A dark secret: Alice Munro chose sexual predator partner over her daughter

A dark secret: Alice Munro chose sexual predator partner over her daughter
CHEK

Warning: This article contains details of abuse and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

The youngest daughter of celebrated Canadian author Alice Munro is opening up about the sexual abuse she experienced by her stepfather.

Andrea Robin Skinner says in a first-person essay published in the Toronto Star on Sunday, that her mother — the revered literary icon — blamed her for the abuse, chose to stay with her abuser, and was complicit in its coverup.

“Though I had told most of my family about my abuse when I was 10 years old, no action was taken to protect me and I was sent back to my step fathers house,” said Skinner, in a video made with The Gatehouse, which offers sexual assault survivors programs and counselling.

CHEK News reached out to speak directly with Skinner but didn’t hear back.

Skinner confided in her stepmother, who told James Munro (Skinner’s father) when she was first sexually assaulted by her stepfather in 1976. She wrote that while Munro was away, Gerald Fremlin “climbed into the bed where I was sleeping and sexually assaulted me.”

Watch the full report below

James Munro did not confront his ex-wife about the abuse and the assault continued with no adult intervention, Skinner wrote.

The woman said the abuse continued for years, with Fremlin often exposing himself to Skinner, telling the young girl about her mother’s sexual needs and the “little girls in the neighbourhood” that he liked.

Skinner’s suffering took the shape of bulimia, insomnia, and migraines; conditions that got worse when she gathered the courage to disclose the abuse to her mother when she was in her 20s. Munro told her she felt betrayed and likened the abuse to an affair, a response that devastated Skinner, she wrote.

“Unfortunately no one tried to stop it or help me heal at that time and the effects of it was that I felt really devalued and even dehumanized, by not just my abuser but all of the significant people in my life,” Skinner said in a video.

Fremlin wrote letters to Munro and the family, threatening to kill Skinner if she ever went to the police. He blamed Skinner for the abuse and described her as a “home wrecker.” He also threatened to expose photos he took of Skinner when she was a girl.

Her mother, Munro, stayed with and protected her abuser, telling her daughter she’d been “told too late” that she loved him too much to leave him.

“Our misogynistic culture was to blame if I expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the failings of men. She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her,” Skinner wrote in her essay.

Munro stayed with Fremlin even when he pleaded guilty to Skinner’s indecent assault in 2005, all the way to his death in 2013.

“This is a famous wealthy woman and you would think of all people, Alice Munro, would have been the one to say I am choosing my daughter over her sexual predator,” said feminist writer Mona Eltahawy with newsletter FEMINIST GIANT.

The revelations are prompting a reckoning within the literary community.

“She is a woman writer who centred women and girls in so many of her stories and I think that’s what makes this even more painful,” said Eltahawy.

Some Munro fans are throwing away Munro’s books.

Munro Books said in a statement they’ll take time to consider the impact Skinner’s “heartbreaking” abuse may have on Munro’s legacy “whose work and ties to the store were previously celebrated.”

“I think what we’re reckoning with now is a woman who is upholding patriarchy,” said Eltahawy. “There are women who insist on centralizing men in their lives and we have to ask why.”

Eltahawy says the takeaway for her is talking about why women uphold the harms of men at the expense of their own daughters, to confront internalized misogyny.

Some reactions online echo the #MeToo movement, which Samantha Loppie, executive director of the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) says isn’t unusual.

“When things pop up in the media and social media, we often see a spike in calls in people reaching out for help because it can bring up things that either they’ve talked about in the past that have just resurfaced for them, or maybe it’s things they’ve never spoken up about before,” said Loppie.

VSAC offers free counselling for any survivors and their family/friends/spouses navigating sexual assault. To reach the services access line at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre click here or call 250-383-3232.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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