Commentary

Letters to the Editor

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Paula Hook
Denver

The perils of speaking up: Thank you, David Holthouse, for once again writing about sexual abuse and rape. Your public disclosure about being raped as a boy was so moving to me, as was your courage in confronting your rapist. Thank you for also mentioning how uncomfortable you were with two different coaches when you were eleven and thirteen. Sports Illustrated reports that "sexual abuse by coaches is pervasive." In Miss America By Day, I devote an entire chapter to "Beware of 'Friendly' Places." Being knowledgeable and aware of danger in your child's sports world is important.

We have both learned that speaking publicly about sexual abuse/rape can have disquieting consequences. My nemesis was Gene Amole. He attacked me viciously in his columns. Each time, with a light touch and humor, I responded in kind. What I have learned about people who attack us with so much venom is that their rage has more to do with them than it does with us. My story became public because a newspaper reporter learned I was an incest survivor, and the next day it was on the front page of the Denver Post. My worst nightmare had come true. Now people knew. Every reporter, columnist and editor (except Gene Amole) treated me with respect. The word "alleged" was never used. In editorials, I was honored. It is because of the way the media reported "my story" that, in less than three months, over 3,000 men and women in the greater Denver area felt safe enough to come forward for help and support. Under DD Harvey's leadership and Sharon Lion's skill and knowledge, our organization saw up to 500 survivors each week -- at no charge. Although it is always difficult to read the venom Gene wrote about me, it lets sexual-abuse survivors know that all of us are attacked at one time or another, especially if we speak publicly. And people wonder why children don't tell.

Marilyn Van Derbur
Denver

The following is a note from Marilyn Van Derbur and her original response to columnist Gene Amole:

When a newspaper reporter learned that I was an incest survivor, it was on the front page of the Denver Post the following morning. Within three months, over 3,000 men and women in the greater Denver area came forward for help and support. The main reason this happened is because the media treated me with respect and support. Only one columnist/reporter vilified me: Gene Amole. After reading his vicious column, the Rocky Mountain News allowed me to respond. Since David Holthouse reprinted Amole's column in "Crowning Achievement," I have asked to have my response printed again. Here it is:

Thanks, Gene, for reminding us of work to be done.

Thanks, Gene, for mobilizing our survivor community again. No one does it better than you do!

Please dont fret about my not having anything to do. I have managed to find things to keep me busy during my later years.

During the past three years, at the requests of judges, doctors, nurses, attorneys, clergy, therapists, child advocates and others dedicated to find ways to stop children from being violated and raped, I have spoken in 143 cities. In many cities, such as Milwaukee, 1,200 survivors came together for the first time to begin speaking the words.

I have personally answered more than 7,000 letters from men and women whose lives have been traumatized by sexual violations.

After addressing the National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, I was asked to produce a video to help stem the tide of teen-agers violating younger children by educating them to the fact that even once can hurt for a lifetime.  John Proffitt of Colorados Channel 7 donated the production costs. My time was donated. It is being shown nationwide.

After addressing 28 medical conferences, I was asked by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center to produce videos to educate medical students and all health-care professionals about the connection between childhood trauma and adult physical pain. The Health Sciences Center underwrote the production costs. The Rose Foundation also has been most generous in its support. My time was donated.

I have raised tens of thousands of dollars to fund two non-profit national organizations I helped found in 1993 in Washington, D.C., dedicated to strengthening the laws protecting adult survivors and child victims, and to stopping the sexual violations of children through education. I have only two specific comments on your column:

Yes, I do remember the column you said was sympathetic to me. It started with the word assassination and ended with this sentence: What this really boils down to is one persons word against anothers, or as in Marilyns case, her word against her father who is dead and cannot respond. You wrote that in spite of the fact that my sister, Gwen Mitchell (who never repressed her memories), had come forward as an incest survivor and my mother had come forward to acknowledge the incest.

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