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

by Abigail Van Buren

Family of Sex Offender Urged to Act Cautiously at Holidays

DEAR ABBY: As a clinical psychologist, I believe your advice to "Protective Mom in the Midwest" (Oct. 26) was oversimplified. You told her she was right in not permitting her husband's brother, a registered sex offender, to visit the family during the holidays. She didn't want her 10-year-old daughter around him.

You have made the common mistake of seeing everyone who carries the "registered sex offender" label as alike. They are no more alike than are people who drink too much. Some alcoholics get drunk, angry and violent, but most do not. Some sex offenders act like Ted Bundy, but most do not. Some are guilty only of having a younger girlfriend.

Many do not directly injure anyone because they only download illegal sexual images. Some do not use force, threats or physical violence. I do not minimize what they do. They all have a mental illness and/or addiction and need intervention and treatment.

Mom and her husband should talk to the brother about what he did and what kind of rehabilitation has occurred. They can then make a better decision about a visit and what safety measures might be appropriate. -- DR. WILLIAM S. IN MIAMI

DEAR DR. S.: Your point about lumping all sex offenders together is well-stated. Another reader pointed out that something like urinating outdoors could result in this classification. However, most readers agree with me that the safety of the 10-year-old must be the primary concern. Their comments:

DEAR ABBY: Stand your ground, "Protective Mom"! As a victim of abuse, I can tell you that the abuser is sick. She should not leave it up to her daughter to find out if the uncle could still be a predator.

My stepfather's abuse 30 years ago was never reported to the police. He supposedly got "counseling" and was "a changed man." Well, he's currently serving prison time for having molested his granddaughter a year and a half ago. -- KNOWS THE SCORE IN ANAHEIM, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: If Mom allows Jake in the house, local child protective authorities will consider it failure to protect the child, putting the girl at risk of being removed from the home. I am a former child protective worker who went to homes to inform parents of this. I also had to keep my own daughter away from my former in-laws because they allowed a sex offender to visit while she was there. It was difficult being the only one willing to stand up for her safety, but I will never regret knowing I did everything I could to keep my daughter safe. -- ANOTHER PROTECTIVE MOM IN NEW ENGLAND

DEAR ABBY: All children should be educated as early as they can understand about issues of trust. Mom will have to watch her daughter every second Jake is around, but she shouldn't deny her husband the right to have his family come for the holidays. Perhaps he could arrange for his brother to stay at a hotel. Mom can't be with her child 24/7, so kids need to know how to handle adults who are dangerous. -- GLORIA IN CLEVELAND

DEAR ABBY: I am a sex offender and have learned through therapy why I did what I did and how to not go around where "it" may happen again. Would Jake even accept an offer to stay over? If he's like me, he'd say, "Thanks, but no thanks," and not put himself in a situation where someone could cry rape or accuse him of unwanted fondling. -- MOVING ON

DEAR ABBY: We have a registered sex offender living in our neighborhood. Despite the fact that I have young children, I am not concerned that he presents a threat. When he was 19, he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. He was tried and served his time, but he now gets to spend the rest of his life on "the list." If he had been 40, or the girl 12, I'd be concerned. Without knowing the particulars of the crime, it seems rash to sentence Uncle Jake to family purgatory. -- ANDY IN LOUISIANA

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)