Q: I am a 17-year-old female who has a big problem. Ever since I was about 7 years old, my father has been sexually abusing me. I tried telling my mother but she doesn't listen, and I don't trust anyone as far as I can kick 'em. I can't go to the police because I love my father. Besides, my mother needs him. And all I want is for him to stop. I can't even keep a boyfriend because of him. Please tell me what I should do? Please help me.
A: You must have so many mixed-up feelings about your parents. You love your father, but he's using you to meet his own emotional and sexual needs. You sense how your mother needs your father, but she won't listen to you. You don't want to report your father to the police, but you need to start thinking about yourself. Because of your father's abuse, you may already have problems relating to boys, trusting others and feeling used by people or using them. Eventually, you may have trouble being a parent. So please consider turning to outside adults for help. Otherwise, there's no way to stop your father from abusing you and getting help for yourself and your family.
Please call either the youth crisis hot line at (800) 422-0009 or the hot line for the Sexual Assault Recovery Center at (410) 366-7273. You can talk to someone at either number about your options; the Sexual Assault Recovery Center also has counselors you could see. Once you've identified yourself, they will be obligated by state law to report your situation to protective services. Their social worker will investigate your situation and determine if it's safe for you to remain in the same household as your father.
Since you may be very worried about what will happen, it would be wise for you to be in counseling immediately. Remember that the goal of those helping you is not to break your family apart, but to protect you from being sexually abused and to make sure that you and your family are helped through counseling sessions. You may be tempted to blame yourself for hurting family members -- but keep reminding yourself that you are not responsible for your father's behavior toward you and need to be allowed to move beyond them.
Q: I am a 10-year-old in the fifth grade who is having a problem with a classmate. Every time I do something she starts with me. She repeats what I say and I hit her and she hits me back. We almost got into a fight. When she gets in art class, she asks her 14-year-old cousin to fight me. But her cousin doesn't. What should I do?
A: She sure is trying to annoy you. She got to you so much, you even hit her. Maybe she looks for fights as a way to relate to people. And you keep falling into the trap of fighting with her; however, the fights could go on forever unless you decide to control your anger and ignore or avoid her. If you can't do either, ask your teacher to keep the two of you separate and to help you handle your anger differently.
Dr. Sokal is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist practicing in Baltimore. If you have a question, send it to Dear Kids, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore, Md. 21278.