Weeks after Alice Munro's death, daughter tells of dark family secret
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Weeks after Alice Munro's death, daughter tells of dark family secret
The author and Nobel laureate Alice Munro in the kitchen of her home in Clinton, Ontario, Canada, on June 23, 2013. Weeks after Munro’s death, her daughter Andrea Robin Skinner said her stepfather sexually abused her as a child — and that her mother knew about it, and chose to stay with him anyway. (Ian Willms/The New York Times)

by Elizabeth A. Harris

NEW YORK, NY.- Andrea Robin Skinner, a daughter of Canadian Nobel laureate Alice Munro’s, said that her stepfather sexually abused her as a child — and that her mother knew about it, and chose to stay with him anyway.

Skinner, now an adult, detailed these accusations in an essay in the Toronto Star on Sunday. According to a separate article in the Toronto Star, Skinner went to Ontario police, and in 2005, her stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, was charged with indecent assault against her. He pleaded guilty.

By then, he was 80 years old. He got a suspended sentence and probation for two years. Munro stayed with him until he died in 2013.

Because of her mother’s fame, Skinner wrote, “the silence continued.” Munro died May 13 at 92.

“What I wanted was some record of the truth, some public proof that I hadn’t deserved what had happened to me,” Skinner wrote of going to police in 2005, about 30 years after the abuse began.

“I also wanted this story, my story, to become part of the stories people tell about my mother,” Skinner continued. “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.”

Attempts to reach Skinner on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Skinner wrote that the abuse began in 1976, when she was 9 years old and went to visit Fremlin, then in his 50s, and her mother, who was in her 40s. She said he climbed into the bed where she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her. Skinner said she told her stepmother, who then told Skinner’s father. Her father did not confront Munro.

During the next several years, Skinner wrote, Fremlin exposed himself to her in car rides, described her mother’s sexual needs and “told me about the little girls in the neighborhood he liked.” According to the article in the Toronto Star, he lost interest in Skinner when she became a teenager.

Over time, Munro’s reputation as an author grew. When she died, she was widely considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers of all time. Her work often focused on women in different stages of life, mixing “ordinary people and extraordinary themes,” according to her New York Times obituary. She was awarded the Nobel in 2013 when she was 82.

When Skinner was in her 20s, Munro expressed sympathy for a character in a short story who dies by suicide after being sexually abused by her stepfather. It was after this, Skinner wrote, that she decided to tell her mother about the abuse she suffered.

In a letter, she told her mother what Fremlin had done to her. Rather than responding with sympathy, Skinner said, Munro “reacted exactly as I had feared she would, as if she had learned of an infidelity.”

Munro left Fremlin, going to stay at a condo she owned in British Columbia. Fremlin wrote letters to the family, Skinner said, in which he admitted to the abuse but blamed it on her.

When she went to police in 2005, she took these letters.

“He described my 9-year-old self as a ‘homewrecker,’” Skinner wrote. According to Skinner’s essay and the article in the Toronto Star, Fremlin accused her of invading his bedroom “for sexual adventure" in one of the letters he wrote to the family.

“If the worst comes to worst I intend to go public,” Fremlin wrote, according to Skinner’s essay. “I will make available for publication a number of photographs, notably some taken at my cabin near Ottawa which are extremely eloquent ... one of Andrea in my underwear shorts.”

Despite all this, Skinner wrote, Munro went back to Fremlin and remained with him for the rest of his life.

“She said that she had been ‘told too late,’” Skinner wrote, that “she loved him too much, and that 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.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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