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Home Culture Alice Munro’s daughter claims her stepfather abused her when she was a minor and the writer knew about it and did nothing | Culture

Alice Munro’s daughter claims her stepfather abused her when she was a minor and the writer knew about it and did nothing | Culture

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Andrea Robin Skinner, one of the daughters of the writer Alice Munro, says in an article published this Sunday in the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star that her stepfather sexually abused her when she was nine and that her mother, even though she knew about it, decided to continue with him. In 2005, Skinner reported him to the police and Gerald Fremlin, the second husband of the Nobel Prize winner for Literature, pleaded guilty and thus reached an agreement under which he was accused of abuse and sentenced to a sentence of two years in prison and a restraining order against children under 14 years old. At that time he was 80 years old. Munro remained by his side until Fremlin died in 2013. Skinner’s confession has been published two months after Munro’s death.

Her story begins in the summer of 1976, when she went to spend the holidays with her mother and her husband. While the writer was away for a few days, Fremlin got into her bed, according to her account, and abused her. “I was asleep and he sexually assaulted me. I was nine years old. I was a happy and curious child,” writes Skinner, who now dedicates herself to helping children who have gone through traumas similar to hers. She did not say anything until the summer was over and she returned to her father, Jim Munro’s house. There she confessed to one of her brothers who encouraged her to talk to her stepmother, Carole. It was this woman who told the father who, Skinner explains, decided not to say anything. Not only did he keep quiet, he continued to send his daughter every summer, for years, to the house of Alice Munro and Fremlin. “My father’s inability to make a decision that would protect me made me feel that I was not part of either family. I was alone,” she writes.

On each of her vacations, her stepfather would take advantage of the moments he was alone with Skinner, a child, to show her his genitals when, for example, they were in the car; make sexual comments to her; talk to her about other minors he liked; and detail her mother’s sexual needs, writes the writer’s daughter. “At the time, I didn’t know that was abuse,” says Skinner.

The pattern of abuse and harassment continued until a couple of years later, when Skinner was 11, when some of Fremlin’s old friends told Alice Munro that her partner had shown his genitals to their daughter. “He denied it and when my mother asked me if it had happened to me, Fremlin told her that I was not his type,” she tells the Canadian newspaper. “In front of my mother he said that in ancient cultures it was considered normal for minors to learn about sex through sexual relations with adults. My mother didn’t say anything either. I looked at the floor, I was embarrassed that he saw me turn red.”


Over the years, Skinner says she remained silent, developing various illnesses such as migraines and eating disorders. Her father and mother kept in touch, but neither of them ever mentioned the subject of the abuse their daughter suffered. “I tried to forgive my mother and Fremlin, I continued to visit them as I did with the rest of my family. We all went back to acting as if nothing had happened,” she recalls.

When she was 25, Skinner finally confessed to her mother about her stepfather’s abuse. “She reacted exactly as I feared she would, as if she had found out about an affair,” explains Munro’s daughter, who claims that the writer briefly left Fremlin, not because of the sexual abuse he had committed, but because he had been unfaithful.

“She told me about the other children Fremlin had ‘friendships’ with, underlining her own sense that she, personally, had been betrayed,” Skinner continued. “Did she realise she was speaking to a victim and that I was her daughter? If she did, I didn’t. When I tried to tell her how her husband’s abuse had caused me harm, she was incredulous.”

Alice Munro, according to her daughter, always argued that Skinner had told her “too late”, that “he loved her very much” and justified her silence and inaction by saying that: “It was all the fault of the misogynistic culture in which we live and that I should not expect her to deny her needs, sacrifice herself for her children and compensate for the failures of men in this system”. Skinner adds at this point in her confession: “She always insisted that what happened was something between my father and me. She had nothing to do with it.”

In 2005, already estranged from her family, Skinner reported Fremlin to Ontario police. Her stepfather pleaded guilty in order to reach a plea deal. “Because I kept a lot of the letters Fremlin sent me, that sentence was secured,” Skinner says. “I was satisfied; I never wanted him to be punished.”

After the birth of her twins, when she was about 36, she ended contact with her mother. Through therapy, Skinner writes, she began to realize that she was not to blame for what had happened. “I fell in love with a good man, married him, and had children,” she writes. It was then that she began working with children who had been through similar situations to her, doing therapy with horses. She also distanced herself from the rest of her family because, she says, “Holding my pain to myself was the way to help them all, to do the most good for the most people.”

At 49, his brothers, after having gone to a centre that treats minors who have suffered some form of sexual abuse, contacted Skinner again. “Now, eight years later, they have returned to my life and the healing continues.”

“I tell this story, my story, because I would like it to be part of the stories people tell about my mother. I don’t want to read another interview or biography that doesn’t confront the reality of what happened to me. I never made up with her, I don’t blame myself for not making things right or forgiving her,” Skinner concludes. “A lot of influential people knew part of my story and yet they contributed to a narrative that was false. It seemed like no one believed the truth should ever be told, that it would never be told. My mother’s fame contributed to the silence continuing. Until now.”

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