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Alice Munro's daughter says mom kept silent when stepfather sexually abused her

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GRAPHIC WARNING: The following details may disturb some readers.

The youngest daughter of celebrated Canadian author Alice Munro has opened up about sexual abuse by her stepfather and the deep hurt she felt when her mother chose to support her husband instead of her child.

In a first-person essay published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, Andrea Robin Skinner described how the Nobel Prize-winning short story writer remained in her marriage to second husband Gerald Fremlin even after she learned of the abuse. 

In the Star piece, Skinner said she opted to tell her story so Canadians could have a more nuanced picture of the Nobel Laureate, who was revered as a literary icon long before her death in May.

"I ... wanted this story, my story, to become part of the stories people tell about my mother," she wrote. "I never wanted to see another interview, biography or event that didn’t wrestle with the reality of what had happened to me, and with the fact that my mother, confronted with the truth of what had happened, chose to stay with, and protect, my abuser."

Skinner wrote in the Star that the abuse began in 1976 when she was nine and visiting her mother in Ontario for the summer, since she spent most of the year in British Columbia with her father. She wrote that Fremlin climbed into the bed where she was sleeping and initiated sexual contact while Munro was out of the house. 

On the final day of her visit, she said Fremlin began asking for details about her sex life and sharing aspects of his own while driving her to the airport.

Skinner said she initially told her father and stepbrother what had happened, but neither she nor her father informed Munro right away.

She said Fremlin continued to expose himself to her and proposition her for sex until he lost interest when she reached her teens.

Skinner said she experienced "private pain" for many years due to Fremlin's predatory behaviour, suffering from bulimia, insomnia and migraines, and dropping out of an international development program at the University of Toronto.

In her 20s, Skinner wrote Munro a letter detailing Fremlin's abuse, but she said she received no sympathy from her mother.

"I ... was overwhelmed by her sense of injury to herself," Skinner wrote in the Star. "She believed my father had made us keep the secret in order to humiliate her. She then told me about other children Fremlin had 'friendships' with, emphasizing her own sense that she, personally, had been betrayed. Did she realize she was speaking to a victim, and that I was her child? If she did, I couldn’t feel it." 

Munro remained with Fremlin until he died in 2013. Munro said she had been "told too late" about the abuse, that she loved him too much to leave him and that she couldn't be expected to "deny her own needs," Skinner wrote in the Star.

She reported the abuse to police in 2005, and Fremlin ultimately pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent assault. 

She said the abuse she suffered remained an open secret in the Munro family for years and for a time led to estrangement from her entire family. 

Skinner, now a meditation and mindfulness teacher, said she has since reconciled with her siblings, but never with her mother. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2024

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