Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

Childhood Molestation Scars Victims for Life

DEAR ABBY: We recently learned that our daughter was molested at a very early age in the 1970s. It went on for nearly a year. We never realized how profoundly molestation affects a child. I had heard it was an awful thing, but I never knew the secrecy, the pain, the shame, the guilt, and how the victims are groomed by their predators. They live in a secret world by themselves -- brokenhearted, in loneliness and fear. They try to run faster than their pain -- and some don't know why because it has been blocked from their memory.

I have heard that four out of 10 women have been molested as children. This is a huge number. There are plenty of victims, but guess what? No predators! They are all "innocent," and protected by families who hide it because they don't know how to handle the problem. They are protected by a gray area of "uncertainty." It remains that way because the authorities are never called to investigate. The parents of the molested child are threatened with a nasty lawsuit. Then the whole family turns against the parents and the victim in order to protect the "sick" one and their own reputations.

Everyone -- individually and collectively -- sticks their head in the sand and refuses to deal with it. Statutes of limitations run out. An unbelievable amount of pressure is put on the parents by the family. Then it is dismissed because "it happened a long time ago."

Meanwhile, as the years pass, the victim becomes progressively more mentally, physically and emotionally sick. She's in and out of hospitals and always on medication. Because now the victim has been rejected and betrayed all over again. If he is "innocent," then she must be "guilty" by default, which reinforces what he told her as a child -- that it was all her fault to begin with.

The burden placed on her shoulders becomes unbearable. And the closer the extended family, the more profound the rejection. Her worst nightmare has come true. Finally, she becomes so physically sick and unnerved that she has a breakdown. She has a hard time finding where "she" is inside herself. The medicines she must take are depressants themselves.

Abby, we struggle every day. I know of four other families where similar molestation, rejection and denial have occurred. Families should wake up to the problem. It's time to bring it out of the closet. I hope you will print some of this letter.

I sign for her ... I DO HAVE A FACE, I DO HAVE A NAME, EVERY CITY, U.S.A.

DEAR I DO: You have written eloquently of a problem that, according to my mail, is widespread and often covered up. I hope your letter will encourage more victims of molestation to pick up the phone and report the crime. And to their extended families: As much as you might be appalled at the charges, molestation -- regardless of when it occurred -- is a serious crime. The victims need all the support they can be given.

DEAR ABBY: Please settle a bet between my mother and me. I say the engagement ring should be worn at the base of the finger, with the wedding band on the outside. Mom says it's the other way around. Who is right? A $5 bill is riding on your answer. Thanks, Abby. -- MOTHER/DAUGHTER DUO IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR DUO: You owe your mom $5. The wedding band is supposed to be worn on the inside -- closest to your heart -- with the engagement ring serving as a "guard" for it.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Dear Abby