DEAR ABBY: "Lost Teen in L.A." asked whether to tell the family about being sexually abused at 7 by a close relative. She is afraid of the repercussions the perpetrator will suffer if the secret is revealed. (You advised her to do so.)
Unfortunately, that isn't all she needs to be afraid of. I was molested by my father at age 7, and again by my brother at 14. Unfortunately, revealing what happened put me in the position of being perceived as "the accuser," while these two family members are regarded as "innocents."
I'm the one who is "forgotten" at family reunions. I am the one not invited for Sunday dinners. Why? The answer I was given by my own mother was: "He's now so old and fragile, he doesn't remember. His time on Earth is limited, so why bring up horrible things that can only cloud what days he has left?" He wasn't old and frail when he molested a 7-year-old.
I didn't bring out these allegations on my own. I was in therapy, and just coming to the realization that "something awful might have happened," when I got a phone call asking me straight out if I recalled any kind of abuse by my father. Dad had admitted it while in psychiatric care before he was placed in a nursing home. My world crumbled in seconds.
As for my brother, no one has heard from him in three years. I'm not sure he even knows that what he did to me is now out in the open. But I listen to my mother cry for a lost son and the grandchildren she will never see again. I also listen to other relatives -- who also know what happened -- comment that "maybe one day he'll just show up," and "wouldn't that be great?"
Please warn "Lost Teen" that while she may fear what happens to her molester, there's always the flip side of that coin. The first thing counselors tell us is it wasn't our fault. But sometimes our families treat us like it is. -- LOST IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
DEAR LOST: If my mail is any indication, molestation and incest happen more often than most people -- including me -- would like to think. Every time the subject appears in my column, I receive a flurry of letters from readers describing having been molested, too. The majority of them advise victims to speak up and start healing. Read on:
FROM DELAWARE, OHIO: I, too, would like to urge "Lost Teen" to tell someone. By keeping the secret, she's only protecting her abuser. When I was 10, I was repeatedly molested by a neighbor who had two children of his own. We took him to court. During the trial it was revealed he had previously molested another neighbor girl, who never told. If she had, it could have saved me and other children he might have abused.
FROM DELTONA, FLA.: I, too, was molested as a child. The two boys who did it were our next-door neighbors, who had been trusted to baby-sit us. The girl who wrote you should tell her parents. People who abuse children are sick; they need help. The next child who is molested by that relative may not be unscathed or even able to walk away at all.
FROM SALEM, VA.: I was also molested at age 7 by a female relative. She died a year ago, and I'm still bitter toward her. I am in therapy and coming to terms with what happened. I should never have kept silent as long as I did. It has taken a while, but my burden is finally becoming lighter. If "Lost Teen" speaks out and gets help, it will help her move forward.