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Response to former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur’s account of being sexually abused by her father (PEOPLE, June 10) was intense and heartfelt. Correspondents were grateful for her candor—especially those who had themselves been abused. On another matter, readers were provoked by film critic Ralph Novak’s unfavorable review of Thelma & Louise and were particularly incensed that he revealed the movie’s ending.


God bless Marilyn Van Derbur. I was abused by my stepfather from the age of 5 to the age of 12, and I am just now, at 35, understanding what happened to me. When survivors talk about their experience, they let other survivors know they are not alone. Child sexual abuse in the home will not be stopped until survivors can tell their stories and receive the help and support they deserve—and until we understand that the perpetrators of incest are just child molesters who stay home. Telling children “Don’t talk to strangers” is not going to help.

LA VETA TOLIVER, Austin, Texas

Marilyn Van Derbur is to America’s molestation victims what Mother Teresa is to the poor of India: a protector and spokesperson of the very highest order. Through the terror of her childhood and adolescence, she kept her reason and values, managed to many, have a family and, with monumental courage, drag the horrifying secret of incest from the family closet and disclose it to the world, thus robbing her molester father of “his greatest weapon,” secrecy. Without shame, self-pity or hatred, she cast a bright light onto one of America’s darkest, dirtiest crimes.


Your article about Marilyn Van Derbur made me cry. As someone who was sexually abused, I felt it touched very close to home. I applaud her courage, and I wish all those who have suffered had the same courage. I have not sought help, but every day I wish I had the courage to speak to a counselor. Since I had my children, this all seems to eat at me even more. I was hoping you could tell me and other readers where we could get more information on the Adult Incest Survivors Program. Are these programs in other areas of the country?


A list of resources and support groups nationwide is available by writing to: C. Henry Kempe National Center, 1205 Oneida Street, Denver, Colo. 80220. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope.—ED.

Most of my seven children (some aren’t talking) were sexually molested by my husband—a career military officer, Boy Scout official, genius IQ and a master manipulator. I have been asked, “Well, where were you when this was going on?” To answer that question for one and all—and for myself: I was cooking, cleaning, sewing, preparing to move or setting up house in a new place, baking for home, Scouts, schools and squadrons, and going to mandatory (military) meetings for wives, at which we were told to support our husbands to the fullest and not to disgrace them. My family now is like an egg dropped off the roof. Some pieces are glued together, and some aren’t and probably never will be. I do not profess to know the pain of everyone in my family, but I do know mine.


I was a sophomore at Ohio State University when Marilyn Van Derbur won her Miss America crown. Vs part of her yearlong tour, she made a stop at our sorority house and talked with us. To this day I can remember how lovely and gracious she was and how, as a young and impressionable college girl, I envied her. After the meeting I went home to a normal household with a loving mother and father, taking it all for granted, like most kids. My father is no longer alive, but if he were, I would run and hug him and thank him for being the kind of father he was supposed to be.

LINDA DORFF, Columbus, Ohio


A couple of suggestions for Ralph Novak after reading his nasty words on Thelma & Louise: Clearly these two women are not ladylike enough for you, Ralph. Get over it. You can start by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try high heels. Imagine what it’s like worrying whether your date might be a potential rapist. That might help you understand the movie a little more. You complain that Thelma & Louise portrayed men as either dishonest, dumb, untrustworthy, helpless, brutal, insensitive or generally inhuman. Yes, most men in the movie were scum. But this isn’t journalism—it’s art, which the artist Delacroix once defined as “exaggeration on purpose.” Keep that in mind for your next review. Finally, there is no excuse for your decision to give away the movie’s ending. For that, you deserve to go the rest of your life without another date.


I find it utterly disappointing that Ralph Novak sees Thelma & Louise as going “far out of its way…to trash men.” The movie is a story. It has characters. Do movies now need a disclaimer at the beginning to note that the characters depicted are in no way representative of all persons belonging to that particular gender (or race or nationality or religion)? Sure, the events were a litle farfetched, but that’s why it’s in the theater. Escape a little, Ralph.

ELISABETH E. BROWN, Mechanicsville. Va.