Former Miss America Shares Child Abuse Story to Kick-off Observance

Apr 1, 2014

McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center kicked off National Child Abuse Prevention Month
Credit Chenelle Terry/WAER News

A former Miss America is in Syracuse to help kick-off National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Marilyn Van Debur shared a personal message to stop the harm to children.

My name is Marilyn Van Debur, I’m a former Miss America…and I’m an incest survivor….

It was a four worded secret that she kept for 51 years.

My father started coming to my room when I was five and it didn’t stop until I was eighteen.

Former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur
Credit (supplied photo)

Now Van Debur’s hopeful that other victims of sexual abuse will come forward.

“It’s affected every single aspect of my life. For six years from 45 to 51 I had trouble dressing myself; I was unable to work; my body went into physical paralysis.  Sleeping at night’s challenging for me…but the good news is I haven’t been in therapy for 22 years.  You can come through this you can heal but you have to go through the process.”

In honor of this month, the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center is planting pinwheels around the community.

Pinwheels in public places are meant to symbolize the carefree, happy childhood all youth deserve.
Credit Chenelle Terry/WAER News


  • Pinwheel Garden: Columbus Circle, April 2nd, 12:00 N.
  • “April in Paris” fundraiser (tickets needed), Holiday Inn Liverpool, April 11.
  • Celebrity Happy Hour to Benefit McMahon/Ryan with bartenders John DeFrancisco, Nick Pirro, Becky Palmer and others: Bull & Bear Pub April 24th, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
  • YMCA Healthy Kids Days: North Area Family YMCA, April 26, 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.;  East Area Family YMCA, April 27 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.;  Southwest YMCA April 27, 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Multi-faith Prayer Service for Child Abuse Prevention Month: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, April 30, 5:15 – 6:00 p.m.

Executive Director Linda Cleary says it symbolizes what one’s youth should be.

“It’s a national campaign called “Pinwheels for Prevention” and the pinwheels each represent a happy, healthy, carefree childhood.  Every child deserves that and this is kind of a constant reminder for people, more of a happy reminder”

During the month of April, you can support the fight against child abuse by displaying a pinwheel for prevention or by wearing a blue ribbon, wristband or a blue hair extension. For more information on the center’s upcoming events, visit