May 13, 2014

Miss America: Marilyn Van Derbur’s Incest Story


Carolyn’s Online Magazine (COMe) in January 2015.

I invite you to visit the new site.





One in three adult women is a victims of child sex abuse. Among their ranks is Marilyn Van Der Bur Atler, Miss America 1958. As such, her life was/is defined by 13 years of incest.

Marilyn Van Der Bur Atler, Miss America 1958 and incest survivor, was guest speaker at the Fourth Annual Awards Dinner of the former Safe & Sound, Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. I attended the event as director and representative of the Family Support Program of Jamestown, Pennsylvania. Board member Jennifer Johnson also attended.

The date was April 7, 1993. However, Marilyn’s story is as relevant today as it was 21 years ago.

Teal is the official color representing sexual violence awareness and prevention

Teal is the official color representing sexual violence awareness and prevention

 ..the greatest accomplishment of my life—surviving incest.”***

How does a person survive being sexually violated as a child?

  • The feelings of abuse of this kind, or any kind, are “too intense for a child to absorb; that’s why children split their minds”, explains Van Derbur.*

Marilyn’s survival was enabled by her ability to “split into a day child and a night child…Until I was 24-years-old I had absolutely no conscious knowledge of the traumas or the terrors of the night child. The more the night child came, the more the day child needed to excel.”

  • People ask me why I didn’t tell what was happening to me. It was because I perceived no way out. A young child tells on her father and what happens? She’s taken away from her family. Her father goes to jail. The family is destroyed, and the message is, “It’s all your fault.”***


June 27, 2013

Breaking a Confidence to Protect a Friend



When is it OK to break a confidence? My teenage daughter Sandy was confronted with this dilemma when her friend was at risk in an abusive relationship.


One day, my teenage daughter Sandy sadly confessed that she had to break a friend’s confidence. Her friend, Tracy, trapped in an abusive relationship that she didn’t know how to free herself from. While sharing her difficulties with Sandy over the months Tracy always instructed Sandy not to say anything to anybody.

But the burden became too heavy for Sandy, who believed that her friend was in real danger. She reluctantly shared pertinent details of Tracy’s story with me, all the while feeling like a traitor.

As we helped Tracy out of her situation I told Tracy that Sandy felt she had betrayed her. Tracy’s response surprised us: “I told Sandy because I knew she would tell you.”

Sometimes, what someone says is the opposite of what he or she means. Abuse victims often send hidden cries for help. Identifying the real message (more…)

October 16, 2012

Screaming Babies End Up Dead. Why?




Two infants die from head trauma. Why?

A mother killed her four-month old son. A year later, pregnant with her fourth child, she killed her six-month old son.1

The reason? She said she did it on both occasions because she was frustrated with the kids crying and she couldn’t deal with the constant crying.1

Although there’s no excusing the mother’s actions I can empathize.


I was eleven years old, my sister was twelve, when my mother’s boy friend Tom moved into our apartment. Soon Olive gave birth to the eldest child of her second family. Her parents, my grandparents, were none too pleased—in fact, her father was livid. A month after my sister’s birth Olive’s mother died.

Her parents had been Olive’s only support network twenty-two years.

By September Olive was pregnant again.  Tom left Olive and traveled ten hours west to his family home.

Olive placed her infant with someone she knew, and her pre-teens with someone else. Then she boarded a bus and (more…)

June 17, 2012

18-Year Olds Charge Fathers With Sex Abuse



     Once I sat in on a trial of a man accused by his newly eighteen year old daughter of child sexual abuse. It takes courage for a daughter to press charges such as these.

     Yesterday’s newspaper reported another case where an eighteen year old victim pressed charges against an elderly couple (ages 80 and 78) who sexually victimize her for at least seven years.

     A deal was agreed upon by the victim after the family asked for a resolution that would legally fit the circumstances and spare her from dredging up all the memories…

     Edward Lisovich pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor charge of corruption of miners.

     The punishment? (more…)

April 10, 2012

Preach Christian Principles to an Abuse Victim????



     Recent statistics confirm former research that one in three (or four) women will experience abuse, even  sexual assault, in their lifetime— many being victims of child sexual abuse.  Studies also confirm that one in four women are victims of domestic violence.

Church congregations include many of these women, who come bearing the effects of their traumatic, destructive, life experiences. Often, dare I say mostly, the pastor is unaware of their congregant’s experiences, their secrets.  And the pastor, rightly, preaches his message according to Biblical principles.

Below are five situations that are common in church congregations:

  • Becky was raped by her father when she was eight years old.
  • Judy was molested by the church organist when she was nine.
  • Mary’s teenage brother played doctor with her at age five.
  • Alice is adopted. Her biological mother gave birth to her out of wedlock.
  • Barb escaped a physically and emotionally abusive husband through divorce.

What are the messages that these women hear preached, not only from the pulpit, but throughout the church? Typically they emphasize the following:

  • to remain sexually pure until marriage—sex is only to be between  wedded husband and wife.
  • that the offspring of a sinful relationship, a relationship between two unwedded persons, is a bastard, illegitimate  (there is actually an adoption website named bastard)
  • that marriage vows state ‘til death you do part


(to read about Spiritual Obstacles to Leaving Abuse click on )


     From the perspective of the congregant, whether a teenager or an adult, the traditional message only increases their shame, guilt, (more…)

August 4, 2011

Newborns of Two New Castle (PA) Mothers Removed Due to Poppy Seed Ingestion




     Two mothers are suing the Lawrence County (Pennsylvania) Children and Youth Services for separating them from their newborns. They lost custody due to a positive prenatal drug test.

