Marilyn recalls Larry saying to their daughter Jennifer, “Your mother is the most courageous person I know.” She added, “He never said to me, ‘You need to try harder.’  He knew that if it was doable, I would do it. He knew that if I could get over it, I would get over it.”

Front-page News!

She began to turn a corner at age 51 and decided she wanted to help make the recovery process easier for other incest survivors, so the Van Derbur family donated $250,000 to the Kempe National Center to fund a survivor’s program. Her name was never to be used… but the Denver Post learned of her story and the next morning, Marilyn was front-page news. At first, Marilyn was horrified, the ‘shame’ that so many survivors experience was overwhelming. She recalls that some people simply didn’t believe her story was true. “I was 53 years old when I was on the cover of the Denver Post. My father was a philanthropist, a community leader…and people didn’t believe me. I remember thinking, if people won’t believe a 53 year-old woman, who is going to believe a child?”

“If people won’t believe a 53 year-old woman, who is going to believe a child?” ~Marilyn Van Derbur

To her surprise, though, her story began to inspire other survivors to speak out. The Kempe Center was inundated with over 3,000 people in the Denver area alone who came forward to share their stories. The center would not assist that huge number of people, so Marilyn immediately stated an organization called SUN (Survivor United Network) which provided a plethora of support group resources to survivors, at no cost to them.

She talks about a daydream she had… she envisioned a Vietnam veteran who was a prisoner of war. All he wanted to do was hop on a plane to go home and see his family. “As he got on the plane, though, he realized he had information that would help others,” she reflected. “So, he had to turn back. I knew I had information that would help others and I couldn’t turn away from that.”

“I know exactly what my life is about.”

Marilyn’s award-winning book, “Miss America By Day” details the pain and healing throughout her journey as an incest survivor. Adding to her list of accolades, she is a motivational speaker who says she never, “… leaves a room until I’ve spoken with every last person who wishes to speak with me.” She shared that she recently stayed until after 10:30 p.m. following a speech in York, PA to meet with a long line of people. She has answered over 8,000 letters and spends hours each day personally responding to emails she receives from survivors and supporters alike

“I know why I’m here,” Marilyn stated. “I know exactly what my life is about. When I saw my picture on People, ‘Miss America Overcomes Shame’– that’s why I became a motivational speaker. This is my purpose in life. It is such a privilege for me to reach out to people and give them hope. They know I’ve been to the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the well. My job is to show people how to start the work of healing. Of course we’re scared – was I scared to confront my father with a gun in his pocket, sure! But, I was dying a day at a time.”

“It is such a privilege for me to reach out to people and give them hope. They know I’ve been to the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the well. My job is to show people how to start the work of healing.” ~Marilyn Van Derbur

Marilyn’s Advice 4Parents

When asked what parents can do to help protect their kids, Marilyn offered a fabulous example of an act that may seem simple, but sends a giant message of empowerment to kids:

“Let’s say Annie is going with her parents to visit Uncle George and the whole family is going to be there. Uncle George hasn’t seen Annie and says, ‘Come give me a big kiss.’ The natural inclination for parents is to encourage Annie to oblige Uncle George with a kiss. If Annie seems at all uncomfortable, a parent should instead say, ‘I don’t think Annie wants to kiss right now, but I will!’ Then plant a big kiss on Uncle George’s cheek. That shows a child they don’t have to touch or kiss someone if they don’t want to. Even if it’s your mother-in-law, the child has the right to say no… you are sending the wrong message making them go through with it.”

“Don’t leave your child with a violator for 10 seconds… not even 10 seconds.” ~Marilyn Van Derbur

As I finished my conversation with this inspirational lady, she stated, “We don’t know how to change a man like my father. A man like my father never stops. I was the youngest. I knew I was the last. But, he violated until he died… pedophiles never stop. Don’t leave your child with a violator for 10 seconds… not even 10 seconds.”

Meet Marilyn!

