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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am writing in response to the letter signed "Living in God's Glory and Grace," which described a so-called respectable, churchgoing man who had been a child molester for years, but nobody suspected it until he was caught.

Recently my 10-year-old niece was molested by a family member. She is not getting counseling and seems to be fine; however, this event brought out an issue that my sister and I kept hidden for close to 20 years. We are now 28 and 29, but when we were 10 and 11, a family friend molested me on a camping trip. He had repeatedly molested my sister prior to that, but I found out only after I confessed my tragedy. Although the man never threatened to harm us, it was an unspoken command that we were going to keep it to ourselves.

The day after my niece came forward, a flood of emotions overcame me. We were at my sister's house and I told my mom everything. Mom contacted the police and they sent someone out. We learned that this man now lives in Florida. (We live in California.) The police in both states did extensive background checks, but no records of any kind were found. We were told that they did not have enough manpower to pursue this; also, too much time had elapsed. Today this man is free to do whatever he pleases -- including molesting other children.

I pray every day that this was a one-time incident, but somehow I'm not sure.

Please tell your young readers never to be afraid to tell someone right away. Twenty years proved far too long to wait. -- NO JUSTICE SERVED IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR NO JUSTICE SERVED: Far too often, many child molesters go unpunished because their victims are too shy or embarrassed to come forward, or worse yet, because they fear they will not be believed. But the suffering of not reporting abuse can be worse then any embarrassment or disbelief one might encounter. I encourage anyone who has been molested to summon the courage to report the crime, and if the first person you tell doesn't believe you, keep telling people until you find someone who does believe you.

DEAR ABBY: As a longtime reader, I have often been inspired and touched by the special poems and essays you include in your columns. A few years ago, I sent for your "Keepers" booklet, so that I would have some of your favorites on hand in times of need.

Our special "time of need" came last fall, with the death of our daughter Kathy after a long and fierce battle with kidney disease. Her death came about seven months after my mother's death and just three weeks after my mother-in-law's passing.

In the midst of our grief, it was very important to us that Kathy's services be appropriate to her courage, her love, and our belief that death could not destroy the love our family has shared. From "Keepers," we selected two poems, the beautiful "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" and "A Parable of Immortality." We have had many positive comments on both readings and requests for copies.

Thank you for compiling your "Keepers" booklet. There are many poems that we love and use often. And once again, thank you for being there. You have often lifted my heart with hope, and at times provided a good chuckle as well. -- BARBARA P. KRAUS, CLAYMONT, DEL.

DEAR BARBARA: Thank you for your kind letter. Clearly, 1996 has been a difficult year for you. Please accept my deepest sympathy not only on the loss of your mother and mother-in-law, but on your cherished daughter as well. I am gratified that I was able to provide some comfort to you and your loved ones.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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