Don't discount leering stepfather
Dear Straight Talk: The problem is my stepfather. He doesn't walk around in the nude like some parents, but he looks my sister and me up and down, staring at our breasts and crotch in a way that makes us very uncomfortable. If it was just me, I might think I was overreacting or being paranoid, but my sister feels exactly the same way. He usually does it when he’s had too much to drink, which is almost every night! We haven’t said anything to our mom because he hasn’t really done anything, so what do you say? However, we’re nervous when we’re home alone with him and try to stay in our room with the door locked, feeling like prisoners. What should we do? — Santa Ana, Calif.
Kira, 20, Moraga, Calif.: I would feel uncomfortable too! You must tell your mom, maybe when you are driving somewhere together. If you are close to your real dad, tell him, too.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: There are astounding numbers of stepchildren raped by stepparents. His behavior could signal abuse. I don't know your mother. Would she support you? Would her telling your stepfather create a more hostile environment? Older alcoholics and teens often don't mix, so, I would keep riding it out like you have been.
If things get worse, however, you must tell your mother. Or alert the authorities if she's no help. Of course, this could cause repercussions from her. I've met a few girls being abused in similar situations whose only solution was moving out. Do what you need to feel safe and live your life.
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: Being ogled is creepy, especially when the man is older. Usually they just never learned manners. Asking him to stop (in a public setting) is the appropriate response for now.
Justin, 25, Redding, Calif.: This is not okay! Call a (sober) family meeting and bring up the topic non-accusingly. Something like, "We feel uncomfortable when you look at us. Maybe you don't realize what you're doing." Speaking up, while giving benefit of the doubt, might stop the behavior without making things weirder.
Brie, 21, Santa Barbara, Calif.: This is potentially very serious. His behavior is wrong and you shouldn't feel like prisoners. Tell your mom now! If it gets worse, it's better she knew ahead.
Dear Santa Ana: Do not discount your intuition. Sexual abuse expert, Dr. Diana E. H. Russell, found that girls whose principal male figure is a stepfather are six times more likely to be abused than those with biological fathers. The ratio is startling: 1 girl out of 6, versus 1 girl out of 40. Serious stuff.
The panel offers a variety of responses, however, in cases of potential sexual abuse — which this is — ALWAYS follow your intuition, even if it feels like overreacting. Girls are conditioned to be polite and make excuses for people — and to fear they will make things worse if they speak up. Abusers know this and rely on this fear.
Your defense is four fold: 1) trust your intuition; 2) make yourself powerful; 3) make it public; 4) ask for help. Without knowing your stepdad, and because he's an alcoholic, I can't recommend confronting him at this stage. But you must tell your mother and several other close adults. Put their numbers on speed dial — along with 911. Buy pepper spray and keep it handy. Enroll in self-defense or martial arts classes (lifelong benefit here). This isn't being paranoid, this is being smart. Finally, make yourself independent as soon as possible with jobs, car, etc.
To find out if he is a known sex offender, search the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website, Family Watchdog, and other free sites. —Lauren
More from Lauren Forcella:
I recommend martial arts and pepper spray for ALL females and males who feel vulnerable. It is totally okay to harm another if they are trying to harm you. According to the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds, and a forcible rape occurs every six minutes in the U.S. I can't stress enough the need to trust intuition and push aside embarrassment about possibly being wrong. You don't get "creepy" feelings from everything out there, so when you do get one, ALWAYS follow it.
I experienced one of these creepy feelings and know how awkward it is to take action based on intuition. I was a full-grown woman with a third-degree black belt (which, trust me, is best not to have to use outside class), on a date in a restaurant with a guy I'd met a few weeks earlier. Nothing negative was happening. Yet I became plagued by a feeling that he planned to rape me later in the evening. The feeling wouldn't go away. There was total war in my brain because I had no rational reason for thinking this, yet there it was!
Fortunately, I did NOT DISCOUNT my intuition — despite my rational, polite self practically stoning me to death to do so. I began by explaining that I had taken sick and needed to leave (I had my own car, but a cab would've worked, too). Our eyes met and one of those hideous where I could see, that he could see, that I could see moments happened. His dark soul and my awareness were both exposed. He instantly became furious (instead of sorry I was sick, right?), which confirmed everything. I made the situation public by calling two wait staff over and announcing loudly that I was afraid of my date and could they please escort me to my car. (A very buff young waiter was quite thrilled to do this.) Needless to say, I shook for the next hour at the thought of what might have happened if I hadn't trusted myself.
To all those in vulnerable situations: trust your intuition, make the situation public, and ask for help. For self-defense tips if you are not in public, see our column of SEP 9, 2009. —Lauren
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S T R A I G H T T A L K T N T
Editor, Lauren Forcella
POB 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473
Copyright 2012, Lauren Forcella
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