My best friend says that every night her stepfather comes into her room and molests her. She told her mother but she doesn't believe her. What can she do and what can I do to help her?
What is happening to your best friend should not be allowed to continue. If her mother does not believe her, then we suggest you contact another adult whom she can trust. This can be an aunt or grandparent or some other family member. If she does not feel she can trust any other family members, or these other family members also do not believe her, then your friend should tell a counselor at school, her doctor, a teacher or someone in her church.
Your friend should be aware, however, that, by Maryland law, these individuals are required to report this information to Child Protective Services. This agency will make sure your friend is safe while they investigate what is happening to her. While this may seem scary, it is the only way to get her stepfather to stop what he is doing.
Another alternative is to call the Sexual Assault Hot Line at (410) 828-6390. They also can give her advice.
Sometimes teen-agers are reluctant to reveal this kind of information to anyone outside the family. They are told that it's nobody else's business or that no one will believe them. But we know that sexual abuse of this kind is, unfortunately, very common and we believe her report will be taken seriously. If you are willing to go with your friend while she makes the report, it may give her the extra courage she needs but again we hope you can involve a trusted adult.
Studies have shown that even if the abuse stops without the teen-ager saying anything, there are long-lasting effects from it. Girls (and boys) who have been sexually abused often have low self-esteem and a damaged self-image. They may suffer from depression, have trouble sleeping and may even think about committing suicide. Given the opportunity to talk about what has happened with an adult trained in sexual abuse issues, and/or in a group with other teen-agers who have experienced the same trauma, abused teen-agers can gradually come to terms with what has happened and begin healing.
Please share this column with your friend. If she is unsure about whom to see, she can call the Adolescent Clinic at Johns Hopkins (955-2865) and schedule an appointment to see me (Dr. Joffe.)
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.