Dear Prudence

Danger Abroad

I was sexually abused years ago in another country. Is it too late to do anything?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a middle-aged woman. When my brother was 9 and I was 13, we were both sexually fondled repeatedly by “Will,” a friend of the family. We were living in a developing country; Will lived with a young teenager. Everyone thought how kind he was to help this young man. Now, of course, we know better. We had already moved back to the United States by the time I found out about what happened to my brother and none of us ever saw Will again. I did not suffer any lasting issues, but I suspect my brother might have. He had serious, long-term depression but refused treatment. This past summer, he took his own life. My sister and I have wondered to what extent our brother’s encounter with this pedophile affected his mental health. Thanks to Google, we were able to track down Will. He is still a U.S. government employee often working in developing countries. My sister wants to confront him or turn him in to the authorities. I’m not sure how or if you can report someone who committed a crime 35 years ago. I feel we should move on, but then I wonder if he is still abusing kids, especially poor and vulnerable ones. Should we act now, though it’s been so long? And if so, what should we do?

—Sad and Baffled

Dear Sad,
Surely Will’s ongoing dedication to his career—no retirement for him!—is because for decades it has allowed him access to the young and vulnerable. Think of the brazenness of this predator. He was openly living with one of his victims and willing to attack the children of friends. This maniac has surely damaged or destroyed countless children and is still at it. You absolutely must report him. It doesn’t matter that the crimes committed against you were long ago and took place abroad—these kinds of people know that the fear, shame, and silence of the victims gives them cover to continue. This fiend is working for the government of the United States. He needs to be stopped and if possible prosecuted. In the case of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach and accused pedophile, this New York Times account shows how important it was for the authorities to identify a pattern of behavior. In the horrifying but little-known case of the child molester who used his position as an employee of the Boston Red Sox to sexually assault boys for decades, it was the willingness of one victim to hold up a sign in the ballpark declaring his abuse that broke open the scandal.

In order to be most effective, and to protect yourself, you should make your report through an attorney who has expertise in these matters. Start by contacting the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. (They assist victims even if the perpetrators were not clergy.) They can help you locate a lawyer and put you in touch with others who have been through an ordeal like yours. You could also contact the National Center for Victims of Crime. Opening up this period in your life, and plunging into its effects on your brother, is going to be grueling, so consider seeing a therapist or joining a support group. You make an important point that not everyone’s response to being the prey of one of these predators is the same. You were able to put this behind you, but you don’t know how much worse the assaults your brother suffered were. He was also only 9 years old; think how terrified and confused he was by what was happening to him. I’m so sorry for his death and the pain he suffered. As a tribute to him, please do what he was unable to do himself and pursue every avenue to bring Will to justice.


Dear Prudence: Thanksgiving Smackdown

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in our 30s, have been married for more than a decade, and have one child. My husband is smart and successful. He’s fun-loving, outgoing, supportive of my career, incredibly helpful around the house, generous, enjoys taking me shopping, and is generally an all-out nice guy. However, he often bores me intellectually. While I love Fellini, he loves The Transporter movies. I read for pleasure, he watches TV shows or works out. It depresses me. I have discussed this issue with him, and he does try to talk to me about things he thinks will interest me, such as history, but it doesn’t work due to his shallow grasp of most subjects. His mother left when he was in kindergarten and he got a horrible stepmother, so he was wounded emotionally. I find brains and confidence wild turn-ons, but unfortunately I don’t get that with him. My husband does have magnificent prowess in bed and a great sense of humor. I always had boyfriends who were well-read and my dad was a keen intellect, so I love to discuss physics or geopolitics over dinner. But with my husband all I get is mundane talk. I feel trapped. What should I do?


Dear Confused,
Every married woman can sympathize with your plight. Your husband overcame a terrible childhood to become an attentive, kind, helpful, loving, successful, funny man. Also, he’s a dynamo in bed. But he knows nothing about neutrinos or the Maastricht Treaty. Of course you want to trade him in! You say because your husband likes The Transporter while you’d rather watch La Dolce Vita, you feel trapped and depressed. But if you think transporting yourself to the dating scene will lead to your own “sweet life,” then you’re not quite the brain you think you are. The job of your spouse is not to provide you a romance-novel version of life. You and your husband connect in so many ways, but he’s not intellectually inclined. So fulfill that part of your life by joining a club or a group devoted to issues that intrigue you. And when you’re having stimulating talks with men at your foreign affairs club, don’t have an affair. I bet had you been married to an egghead for more than a decade, you’d be fantasizing about a guy who’s just a genius in the sack. If you can’t rethink your attitude and come to appreciate what you have, and instead decide to blow up your family to pursue your fantasies, be comforted knowing a man like your husband won’t be single for long.


Dear Prudence,
While cleaning out the garage at my mother’s house as part of my duties as executor of her estate, I came across an outboard motor my oldest brother left behind more than 40 years ago. I sent him an email asking what he wanted me to do with it. I didn’t hear from him, so when I went back several weeks later I put it on the pile for the scrap man. It turns out he’d sent an email to my sister saying he wanted it, which she didn’t forward. I know I should have called, so I said I would like to compensate him, and he just told me he wants $3,000—$2,000 for the motor and $1,000 for his sense of loss. I did a Web search and found that such motors go for about $240. How do I tell my brother that he’s way off base with the amount he’s requesting? My relationships with my siblings have held up well throughout the estate liquidation, and I’d hate to have this be the reason my brother holds a grudge the rest of our lives.

—Choppy Waters

Dear Choppy,
Sure you should have called, but your brother has to take a considerable amount of the blame for this failure to communicate since he couldn’t even remember which sibling to contact. After not thinking about his aged, greasy motor for the last four decades, he’s now come up with a clever way to ease his grief by having you underwrite a cruise vacation. Apologize again to him for the confusion, then show him some print-outs of the results of your investigation. Explain that $3,000 is just too much for your crossed signals. If you can offer something in the $400 range, that’s more than fair replacement value. Let’s hope he’s big enough not to ruin Thanksgiving by saying, “Please pass the stuffing, and I’ll see you in small claims court.”


Dear Prudie,
My wife and I have a 2 ½-year-old and have started taking him to a public park to help curb his habit of sitting on kids when he feels they aren’t sharing. The last time we went I noticed two kids around my son’s age playing at the slide and laughing hysterically. I thought we had stumbled upon perfect playmates until I realized the reason for their hysterics was that they were spitting on the slide. The park was busy and I couldn’t identify their guardian, so we took our son to the other side of the playground. Should I have sought out the parents or baby-sitter and alerted them? Was I right to have avoided the slide? Or should I have figured that germs on playground equipment are par for the course and just brought hand sanitizer?

—Kids Do the Darndest Things

Dear Darndest,
Of course you want to help your toddler understand that sitting on those who displease him will be counterproductive in the long run. (Although if our nursery schoolers never absorbed this lesson it would bring a WWE-style liveliness to their future workplaces.) As for those two Oscar Wildes of the playground, I’ve got to laugh at their variation on the spit take. There’s mounting research that our kids end up healthier if they’re exposed to various germs, although the evidence indicates eating poop is better than swapping snot. If you’re traveling with a 2-year-old you probably have wipes, so as a public service you might have given the slide a swipe—reporting the miscreants would have been overly fastidious. And while hand sanitizer has its place, it’s not going to protect your child from every lurking bug. Washing his hands with plain old soap and water is a preferable way to eliminate new germs while allowing the healthy bacteria that colonizes all of us to do its job.


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