Alice Munro took a dark secret to her grave. Two months later, her daughter has exposed it to the world.

Content warning: This article discusses childhood sexual assault.

In 1976, nine-year-old Andrea Skinner, spent the summer at the home of her mother—Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro—in Ontario. 

According to the now 58-year-old, as she slept in her bed one night while her mother was away, her stepfather, Gerald Fremlin, climbed into the bed alongside her, and sexually assaulted her. 

Munro died from Alzheimer's Disease in May this year, aged 92. Two months after her death, Skinner wrote about the rape in an essay written for the Toronto Star

Watch: Breaking The Silence - Reporting Historical Sexual Assault by Sarah Strong. Article continues after the video. 

Video via TEDAuckland.

"I was nine years old. I was a happy child — active and curious — who had only just realized I couldn’t grow up to be a sheep-herding dog, a great disappointment, as I loved both dogs and sheep," she wrote. 

"The next morning [after the assault], I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d woken up with my first migraine, which developed over the years into a chronic, debilitating condition that continues to this day."


While this was the only time Fremlin is alleged to have raped Skinner, he continued to act inappropriately towards her, she said, making lewd jokes and exposing himself. 

"[He] told me about the little girls in the neighbourhood he liked, and described my mother's sexual needs," she wrote. 

On another occasion, Skinner says her stepfather told her it was normal for children to "learn about sex by engaging in sex with adults". She says he made the comment in front of her mother. 

In the essay, Skinner claims she eventually told her mother about the abuse, but the award-winning author chose to remain married to her daughter’s abuser, even after he admitted it was true.

Skinner was 25 when she wrote to Munro in 1996 to disclose the abuse. 

Andrea Skinner. Image: Getty.


But Skinner described her mother’s response as "incredulous" and "as if she had learned of an infidelity". 

"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," Skinner wrote. 

"She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her."

In the essay, Skinner claims her stepfather threatened to kill Munro if she ever went to police, and the couple remained married until Fremlin’s death in 2013. 

While Fremlin admitted to the assault, he described it as a "sexual adventure", calling the then-nine-year-old little girl a "home-wrecker".

"Andrea invaded my bedroom for sexual adventure," Fremlin wrote in the letters, published by The Star.

"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."


Skinner says Fremlin lost interest in her when she hit her teens. 

Despite her mother’s response, Skinner maintained a relationship with her mother until she had children of her own, and told Munro that Fremlin could never be around the children. The pair fell out and never reconciled. 

In 2005, Fremlin received two years' probation after pleading guilty in Canadian court to assaulting Skinner.

Although Skinner wrote in the essay that she was satisfied with the legal outcome, she wanted her story to be told, about both Fremlin and her mother. 

"The fact that my mother, confronted with the truth of what had happened, chose to stay with, and protect, my abuser."

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)—the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here

Image: Getty.