Dear Prudence

Touchy Tutorial

I suspect my friend of grooming an 11-year-old girl for molestation.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be on vacation next Monday, and online again to chat with readers on Tuesday, Aug. 3 at noon.

Dear Prudence,
I live in a close-knit community, and my husband and I are, or were, close friends with a couple who live in our apartment building. We are all in our late 50s. In our community there is a single mother with an 11-year-old daughter, and many of us are friends with the mother. The husband of the couple who lives in our building offered to be a father figure for the 11-year-old because her father is not in the girl’s life. He tutored the girl in school subjects with which she was having trouble. One day the girl came to me and told me that while she was being tutored in “Mark’s” apartment, his wife had to go out. He then offered to read a book to her. He chose a book about teenagers’ changing bodies. He told her to sit on his lap, which she did, and they leafed through the book until they came to the parts about boys’ changing bodies, and there were drawings of boys’ erect penises and “Mark” asked her if she had ever seen an erect penis. After she told me this, I arranged for her to talk with an experienced social worker. The social worker is convinced that Mark did not molest her, and while what he did was clearly inappropriate, it is not reportable or prosecutable. I can’t get this scenario out of my head. My husband and I confronted this couple. They think that Mark has done nothing wrong and Mark’s wife is adamant that he didn’t do anything inappropriate. We no longer speak to them. When people in the community ask why we are no longer friends with them, we don’t know what to say. We have not told people about this situation, but do we have an obligation to warn other parents about this, or is it slander? They still want to be friends with us, and keep inviting us to go out with them. Help!

—Friend No More

Dear Friends,
Obviously Mark’s mentoring was actually grooming. He’d been waiting for the day that his wife had to run some errands so he could proceed to lecture this little girl about male genitalia. It’s not hard to imagine what Mark has in mind for subsequent instruction. You are friends with the mother and you have taken the lead in getting this girl help. So now I hope you can convince the mother that her daughter has to tell this story to the police. You could offer to contact the special victims unit on their behalf—if your community has one—and start the reporting process. The social worker may be correct that nothing legally actionable has taken place, but it’s better to get the authorities involved as soon as possible. The police should pay a visit to Mark and his wife to find out what went on, while letting them know he’s on their radar and that a file has been opened (or possibly reopened). You should also ask the police about what can be done to keep other children safe from him. I wish you could hire a plane to fly a banner over your community warning parents about Mark’s tutoring service. But I agree that spreading this story could open you to potential liability, and even if you don’t name the girl her identity will be obvious, and her privacy needs to be taken into consideration. If people ask what happened to your friendship, you can say that unfortunately you and Mr. and Mrs. Mark had a falling out. It’s not clear from your letter whether Mark and his wife denied every part of the girl’s story, or just say that his actions were misconstrued. But you believe the child, so when they call again, explain that your friendship is over and they know why.


Dear Prudie,
I work for a health-conscious celebrity. Part of the job’s appeal was access to healthy meals prepared by staff, especially as I am a recovering bulimic. My boss does not know this history, and she throws jabs at me about my weight about once a week. I firmly told her that we’re no longer discussing my weight, yet she will not let up. There’s no HR department, so I’m unsure how to handle her weight pressures. Even without her input I’ve been increasingly contemplating old, bad habits to help me lose the pounds that make me feel self-conscious. I am the only minority female in my workplace, curvy but with a single-digit dress size. Do I just take what she says as part of working for a demanding celebrity? I already struggle to accept my body, so I don’t feel it’s something I should have to further defend.

—Eating Disordered

Dear Eating,
You say that even if you weren’t working for this nasty celebrity (and you’re supposed to tell us who she is!) you would be feeling the lure of bulimia to get you to a smaller dress size. This is not healthy, and you need to be in the care of a professional before you slip back into damaging old habits. You’ve forthrightly spoken to the boss and said your weight is off the table. But she owns the table, the food, and everything else at this small enterprise, and it sounds as if this woman is used to doing whatever she likes. Enhancing the boss’s ability to do what she pleases is often the essential job description for those who work directly for celebrities. Sure, you could discuss your situation with a lawyer, but an occasional remark about your weight seems unlikely to result in a settlement—especially as you knowingly went to work for a celebrity obsessed with fitness—and then you would lose the ability to get a recommendation from her for your next job. And your next job is exactly what you should be seeking, for the sake of your mental and physical health.


Dear Prudence,
My father, whom I love dearly but can be difficult, has always had a controlling relationship with my mom. She had a large group of close friends in the town where I grew up, but once they retired they moved thousands of miles away and she feels isolated. He’s content to just spend time with her. Though she is very social, he wouldn’t be happy with her taking a trip without him. This upsets me to no end, but I also feel it’s not my place to do anything about it. The trouble is, she comes to me anytime he does or says something that frustrates her. It puts me in an uncomfortable position to listen to her vent about her difficulties with her husband, who’s my dad, and sometimes the things she tells me make me angry at him. My husband thinks it’s inappropriate for her to gripe to me about my dad, but I don’t want to cut her off when she obviously so desperately needs to talk to someone who understands. I know she does love him and doesn’t want to leave him. What can I do?

—Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught,
Your mother needs to figure out what she wants out of the rest of her life. She married a man who is demanding and manipulative, and she apparently intends to go the distance with him. She certainly went the distance when she left her beloved hometown. But she puts up with it, and gets some relief by complaining about him to you. That allows her to keep the status quo while debasing your feelings for both your father and her. It’s hard not to lose respect for someone who just wants to gas on about her intolerable situation without doing anything to improve it. I agree with your husband that she’s imposing an unfair burden on you and it has to stop. It’s also not helpful for her. Even if she’s having trouble making friends in her new community, she can find herself a therapist. She needs to go with a clear agenda—and developing one is something you can discuss with her while letting her know you’re handing her off. To start, she must learn how to better assert her needs in her marriage, which means taking actions he might not necessarily like. Maybe she wants to visit her old friends without feeling like she’s asking permission from her jailer. It is not going to be easy for her to change a dynamic of decades, but she has legitimate and unaddressed gripes and the time to do something about them is now.


Dear Prudie,
What is proper etiquette for disposing of baby diapers in public? I am a first-time mom and have noticed that other mommies often have a small disposable garbage bag that they put the baby’s diaper in and often take these wrapped up diapers with them to dispose of later when in public. I have not been participating in this practice and often at people’s homes, shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., dispose of the dirty diaper in the trash receptacles. Only when I was at the pediatrician’s office and they informed me that I was unable to dispose of the dirty diaper at the office that I thought perhaps I have been committing a faux pas.

—Mommy Doodies

Dear Doodies,
Thank you, other mommies, for wrapping up your children’s droppings and thinking about the most appropriate place to deposit these offerings. First-time mom, please don’t make people want to evacuate a restaurant or mall because of your child’s evacuation. No one wants to go over to the milk and sugar station at your local coffee shop and get a whiff from the refuse bin of something freshly brewed by your kid. If your pediatrician is telling you to take your unwrapped waste elsewhere, you know you’re violating an unwritten code—and common sense. When traveling with a diapered child, it is necessary to have plastic bags to tightly seal the dirty diaper when disposing of it in a public place. And these should be the kind of receptacles where such waste would be appropriate—so restrooms or outdoor trash bins. If you’re visiting friends, wrap the diaper up and put it in your bag for later disposal, unless you’re visiting someone with small children and you can ask if there’s a place you can toss it. You’re in charge of a baby, and this is an instance in which you just can’t let the chips fall where they may.


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