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Former Beauty Queen Acknowledges Being Victim of Incest

May 9, 1991 GMT

DENVER (AP) _ A former Miss America said her millionaire father sexually abused her as a child.

″A list of all my accomplishments - times 100 - pale before the only real accomplishment of my life, said in only three words: I survived incest,″ Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, Miss America of 1957, told a meeting sponsored by a child abuse prevention group Wednesday.

The offender was her father, the late Francis S. Van Derbur - millionaire businessman, socialite, philanthropist and pillar of the community, she said. She spoke to an audience of care-givers, friends and other incest survivors at a public meeting sponsored here by the Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect.


Her statement Wednesday was reported by The Denver Post.

Ms. Atler, 53, accompanied by her husband of 27 years, Denver lawyer Larry Atler, and her mother, Gwendolyn, used her wrenching story to emphasize the importance of a new ″survivor program″ at the Kempe Center for adults who were sexually traumatized as children.

The Van Derbur family has provided a $240,000 grant to initiate the program.

Ms. Atler said the public acknowledgement of her history was needed for her to finish her recovery from the incest.

″When a good friend of mine knew I would be speaking here tonight, she said, ’Why do you want to ruin your father’s reputation? Write an article and do it anonymously,‴ she said.

″This was my father’s greatest weapon. He knew I would never tell.

″It has been 30 years,″ she continued, ″but I say to my father tonight: ’You were wrong.‴

Her mother made no comment during the presentation.

Ms. Atler told how she’d been sexually abused by her father between the ages of 5 and 18, but buried it in her mind. She said she did not recognize it until she was 24.

″It is not my father’s reputation that I seek to destroy,″ she said. ″As difficult as this is for most people to understand, myself included, I loved my father. It is innocent children and mute adults that I hope to help free. If I cannot speak the truth with my father dead, how, dear God, can we expect a child to speak?″

She said she never falls asleep naturally.

″I could find no peace because almost every night at precisely 2 a.m., I would awaken in stark terror. I sensed that a man was entering my bedroom. I could feel his presence. Too terrorized to move, I would lie there until morning, unable to go back to sleep. For 33 years, the black hours were endless.″

A few years ago, Ms. Atler told her daughter, Jennifer, of her past, and her response was to think how many lives could be changed if the public knew of her ordeal.

″With those words,″ said Ms. Atler, ″Jennifer set me free. My worst fear was over. My daughter was not ashamed of me.... Jennifer planted a seed that has grown into an obsession to help others in whatever way I can.″