Nobel-winning writer’s daughter reveals she was sexually abused by stepfather and her mom stayed with him

Nobel-winning writer’s daughter reveals she was sexually abused by stepfather and her mom stayed with him

The daughter of Nobel Laureate, Alice Munro, has revealed that she was sexually abused by her stepfather, and that the late author chose to stay with the perpetrator as she “loved him too much.”

Munro published more than a dozen collections of short stories often set in her native Huron County in rural southwestern Ontario. Her stories explored complex human themes like desire, mother-daughter relationships and moral conflict.

The writer’s daughter, Andrea Robin Skinner, said she was first sexually assaulted by Munro’s second husband Gerald Fremlin when she was aged nine, in a new essay for the Toronto Star.

Fremlin, in his 50s at the time, climbed into Skinner’s bed while she was sleeping and continued to abuse her over the years and into her teens. He “exposed himself during car rides”, told Skinner about “little girls in the neighbourhood he liked” and candidly discussed her mother’s “sexual needs.”

She shared the incident with her stepbrother Andrew, and the news eventually reached her father James, who chose not to take any further action. Munro was seemingly unaware of the abuse or her husband’s proclivities, until former friends of Fremlin told the author that he had exposed himself to their 14-year-old daughter.

Skinner was 11 at the time, and Fremlin “reassured” Munro that her daughter was “not his type”. He proceeded to describe the current societal culture as “prudish”, even suggesting that it had been “considered normal for children to learn about sex by engaging with sex with adults” in the past. Munro is said not to have reacted at all.

Meanwhile, her daughter, reeling from the effects of the abuse, went on to develop bulimia, insomnia and migraines and was forced to drop out of university as the condition took over her life. But finally, in her mid-20s, she was moved to share the truth with her mother after Munro appeared affected by a short story about a woman who commits suicide following sexual abuse by her stepfather.

“‘Why didn’t she tell her mother?’ she asked me. A month later, inspired by her reaction to the story, I wrote her a letter finally telling her what had happened to me,” wrote Skinner.

An excerpt from the letter to her mother at the time reads, “I have been carrying a secret for sixteen years. Gerry abused me sexually when I was nine-years-old when you were in China. When you told me about that story in ‘Marine Life’, I wanted to cry and hold you and thank you and TELL YOU. I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened.”

Munro is said to have stayed with her husband after the revelation (PA)
Munro is said to have stayed with her husband after the revelation (PA)

However, Munro “reacted exactly as I had feared she would, as if she had learned of an infidelity.”

Skinner continued, “She called my sister Sheila, told her she was leaving Fremlin, and flew to her condo in Comox, BC. I visited her there and was overwhelmed by her sense of injury to herself.

“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, emphasising her own sense that she, personally, had been betrayed.”

Following the incident being made public, Fremlin is said to have threatened to kill her if she went to the police, and wrote letters to her family, blaming her for the abuse.

Munro was renowned for her short story collections (AFP via Getty Images)
Munro was renowned for her short story collections (AFP via Getty Images)

“He described my nine-year-old self as a ‘homewrecker,’ and said my family’s failure to intervene suggested they agreed with him,” she continued. He said his stepdaughter had “invaded my bedroom for sexual adventure” and that her claim that she was “scared” was “simply a lie.”

He is said to have written, “Andrea has brought ruin to two people who love each other … If the worst comes to worst I intend to go public. 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 …”

Meanwhile, Skinner was left heartbroken by her mother’s decision to stay with her husband.

“She said that she had been ‘told too late,’ 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.”

An interview with Munro in the New York Times, in which Munro referred affectionately to her husband and her “close” relationship with her three daughters, pushed Skinner to report the incident to the police in 2005.

Fremlin, 80, was charged with indecent assault against Skinner and pleaded guilty. He received a suspended sentence and two years’ probation. He was also ordered by the court to avoid any contact with children under the age of 14 for two years. Munro stayed with her partner until he died in 2013. She passed away earlier this year.

“I also wanted this story, my story, to become part of the stories people tell about my mother. 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,” wrote Skinner on her decision to speak out about the abuse.

“As for my relationship with my mother, I never reconciled with her. I made no demands on myself to mend things or forgive her. I grieved the loss of her, and that was an important part of my healing.”

If you are a child and you need help because something has happened to you, you can call the NSPCC free of charge on 0800 1111. You can also call the NSPCC if you are an adult and you are worried about a child, on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adults on 0808 801 0331.