Help! My Stepmom Thinks Jerry Sandusky Was Innocent.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 5 2012 5:45 AM

Willful Blindness

My fiancé was sexually abused as a child. My stepmom defends Jerry Sandusky. How could they possibly meet?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I have always had a very difficult relationship with my family and have been working hard for the last year to put the past behind me and become closer to my parents. My fiancé and I are going home to visit them for a long weekend soon, and since this is the first time I've visited them in years, it is a huge sign of success. We plan to announce our engagement then. Unfortunately an issue has come up. My stepmom is a Penn State alumna who is "disgusted" by the recent Sandusky trial. She tells everyone she meets that the victims are money-grabbing liars who have smeared the good name of her alma mater. My fiancé is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, much like what Sandusky did to these children. I don't want to undo the last year of progress I made with my family by getting into a big confrontation, but I also don't want to betray my fiancé by sitting idly by while she says these horrible things. Asking her not to talk about it will only make her more determined to convince us she's right. How do I handle this?

—Trying

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Dear Trying,
I share your mother’s sense of disgust, but mine is directed toward Jerry Sandusky and his enablers at your stepmother’s alma mater. Your stepmother’s assertions about the many victims of Sandusky echo that of his wife, Dottie, who took to the stand to malign the boys her husband molested in their basement. But I will try to remain cool here, as you must in order for this visit to be a success. Despite your stepmother’s twisted loyalties, there is no reason for your trip to revolve around a discussion of Penn State’s transgressions. Your fiancé of course should not have to endure an ugly diatribe about Sandusky’s victims. But you don’t have to tell your parents why you want Penn State off the table, just that you do. Before you two arrive, call your stepmother and say, “I know you have strong feelings about what’s happened at Penn State, but since we have such a short time together, let’s stick to more pleasant topics.” You say asking her not to do something will result in her doing more of it, which may be one of many causes for your long estrangement. No matter how she answers your request, warn your fiancé about the possibility of an outburst about sexual-abuse victims. Maybe he’ll tell you he can ignore her blithering. It could be that if your stepmother doesn’t get a rise out of anyone, she may drop it. But if she wants to flog this, and it makes your fiancé squirm, you’ll have to speak up. First try changing the subject—the presidential race or the Supreme Court’s health care ruling will seem like neutral topics in comparison. But if she enjoys needling you, no matter how much you’ve looked forward to improving your relationship, you must make clear you will stand up for yourself and your fiancé. If you have to cut the visit short, that will be your parents’ loss.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Leering Brother-in-Law

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married to a wonderful man for nine months. While we have been intimate for years, I've recently realized I have been ignoring a significant sexual problem. My sweet husband is painfully vanilla in bed. When we first got together, he could turn me on at the drop of a hat, so the fact that I'm more kinky didn't matter because things were so great. But for some reason, I still can't bring myself to deliver this one crucial criticism: He doesn't seem to understand that I need more subtlety and variety of touch than he does to have a decent orgasm. His idea of manual stimulation is basically rubbing me like he's trying to buff out a scratch on my fender. But how do I let him down easy when this has been going on for so long? The last thing I want to do is injure his pride, and he would be so upset if he thought I hadn’t been enjoying myself.

—Rubbing Me the Wrong Way

Dear Rubbing,
Marriage has probably changed your perspective on your sexual problems because now that you’ve tied the knot, you realize you’re looking at a lifetime of manhandling on your erogenous zones. But there’s every reason to think there can be plenty of molten chocolate in your future. You two have a core sexual compatibility and you know what it’s like to be aroused by your husband, so build on that. Keep in mind the message you’re delivering is not, “You are a terrible lover,” but, “I want our marriage to thrill us both.” As a way of opening up this discussion, do some homework and type “erotic massage” into the Amazon search engine. See which books and videos look good to you. Then order a few of the best, and some massage oils, and say to your husband that as good as your sex life is, you want to expand your sensual repertoire. Set aside some weekend afternoons to practice rubbing each other the right way. Massage should naturally lead to more intimate things. If, as you make the transition, he reverts to his nipple-eradicating style, tell him you’re really turned on by more gentle caressing. Then take his hand and show him what you like. Saying, “Mmmmmm. That feels so good,” will help ensure he gets the message.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My housemate subleased her room for the summer to an undergraduate intern. The girl is nice, polite and helps around the house. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly obvious that she has an eating disorder. Almost daily, she brings a bag of groceries into her bedroom, and later I can hear her vomit in our (shared!) bathroom. I'm wondering if I should intervene in some way to help her. Obviously, her personal behavior is none of my business: She's never left any sort of mess, and she's more of an acquaintance than a friend. But I still know she's hurting herself and I don't feel right just turning the volume up on my headphones one room over and looking the other way. She's several states away from home and financially strained, so I don't feel right suggesting she see a therapist. I don't even know how I would broach the topic. Is it my place to say something?

—Turning on the Shower Doesn't Cover the Noise

Dear Turning,
This is a young woman who is putting her health, even her life, at risk, so as awkward as it may be, bringing this up with her is the right thing to do. She knows she’s in trouble, but keeping this illness a secret allows her to delay the day she has to face what she’s doing to herself. Since you are not a friend or family member, it’s understandable you are uncomfortable about intruding, but the longer she goes without help, the more damage she will do. Ask her to join you one evening for a cup of tea and tell her that based on what you’ve seen and heard, you’ve become concerned that she may be bulimic. Say you know this is a private matter, but she is a lovely young woman with a wonderful future, so you want to emphasize how important it is to get treatment for this illness. Refer her to The National Eating Disorders Association. whose website has lots of information and a hotline. This guide to eating-disorder support groups is another place for her to start. It could be that she is still on her parents’ health insurance, so she can begin the search for a practitioner. When she returns to college, she can take advantage of the counseling resources there. If she seems resistant, you can call the NEDA hotline yourself and ask them if there’s anything else you can do. However she responds, when she leaves after the summer you can feel proud you broke this silence.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I often go outside my comfort zone for my wife and her sister. Whether it's joining their volleyball league or attending a ballet performance, I show interest in the things they enjoy—even if the activities aren’t my idea of a good time. The problem arises when we plan an outing to amusement parks because roller coaster rides terrify me. But my wife loves to ride roller coasters, so I face my fears. However, when we go she and her sister insist on staying the entire day. After I’ve had enough nonstop roller coaster rides I smile and say I'll catch up with them later. But on the ride home they lay into me and say I put a damper on their fun by not riding roller coasters with them the entire time. Am I in the wrong for bowing out early? We're supposed to go to an amusement park soon and I want to ask if we can just spend hours at the park instead of the entire day—but is this unreasonable?

—Party Pooper

Dear Pooper,
Some people are thrill seekers. For them, feeling pressed in their seats or thrown in the air from the positive and negative G-forces induces ecstasy. In others it just causes upchucking. G-forces cause stress and strain on an object, just the way having a spouse who orders you to do things you loathe does on a person. If a roller coaster is the perfect metaphor for your marriage, your marriage is in trouble. Marriage is not supposed to be a decades-long season of Fear Factor. You are brow-beaten by your wife and her sister to do things they like, but you haven’t mentioned if your wife is willing to do any loop-the-loops to please you. You need to escape from constantly being with this tag team, and establish that for the sake of you rmarriage there are limits to how much her sister can come along for the ride. It’s not unreasonable for you to bow out entirely from a day at the park with this bullying twosome. Just give them one of your smiles and explain your idea of a thrill is a day alone with a good book.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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