Nobel laureate Alice Munro stayed mum on stepfather raping me, says daughter

The daughter of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro has alleged that she was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, and her mother stayed with him despite him admitting to the sexual assault. Munro’s daughter, Andrea Robin Skinner, says she was 9-years-old when the sexual abuse by her stepfather began.

Canadian author Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, and is considered among the best short-story writers of all time. She was the first Canadian writer to receive the Nobel and died in May this year.

Her works often showcase the difference between Munro’s life in Wingham, a conservative Canadian town west of Toronto, and the changes after the social revolution of the 1960s.

Some of her renowned collections are: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage and Runaway .

Alice Munro’s daughter, Andrea Robin Skinner, revealed the sexual assault and her mother’s silence over it in an essay in the Canadian newspaper Toronto Star.

In 2005, Skinner filed a police complaint. Fremlin was charged with indecent assault against her and pleaded guilty. Finally, he would have to undergo a suspended sentence and two years’ probation. Munro still decided to stay with Fremlin until he died in 2013.


Skinner wrote that her stepfather started assaulting her in 1976, when she was nine years old, and he was in his 50s.

She alleged Fremlin sexually assaulted her when she was sleeping in her bed at Alice Munro’s home in Clinton, Ontario.

“One night, while she was away, her husband, my stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, climbed into the bed where I was sleeping and sexually assaulted me,” wrote Skinner in the essay in the Toronto Star.

Skinner wrote how she was so traumatised that she could not leave her bed and even woke up with her first migraine, which developed into a “chronic illness and continues to the day”.

One day, Fremlin was dropping Skinner to the airport to visit her father. On their way to the airport, he wanted them to play a game.

“He asked me to play a game called “show me.” When I said no, he made me tell him about my “sex life,” prying me for details of innocent games I played with other children. Then he told me about his sex life,” she reveals in the essay.

Skinner initially did not want her mother to find out.

“I was relieved at first that my father didn’t tell her what had happened to me. She had told me that Fremlin liked me better than her, and I thought she would blame me if she ever found out. I thought she might die,” she wrote.

Each summer, as she visited her mother, the abuse continued.

“When I was alone with Fremlin, he made lewd jokes, exposed himself during car rides, told me about the little girls in the neighbourhood he liked, and described my mother’s sexual needs. At the time, I didn’t know this was abuse. I thought I was doing a good job of preventing abuse by averting my eyes and ignoring his stories,” wrote Skinner.

A few years later, former friends of her stepfather told Munro how he had exposed himself to their 14-years-old daughter. Fremlin denied it.

Munro finally asked him about Skinner.

“He “reassured” her that I was not his type. In front of my mother, he told me that many cultures in the past weren’t as “prudish” as ours, and it used to be considered normal for children to learn about sex by engaging in sex with adults,” she wrote.

“My mother said nothing. I looked at the floor, afraid she might see my face turning red,” she revealed.


Finally, a month later, they would discuss what Fremlin did to Skinner.

“She told me about a short story she had just read. In the piece, a girl dies by suicide after her stepfather sexually abuses her. “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,” she wrote. That was 1992.

Alice Munro reacted in a way Skinner had feared. She saw the sexual assault by her husband as a case of indfidelity, and not child rape.

“She reacted exactly as I had feared she would, as if she had learnt of an infidelity,” Skinner revealed. “Did she realise she was speaking to a victim, and that I was her child? If she did, I couldn’t feel it. When I tried to tell her how her husband’s abuse had hurt me, she was incredulous. “But you were such a happy child,” she said”, wrote Munro.

Fremlin said Skinner was the “homewrecker” and he would go public with Skinner’s pictures if she ever went to the police.

“In spite of the letters and threats, my mother went back to Fremlin, and stayed with him until he died in 2013. 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,” Skinner revealed in the essay.

Skinner finally ended contact with her parents after she gave birth to the twins, and she never let Fremlin come near them.


Two years later, she heard her mother give an interview to the New York Times where she praised her marriage with Fremlin and her relationship with her three daughters, including Skinner.

At that time, Skinner went to the police.

“On Feb. 25, 2005, four months after the interview came out, Gerald Fremlin was charged with “indecently assaulting” me sometime between July 1 and Aug. 31, 1976,” wrote Skinner about her police complaint and the further charges.

He pleaded guilty without a trial. Slowly, her relationship with her sisters became better.

“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,” wrote Skinner.

Skinner thinks this was an important story to tell about her 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,” she wrote.

Published By:

India Today Web Desk

Published On:

Jul 8, 2024

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