Click here to read a transcript of Prudie's live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
The ickiest thing in my professional career just happened, and I'm not sure what to do. I'm a reporter, and while waiting around for an assignment, I poked around in the files on a company laptop to pass the time. There wasn't much, so I went into the trash. It was full of pictures. The first ones were head shots of a girl. I kept clicking and found the same girl, naked, in explicit poses. I figured I had stumbled onto a co-worker's porn habit when I realized it was my boss's daughter, who is in high school. The laptop does get taken home on occasion by top staff. I emptied the trash, deleting all the pictures. It was weird seeing my boss the next day. I didn't tell him about the pictures. Should I have? Does a parent want to know if his teen is taking these kinds of pictures? What if he doesn't believe me? I don't even want to think about more sinister reasons why these pictures were taken. Was there a better way to handle this? What should I do?
—Wishing I Hadn't Looked in the Trash
After I finish suggesting what I think you should do, you may need to look for new employment. This might not be a bad idea, anyway, not only because of the state of the news business but because of your lack of reporter's instincts. You stumble upon what might be the biggest story of your career, and you decide the best thing to do is delete the evidence? Let's take the most benign reading and suppose that this teenage girl thought it was fun to have some graphic pictures taken of herself and then download them onto her father's company laptop. No, it doesn't make much sense, but maybe it's sexting gone awry. You may not want to think about the "more sinister" reasons why the pictures were there, but any sentient person is going to consider the possibility that Dad is responsible. Because your boss might be the perpetrator, do not tell him what you found. Something horrible may be happening to this girl, and you need to alert the authorities. I spoke to Janis Wolak, senior researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center, who said that most sexual abuse happens in the home, and it's not unusual for an offender to put images on a work computer. She suggests, as a first step, that you contact your local child protective services. The staff should be trained to investigate in a sensitive manner what's actually going on. Another possibility is your state office of the federally funded Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which likely can retrieve the deleted files. You should be able to report your suspicions anonymously to either place. If it ends up that the girl was responsible for the photos and your name comes out, you can tell your boss you couldn't evaluate what you found and felt a duty to protect his daughter. And if it turns out to be more sinister after all, make sure you get a piece of the story.
I am a female doctor in my mid-20s working in a small private practice. I really like my patients and my boss (a middle-aged male doctor), but I am having problems with some of the staff. Several members of the all-female staff openly disrespect me in front of patients. One has introduced me to patients as "Mrs." instead of "Dr." and has called me by my first name. Others have questioned my recommended treatment (also in front of the patient). I have even been snapped at within earshot of patients for making simple requests (like locating a patient's chart). I feel these staffers are undermining the trust and respect of my patients, many of whom (especially the older ones) already have trouble believing I'm a doctor because of my age and sex. All of these women are considerably older than I am, so it's difficult for me to confront them. (I also hate confrontation.) So far, I've ignored it, but it isn't going away. How can I get them to stop but also still be nice?
—Female Doogie Howser
The staff is testing you, and the disrespect is going to spread more efficiently than swine flu if you don't initiate a quarantine. From now on, right after each incident, pull the miscreant aside and address the misbehavior. You want to strike a tone of brisk confidence, which means no defensiveness and no apology. So say something like, "I notice you introduced me to the last patient as 'Mrs. Howser.' It's 'Dr. Howser,' and that's how you need to refer to me in front of patients." Or, "If you have a question about my treatment, I welcome discussing it with you later. However, you are not to contradict me in front of patients." Or, "When I ask you to perform one of your duties, I expect you'll do it efficiently and politely. It's unacceptable for patients to hear you complain about a request I've made." Keep this up, and it's likely you'll see the contempt is quickly contained. If it isn't, or if a few people continue to subvert you, you must talk to your boss; such behavior corrodes the practice he has built. And remember, while sexism may never be completely eradicated, despite your profession's best efforts, the generation that can't believe a woman is a doctor will eventually die out.