     Prenatal drug tests are not required by law, but Lawrence County policy allows the Children and Youth Services department to obtain court orders to take newborn children from mothers who test positive for opiates.*

     Elizabeth Mort’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s policy as unconstitutional for several reasons, including the use of 300 nanograms per milliliter as the point at which someone tests “positive” for opiates. The federal guideline is 2,000 nanograms per milliliter...

     Her case is pending before U.S. District Judge David Cercone.

      Eileen Bower’s lawsuit points to the fact that the drug screens she took as part of her prenatal care came back negative, so the agency should have questioned the result of the final drug screen before taking her child away. The agency didn’t wait for a confirmation by Quest Diagnostics

     Both twenty-two year old women tested positive due to the (more…)

June 30, 2011

Short Life Long Lived



Russell E. Roy

The following poem was written by a board member of the Greater Jamestown Family Support Program, a former child abuse program in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.  It received  funded from a Pennsylvania Children’s Trust Fund grant. Its mission statement was to heal adult survivors of abuse to prevent them from passing their abuse on to their children.

I was pleased to be the facilitator of the grant, which I wrote. I directed the program, presented educational classes to the board and community, and in general performed administrative tasks. In counseling persons who were experiencing problems I learned as much as they did.

Russell E. Roy was blind by the age of 19. He was in his sixties when I came to know him. He delighted in writing poems on a tape recorder, and his friends often called on him to write special poems for their family and friends. He wrote this poem when the Family Support Program ended after a four year run.


In November of 1990 and one,

The Family Support Program was begun.

Some of us who are here today,

Were not there on that starting day.

We cannot tell the good that was done,

Or the goals that were gained by the race that was run.

Members come and members go,

But the facts live on through the ebb and flow.

As individuals we kept in touch,

We each might think we don’t count for much.

As a group we thought (more…)

April 10, 2011

Perfect…or Flawed?



     It never ceases to amaze me how two people often view the same person very differently. Below are two interpretations of the same persons, Moses and Rocky.


     Was his a “life, filled with spectacle, mystery and miracle…the Lawgiver and leader of the Exodus, the ‘towering’ and ‘preeminent’ personality of the Hebrew Bible,” or was his the life of a failed man.? 

     Traditionalist Jewish and Christian scholars “emphasize the unity and coherence of the Pentateuch.” The “D” (Deuteronomic) source treats Moses as the perfect hero.

     Then enters the “P” (Priestly) source, which describes Moses as having “uncircumcised lips,” a powerful Jewish put-down, signifying a religions failing.

“D” treats Moses as an intercessor identifying with the guilty people whom he represented, who was allegedly punished for THEIR sin. “P” claims Moses was punished for his own sins.

     Perfect or flawed? It depends on how the evidence is selected and interpreted.


     So it was with Rocky.

     When Rocky died, he was heralded as a town hero. He had ingratiated himself to a lot of persons: running errands for businesses, giving treats to children and college students, and paying attention to other persons. His actions said he considered people as valuable.

     The other picture.

     In spite of (more…)

April 4, 2011

The Church Role in Child Abuse Issues



With The Rev. Monte W. Holland

     The trend of modern times is toward specialization in dealing with life issues. If there is a physical ailment, go to the health care professional, and further, to a specialist in the specific type of ailment that is exhibited. If there is a spiritual problem, go to a pastor or pastoral counselor. If there is a family problem, go to a family counselor or therapist.

     This has its advantages in many cases, because the expert has a deeper knowledge of in a very small issue. Yet there are disadvantages. Many physical and relationship problems cannot be boxed into a narrow category. What ails one segment either emanates from or affects another segment. It can take a well-rounded, multi-knowledgeable person to see the interconnections and resolve the issues. Secondly, persons are often reluctant, or financially unable, to go to the specialized person for help—at least over the long term. Thus, the generalist has a strong role to play in resolving many family issues.

     The first line of encounter with family problems is the lay person—a friend and/or a neighbor. The church’s first role in dealing with a troubled family or individual is one of preparing (more…)

April 2, 2011

A Theological Perspective on Child Abuse



With The Rev. Monte W. Holland

     Some important questions arise when speaking of theology and violence, abuse of children, spouses, family and friends. Below is an attempt to answer some of them.

  • Children must be MADE to OBEY (their parents, their caretakers), right?

Obedience IS important. Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20-21 instruct children to be obedient. But this directive does not stop there. It goes on to instruct PARENTS not to PROVOKE their children (to wrath). Implied is a mutual RESPECT: respect that begets respect. “Nobody ever hates his own flesh, but rather nourishes and cherishes it just as Christ does for the church…” (Ephesians 5:29) Our children are born out of our love, part of a continuation of our flesh. We should not treat them with hate or hateful actions.

  • Does not the Bible state that to spare the rod is to spoil the child? (Proverbs 13:24)

     Nowhere in the New Testament—the “new law”—is abuse justified. Rather, the opposite is expected, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12) The Great Commandment directs us You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) Our family members—our spouse, our children, and sometimes our parents—are our (more…)

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