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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I just finished reading a newspaper article describing the arrest and plea bargain of a man who has been sexually abusing his daughter since before she could walk.

As I watch my young son toddling around the house, I don't want to face the future. Will I always have to worry about a sex deviant hurting him?

I am starting to be paranoid -- second-guessing everyone's motive for smiling at him. Between the church scandals and parents who harm their own, I am afraid to leave my son anywhere. The thought that someone out there would hurt precious children breaks my heart.

I don't understand how this happens. Please tell me where are the mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Do they close their eyes and ears, or is it so insidious that no one notices? -- HEARTSICK ON LONG ISLAND

DEAR HEARTSICK: It's impossible to generalize because each case is different. Your fears are normal, but should not be allowed to distort your view of the world.

Teach your son while he is very young that you will listen to him. He also needs to be taught proper boundaries -- that NO ONE has the right to touch him inappropriately. And further, that he can confide ANYTHING to you without fear of punishment.

DEAR ABBY: I am 17. Last spring my boyfriend's brother got married. I attended the wedding and reception. I was also invited to the family home the next day for the bride and groom's gift-opening ceremony.

My boyfriend and I gave them pretty candlesticks for their apartment. My mother, who was not invited to the wedding or reception, thought it would be nice to give them a token gift, so she gave them a lovely wedding card with $20 enclosed.

As they opened their gifts and cards, they disclosed the amount of money on each check they received, and made comments about each one in front of everybody in the room. The bride is from a wealthy family. Some checks were for more than $500. When they got to my mom's card, instead of just saying a simple, "Thank you," they announced the $20 amount and said, "Well, I guess THAT'S appropriate!"

Abby, I was appalled and furious. My mother didn't have to give them a thing. I was so upset, I left the party. Is this kind of behavior acceptable? It's been bugging me after all this time. What do you think? -- STILL BUGGED IN ILLINOIS

DEAR STILL BUGGED: Their behavior was insensitive, immature, rude and ungrateful. When money is received and wedding gifts in the form of checks are displayed, it's supposed to be done with the amount concealed. To ridicule people for the size of their gift is inexcusable.

CONFIDENTIAL TO S.E. IN THE SOUTHWEST: You must get away. You and your children are being abused both physically and emotionally -- and your lives may be in danger. Please call Childhelp USA's National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. Repeat to the counselor who answers what you have written to me. After you have done it, please e-mail me again and let me know how you and the children are doing.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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