Marilyn will share her inspirational story of survival and message of hope at the Friends of Chaucie’s Place Breakfast at Ritz Charles in Carmel, IN on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. Tickets are only $10. To reserve your seat at the table and personally meet Marilyn, register online no later than Wednesday, April 16.


You can also connect with Marilyn via email on her website. Committed to sharing her message of hope and healing, her inspirational book and DVDs are also available for purchase online.




About Ginger


Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids” at or find her on Facebook at

Share small business news, blogs and social media tips with Project Eve’s community of small business owners and entrepreneurs today. Our contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds; so whether you are a small business owner, social media strategist, financial adviser, serial entrepreneur, or write an amateur blog we urge you to contribute a blog to our 500,000+ community today. For more information, please refer to our Content Submissions Guidelines.

Add a Blog


  1. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist other users like its aided me. Good job.

  2. Hello there, recently found your web site as a result of a bing search and I must admit that it is very clarifying. I actually expect reading through more of your articles in the near future seeing that you sure do have a technique for making your points. There are a lot of people out there who will definitely enjoy your writings. All the best!

  3. It is actually very hard to find individuals who are as well-informed like you about this matter. It sure seems like you know precisely what you are talking about. And most of all, you’ve done a fantastic work on exactly how you’ve assembled it. Many thanks.

  4. I have been browsing online greater than three hours today, but I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely worth sufficient for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content as you did, the web shall be much more helpful than ever before.

  5. naturally like your web site however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will definitely come again again.

  6. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  7. Good – I should certainly pronounce, impressed with your website. I had no trouble navigating through all the tabs as well as related info ended up being truly easy to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it at all. Quite unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or something, web site theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Nice task..

  8. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want?HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

  9. Simply want to say your article is as surprising. The clearness for your submit is simply excellent and that i can think you’re a professional on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to snatch your feed to keep updated with coming near near post. Thank you one million and please carry on the enjoyable work.

  10. I’m asking you to imagine that reality is stranger and more complicated than you or I could possibly know. And sometimes we get glimpses of it, in dreams or in déjà vu. #TheOA needs your help. #SaveTheOA

  11. You have made some really good points there. I checked on the web for additional information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.

  12. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after going through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m certainly happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

  13. I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one these days.

  14. My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web address and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.

  15. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.

  16. Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?

    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  17. I want to show appreciation to the writer for bailing me out of this particular trouble. Just after researching through the search engines and coming across recommendations which are not productive, I thought my entire life was over. Existing devoid of the approaches to the issues you have sorted out as a result of this website is a crucial case, as well as the kind which may have negatively affected my entire career if I hadn’t noticed the blog. Your own training and kindness in taking care of almost everything was invaluable. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t encountered such a step like this. I can at this time relish my future. Thanks for your time very much for your skilled and sensible guide. I won’t think twice to suggest your web site to any individual who desires assistance on this issue.

  18. Good website! I really love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I’m wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a great day!

  19. You actually make it appear so easy along with your presentation however I find this topic to be really one
    thing which I feel I would never understand.
    It sort of feels too complicated and very wide for me. I am taking
    a look forward in your next submit, I will try to get the dangle
    of it!

  20. Having read this I believed it was very informative.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this
    informative article together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  21. Hi there, I found your website via Google while looking for a comparable subject, your site came up, it looks good.
    I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.
    Hello there, just become alert to your weblog thru Google, and found that it is really informative.

    I am gonna watch out for brussels. I will be grateful in the event you continue
    this in future. Lots of people can be benefited out of your writing.

  22. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Awesome blog by the way!

  23. I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this web site. Thanks , I’ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

  24. I have been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this site. Reading this information So i’m happy to convey that I’ve a very good uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I most certainly will make certain to don’t forget this site and give it a look regularly.

  25. Excellent blog here! Also your website loads up very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  26. Hello there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  27. You made some really good information here. I will try and follow your blog as you’ve definately shown me a couple of important things fella. Peace and blessing!!

  28. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog.

