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Sexual Harassment

Dear Amy,

I am 15 years old, and live with my little brother, mother, and stepfather. My stepfather is an alcoholic, and my mom has been putting up with this for around 3 years. She's tried to make him go to AA meetings. But nothing has changed, and things have only gotten worse. My stepfather argues with my mom nearly every other day, calling her names and sometimes throwing objects. He started sexually harassing me when I was 13, trying to touch me under my clothes when we were alone together.

When I finally summed up the courage to tell this to my mother a year ago (afraid to share my feelings with her because she's so critical), she believed me...but she has not done anything about it since, except confronting my stepfather. I don't understand why she didn't leave him right there, maybe she doesn't trust me, or want to face reality...But now i am beginning to feel somewhat guilty.

At school, my grades have dropped, and I always feel depressed, empty, and helpless. My friends think I have become distant and always seem sad. I hate being in this house, and i constantly lock myself away in my bedroom. I still do not feel safe around him, and just looking at my stepfather makes me feel dirty and uncomfortable.

I'm so sick of this...I don't know what else I can do other than tell a teacher/guidance counselor at my school... And even then, I don't know if they would take me seriously, or what will happen to all of us if they report us. I don't want to be taken away from my mother, or my stepfather to get angry at me for letting something "slip" at school.

Where can I seek help, and what should I do?!


I think what you have to do is to revisit this conversation with your mother. It's not enough that she believes you -- she has to be willing to change the situation to some extent -- and really to not endanger her children any more.

I'm sure she is fearful - there is probably some support she gets from him (emotional, financial, etc..) and she is scared to relinquish this and thus tolerates the abuse as a balance or under the assumption that when weighted it's more important that she has the other things she is getting in the relationship.

However, it's one thing for her to tolerate it, but it's another when she makes you vulnerable. I think that you need to address this with her -- tell her that it is affecting you in other ways. I think it's crucial to try to address this with her directly because if/when you do address it with the school -- they are mandated under law to report it -- and thus social workers will have to intervene and that will make her and you even more vulnerable. This certainly isn't a reason not to report it, but I think if your mother knows what the consequences are, she will begin to make different choices. It's better to be in control of your situation than to let someone else take over.

For your sake, too, I think it will be good to hear her express why she can't just leave or kick him out-- assuming that is her perspective -- not that you have to understand it at all -- but I think she oddly probably thinks its in your best interest and once she hears you express that it's not, she will thinking reprioritize. I hope so. In lieu of the situation changing immediately, is there another family member (aunt, uncle, grandparents, father, etc...) or adult, whom you can live with so you can begin to start taking care of yourself?

I hope that helps -- good luck and take care,