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by Abigail Van Buren

Sexual Abuse Can Occur Even Without Actual Physical Assault

DEAR ABBY: Is there such a thing as non-physical sexual abuse? When I was young, my father would fondle my mother when I came to sleep with them when I had a nightmare. (She would rebuff his advances.) He would also watch porn in front of me.

As I matured, he made comments about my figure. He would barge into my room without knocking and insist he didn't have to knock. He'd tell dirty jokes or talk about sexually inappropriate things. (The day after my wedding he asked my husband how our wedding night had been.) But with all of this, he never touched me or assaulted me.

His actions affected my self-esteem and relationships because as I grew up I thought the only thing I had to offer was being sexy. Thankfully, therapy and my husband helped me to see myself as a fully dynamic person.

I recently began seeing a new counselor who thinks my father was just a dirty old man -- nothing more. Was I abused? Any information you have would be appreciated. -- WONDERING IN WISCONSIN

DEAR WONDERING: When a parent attempts to initiate sex or watch pornography in front of a child, it is sexualizing behavior and it could also be considered "grooming" behavior. Your father's actions were so far out of the normal boundaries that they were off the charts. And yes, it was a form of abuse. My advice is to change counselors.

Read more in: Abuse | Family & Parenting | Mental Health