    An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

  29. Aw, this was a very good post. In notion I have to devote writing like that moreover – taking time and actual effort to manufacture a great article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no indicates apparently go accomplished.

  30. “This design is steller! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!”

  31. Thanks for some other informative web site. Where else may I get that type of info written in such an ideal method? I’ve a undertaking that I’m simply now operating on, and I’ve been at the look out for such info.

  32. Usually I don’t read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.

  33. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A couple of my blog readers have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any solutions to help fix this problem?

  34. Hello are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  35. I like what you guys are up too. Such intelligent work and reporting! Keep up the excellent works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my website :)

  36. Admiring the dedication you put into your site and detailed information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  37. Simply desire to say your article is as surprising. The clearness for your submit is just cool and that i can suppose you are an expert in this subject. Fine along with your permission allow me to grasp your feed to keep updated with drawing close post. Thank you one million and please continue the rewarding work.|

  38. The very root of your writing whilst appearing reasonable originally, did not really sit very well with me after some time. Someplace throughout the sentences you actually managed to make me a believer but just for a short while. I nevertheless have got a problem with your leaps in logic and one would do nicely to fill in all those gaps. In the event you actually can accomplish that, I could certainly be impressed.

  39. hello!,I love your writing so so much! share we communicate more about your post on AOL? I require a specialist in this area to resolve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Having a look ahead to peer you.

  40. fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  41. This design is steller! You definitely know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  42. After research just a few of the weblog posts on your website now, and I truly like your means of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site list and will probably be checking again soon. Pls take a look at my site as nicely and let me know what you think.

  43. hello!,I like your writing very much! share we communicate more about your article on AOL? I need an expert on this area to solve my problem. Maybe that’s you! Looking forward to see you.

  44. I just couldn’t depart your site prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard information a person provide for your visitors? Is gonna be back often to check up on new posts

  45. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Is there any method you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

  46. My brother recommended I may like this website. He used to be entirely right. This put up truly made my day. You cann’t consider just how much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  47. I liked as much as you will receive carried out right here. The caricature is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you would like be turning in the following. sick for sure come more before once more since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you defend this hike.

  48. Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this info. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and web and this is really annoying. A good web site with exciting content, that is what I need. Thank you for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

  49. Thank you for another informative site. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such a perfect way? I have a project that I’m just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

  50. I have been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or weblog posts in this kind of space . Exploring in Yahoo I finally stumbled upon this website. Reading this info So i’m satisfied to convey that I have an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I so much for sure will make sure to do not put out of your mind this site and provides it a look regularly.

  51. This web page is known as a stroll-by way of for the entire information you wished about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you’ll definitely discover it.

  52. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

  53. you’re really a good webmaster. The website loading speed is amazing. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you have done a wonderful job on this topic!

  54. I really wanted to write down a word in order to express gratitude to you for some of the marvelous facts you are posting at this website. My rather long internet investigation has at the end of the day been paid with really good points to exchange with my close friends. I would repeat that we website visitors actually are very much endowed to live in a wonderful network with so many lovely people with useful hints. I feel extremely fortunate to have used the website page and look forward to many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once more for a lot of things.

  55. Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your weblog. You have some really great posts and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Thanks!

  56. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my visitors would definitely benefit from some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot!

  57. I am often to running a blog and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your website and hold checking for new information.

  58. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

  59. I was curious if you ever considered changing the page layout of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images. Maybe you could space it out better?

  60. Somebody necessarily assist to make critically posts I’d state. This is the first time I frequented your web page and to this point? I surprised with the analysis you made to make this particular put up amazing. Excellent process!

  61. You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  62. Along with everything that appears to be developing inside this particular subject material, all your perspectives happen to be somewhat refreshing. Even so, I beg your pardon, because I can not subscribe to your entire idea, all be it refreshing none the less. It would seem to everyone that your comments are actually not entirely justified and in actuality you are generally yourself not even entirely certain of the argument. In any event I did take pleasure in reading it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here