Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Afraid the Man Who Groomed Me in High School Has Chosen His Next Victim.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

Woman with her head in her hands worried. Theatre masks float next to her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by alexkava/iStock/Getty Images Plus and  RyanKing999/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

As a teenager, I was groomed (pardon my use of that lately so misused word) by a man in his 30s whom I acted alongside in a community theater production. Due to my being 16 and nebulous laws in the state I lived in at the time, there was never much grounds to take legal action, and I was scared of the social consequences of speaking out against a popular, charismatic figure in the community. My little bit of justice was bonding with his other (non-minor) mistresses and squealing to his live-in girlfriend, which didn’t quite live up to my John Tucker Must Die fantasies and, unsurprisingly, was cold comfort.

Now, 10 years later, I feel like I finally have a balanced perspective on the whole thing, and coming to terms with that chapter led me to Google this person and see what he has done with his life. I was alarmed to find that, among other things, he now specializes in working as a creative team member on high school plays. There is a legitimate reason he’s uniquely qualified for this job, and I can’t know if he has changed, but it does not sit well with me. I don’t know of any official channels through which I can make a report that would stop him from working directly with teenagers. But I feel partially responsible for any harm he causes or has caused to these kids that I am not able to prevent. What can I do here?

—Shadows of the Past

Dear Shadows,

You have to say something. When I first read your question, I was caught up on the idea that people don’t get fired or disciplined—or anything, really—based on a random phone call from a person whose story can’t be verified. I still kind of think that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to protect his students by doing all you can to draw attention to what he did in the past. The responses I received made your responsibility clear. You not only need to say something, but you need to say something to anyone who will listen:

The advantage of abusers is that their victims believe they are the only victim. We are all too eager to believe that an offense is unique, when it rarely is. It’s no accident he’s working with high school kids again. OP should reach out to the admins and drama instructors. —@WiseWyzard

Oof. I think the best thing, if the LW is up to it, is to contact multiple people involved in employing him—the head of this theater program, principals of schools where he’s done plays—and give a straightforward factual account. The presumption should NOT be “maybe he’s changed.” Multiple people is important because some will respond to any info with excuses, especially since the guy sounds hard to replace. But someone’s gotta look out for these kids. —@ewrigleyfield

And, as @mboehm214 pointed out, while he’s not going to be fired on the spot, it’s likely that people will keep a closer eye on him after you raise the alarm: “She must. She needs to contact whoever is in charge of his employment, if it’s a non-profit organization or something of the sort, AND all the high schools that he’s working with. State the facts, provide any corroboration she can. Even if he isn’t fired he’ll be watched closely.”

Your report alone might not be enough, but @iamlaurasaurus added that what you say combined with other potential information could convince the district to take action: “I’d contact the school district(s) where he works via email—district HR, high school principals, maybe the drama teachers who work with him directly. Your report alone might not get him removed from his position, but it will warn them to be vigilant about him. It could also…cause any past or future reports of inappropriate behavior from him to be taken more seriously.”

Finally, a couple of people wisely pointed out that what you’re about to do is very tough and emotionally draining. Part of your plan should be to figure out how to make sure you’re OK with whatever the outcome is, the retaliation you may face, and any emotions it brings up.

You are not responsible for his actions, then or now. Whatever you decide, you do not need to risk trauma, retaliation, and more. What would success look like to you? Talk to a therapist to clarify your goals before moving forward. Make sure you’d be okay if it went sideways. —@realgirl_fieri

If you haven’t already, please surround yourself with supports first before you do anything. Get a therapist, confide in trusted friends. Even if your disclosure goes perfectly it will be grueling, and these things never go perfectly. Take care of yourself first and foremost. —@CleverWhatever

As you stand up for the teenagers who are currently his students, know that you’re doing the right thing. But also make sure you have the support in place that you didn’t have when you were their age.

Classic Prudie

My husband, who’d never been in any trouble before, had to accept a plea bargain for a year in prison. (The case has been covered in the news.) It’s terribly unfair, but the alternative was to risk 20 years, so he took it. He is terrified of prison in general, but in particular he heard horror stories about the local prison (20 miles from here), and he asked to be sent to a different one instead. He was assigned to a prison 350 miles away. He still expects, however, that I will visit him with our four small children every weekend.