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by Abigail Van Buren

Guilt Haunts Victim of Rape Following Attacker's Suicide

DEAR ABBY: When I was 15, I was raped by a family friend. I did what I thought was the right thing to do and told my parents. The man was arrested, and DNA tests proved everything. Charges were pressed.

I thought everything was going to be OK, but a few days before the court proceedings were to begin, my rapist killed himself. Now his family harasses my family. They claim he was innocent and I was bent on ruining his life.

Abby, people often ask me if I am "relieved" that he committed suicide. I feel terrible about it, and I don't know how to respond to these comments. -- BLAMING MYSELF OUT WEST

DEAR BLAMING YOURSELF: When someone commits suicide, it is not unusual for the survivors to feel -- among other things -- overwhelming guilt. You did the right thing by telling your parents about the assault. Your family did the right thing in pressing charges. Obviously your rapist was very disturbed, and you are in no way responsible for his death. The police should be notified about the harassment from his family.

When someone asks if you are "relieved" that the rapist is dead, you are not obliged to answer. You can let the question hang in the air, or turn it back on the person by asking, "How would you feel?" and let him or her ramble on.

I hope you received psychological counseling after you were raped, because it should have helped you to recognize that you are not responsible for anything that has happened. However, because you are blaming yourself, it's time to schedule a few sessions with a therapist.