Alice Munro’s daughter says her mom supported abusive stepfather

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 has opened up about the sexual abuse she experienced 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 after 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.

Photograph of an elderly woman sitting in an armchair
In her 20s, Skinner wrote Munro a letter detailing her stepfather’s abuse, but she said she received no sympathy from her mother. Skinner reported the abuse to police in 2005, and her stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, ultimately pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent assault. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Daughter says she received no sympathy from Munro

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.”

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

But, 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.

WATCH | Alice Munro’s daughter says writer failed to support her:

Alice Munro’s daughter speaks out about sexual abuse by stepfather

In a newspaper column, Andrea Robin Skinner tells her story of suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather, Munro’s second husband. Skinner alleges that when Munro found out about the abuse years later, the late famed Canadian writer said it had nothing to do with her.

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.

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

Bookstore supports daughter

Munro’s Books, a bookstore Alice Munro founded in Victoria with her first husband, James, posted a statement on its website supporting Skinner. The bookstore has been independently owned since 2014.

“Munro’s Books unequivocally supports Andrea Robin Skinner as she publicly shares her story of her sexual abuse as a child,” the store said. “Learning the details of Andrea’s experience has been heartbreaking.”

The bookstore also released a statement on its website from Andrea, her siblings Jenny and Sheila, and her step-brother Andrew.

“By acknowledging and honouring Andrea’s truth, and being very clear about their wish to end the legacy of silence, the current store owners have become part of our family’s healing,” they said. “We wholly support the owners and staff.”

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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