Former Miss America Speaks Out on Being Abused as Child

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6-10 boys will be sexually violated before the age of 18 -- startling statistics that a former Miss America wants to help change. 11 News recently spoke with the child abuse survivor about her traumatic experience, and why she says a new bill making it's way through the State Capitol is a step in the right direction.

April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and State Representative Bernie Buescher says there's no better time for lawmakers to do something about a disturbing problem in our state.

"We've seen way too many headlines over the last several years of children badly abused," said Buescher.

He is co-sponsoring a bill that would create three pilot programs across the state that would provide intense mental health services to victims of child abuse.

They're programs that could have helped someone like former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur.

"I was violated by my father for thirteen years, from age five to age eighteen," said Van Derbur.

She says it was an experience that tore her apart.

"My trauma was so severe, that I dissociated and I split my mind," said Van Derbur. "I repressed what happened to me, so I had no knowledge of it when I was Miss America. I didn't know."

She says when she turned 24 the memories came rushing back to her, and that things only got worst after that. She says she had a hard time connecting with people, she had a hard time watching her daughter grow up, and that her mental trauma even caused her to become paralyzed.

"My life shut down completely for six years," said Van Derbur. I checked myself into a psych ward when I was forty-nine."

After going through intensive therapy, Van Derbur says she was able to work through the emotions. She now spends her time traveling about the nation, reaching out to victims and fighting for child advocacy groups. Even though she is well now, Buescher says he hopes this bill will prevent other victims from enduring what she did.

"We've learned that if we deal with these kids with intensive mental health services early between the ages of two and ten, they can have a good life," said Buescher.

Buescher says that most abusers were abused as children themselves, and that this bill would also help stop that cycle.

Van Derbur calls the program the right thing to do, and hopes that her story will help lawmakers see things the same way.

"I validate why prevention and intervention are so important," said Van Derbur. "Because even though my life has been very blessed, it's also been extremely difficult."

There were more than 300 confirmed cases of child abuse in Mesa County and 78 cases in Montrose County over the past year. Both counties say that the true number of incidents is at least double that amount because of so many that go unreported.

They say they hope the pilot programs work out, and that they look forward to implementing them in the future.


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