Commentary by Toby Stark
When we invited former Miss America, author and incest survivor Marilyn Van Derbur to be the keynote speaker at our 2014 Friends of Chaucie’s Place Breakfast that was presented by NextGear Capital, we knew she would be outstanding.
But we didn’t realize she would be OUTSTANDING.
Marilyn shared her story of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and her journey of healing. She offered a message of empowerment and hope. Her words educated the uneducated and unaware, and they validated those who are far too aware of this epidemic.
During her 50 minute speech to the crowd of nearly 300 people, Marilyn invited survivors of child sexual abuse to stand. She does this because she believes this action helps a survivor shed their shame and their fear; that it empowers them to continue their journey of healing. Or begin that journey.
She asked the audience, how can we expect our children to tell when we as adults don’t tell? She told that crowd that we need to stand to show children and adult survivors that they are not alone, and that they have nothing to be ashamed of. She also told everyone in the packed room that there was no right or wrong response. It was OK if a survivor chose not to stand or didn’t feel strong enough to stand. It was a powerful invitation.
And people stood.
Some people had heard Marilyn before and at that time couldn’t stand. They came to the Friends of Chaucie’s Place Breakfast to stand. Many stood for the first time. Many stood with co-workers and friends. Many stood before they had even told their families about their abuse.
Lives were changed that day. Conversations were started that day. Conversations between co-workers, friends and family members. Lives were changed that day.
“I am now going to start on my journey to healing from my abuse as a child and young adult.”
“I’m ready to get on with my life…”
“…I had never publicly announced that I was a victim of child abuse. …After listening to Marilyn Van Derbur, the one thing I didn’t feel was alone. When she asked survivors to stand, I knew it was OK. I hope now that I can share this with my family. …Every journey starts with a single step.”
“I stood proud with no shame for myself and all the children who suffer sexual abuse. We need to help them be able to tell so they know they are not alone and have done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve any abuse.”
We thank everyone who joined us that very special morning. We thank you for supporting Chaucie’s Place and our prevention programs and for supporting our community as it took a collective step forward.
Toby Stark is Executive Director of Chaucie’s Place, a nonprofit child advocacy organization that prevents child sexual abuse and youth suicide with prevention programs