Help! My Childhood Abuser Is Now Married With Kids. Is It Too Late to Say Something?

Advice on manners and morals.
May 1 2014 6:00 AM

Rear View Horror

I was sexually abused at 14. Years passed, and he now has a family. Is it too late to say something?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
When I was 14 years old, I became involved with a man more than a decade older than myself who was in a position of authority. Here was an adult who could see how special and grown-up I was! I lived in an abusive and neglectful household and was horribly insecure about my appearance, so I might as well have had “perfect victim” stamped on my forehead. He was charming, took me out on dates, and bought me alcohol. But he made me lie to other people about how old I was. Then one night he raped me. I’ve always resisted calling it that though, because I keep thinking I could have done more to prevent it. When I told my mother what had happened she said it was my fault and now I had to let him do whatever he wanted. I never told anyone else. As time went on he became physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. Eventually, I ended the relationship. For years afterward, he stalked me. He alternated between sobbing pleas to get back together and rage-filled threats. He started showing up places where he knew I’d be. He’d leave messages with suggestions on how I could lose a few pounds or start wearing more makeup. Eventually his erratic behavior got him fired and he disappeared for a couple of years. Then he showed up again and again. I changed my name twice and address often in an attempt to keep him from finding me. I believed that one day he would kill me.

Decades have passed and it’s been years since he’s contacted me. I’ve made a good life for myself, considering where I came from. I have a wonderful husband and beautiful children. I eventually got my doctorate and am respected in my field. But despite years of therapy, I can’t escape this. From time to time I would “stalk” him. I wanted to know what he was doing. I guess I just felt safer knowing where he was. Recently, I found out that he had married a woman with a young child. They then had a child. At first, I thought he must have changed. But the more I thought about it, the less I can believe that. People like him don’t change; they can fool people for a while, but they never really change. And now I can’t stop thinking and worrying about this family. I’m scared for this woman and her children, but I don’t want to contact her. I can’t let him know where I am. Sometimes I think I should have gone to the police long ago. Maybe other people have already gotten hurt because I was too scared to do anything. How can I be at peace?

—Haunted

Dear Haunted,
This is a haunting story of how the vulnerable can be scarred by manipulative criminals. I wish someone had spoken up for you years ago, and that this man had been prosecuted for all the crimes he committed against you. It saddens me that even now, even after therapy, you somehow hold yourself responsible for his rape of you. But your own mother blamed you for that—oh, how I’d like to add Mom to the list of people who needed to get up close and personal with the criminal justice system. But what’s important and amazing is how you’ve put your life together. You have love, a family, and professional accomplishments. Now it’s time for you to get out from under the shadow of this man and what he did to you. Let’s examine some possible courses of action: Get word to the wife about the true nature of her husband; report his crimes against you to the authorities; move on and focus on your own life. I urge you to forget about the first option. As you say, any attempt to contact her will lead back to you. If she is happily married, she’s not going to believe anything you say. If she’s not happy, she already knows there’s something wrong with her husband. I spoke with Dr. Marisa Randazzo, managing partner at SIGMA Threat Management Associates, and she says there are cases in which perpetrators choose only one victim, and have normal relations with others. Let’s say your abuser got psychological help and now he’s a decent husband and father. That doesn’t undo what happened to you, but such a possibility should give you comfort.

As for your other options, it’s not too late for you to tell the police, and possibly not too late for charges to be brought against this man. Your story reminded me of the case of swimming coach Rick Curl, who was sentenced to prison last year for sexual abuse of a 13-year-old swimmer, an event that had taken place 30 years earlier. That woman finally decided to come forward, and, like you, she remained haunted by the relationship with her abuser (she also appeared to be Curl’s only such victim). If you want to consider contacting law enforcement, you must first talk to a criminal attorney about what telling the police would mean. Randazzo points out you could talk to the police confidentially about what happened to you, and if there is a file already started on this man and other possible victims, your information would be helpful. You also need to know whether the state’s statute of limitations would allow you to bring rape charges, and, crucially, what pursuing a case would be like. You would have to accept this would upend your life, so it is something to consider extremely carefully, preferably with your husband and a therapist. If that’s not a step you want to take, please feel no guilt or remorse. Finally, you might conclude that the best thing for you—and the family you have created—is to move on. Despite having therapy, you are still, understandably so, in the grip of the trauma that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be that way. You need a new therapist who can help you get this man out of your thoughts and release his hold on your psyche. Randazzo says she’s seen trauma victims greatly helped by EMDR therapy (you can find a practitioner at EMDR International Associates). More treatments for PTSD are described here. I hope that telling your story, here and to the right professionals, will help the past recede and that its place will be filled with the joy in what you have now.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am an adult male attracted to physically developed young women between the ages of 11 and 17. I had never engaged in sexual activity with them and have been celibate. I have spoken to many adult women who as teens were in a relationship with men who were 10 or more years their senior. All of them enjoyed it and had never experienced any trauma. Would it be wrong to pursue a relationship with an exceptionally mature, physically developed young woman who prefers an older lover? 

—Lonely

Dear Lonely,
Please read the first letter. That will give you some insight into the lifelong effects of being a “mature” girl targeted by a predator who may not even see himself as one. You are on a knife’s edge. You are trying to justify a sexual obsession that comes under the heading of statutory rape. Depending where you live you may legally be in the clear with older teens, but that does not materially change what you really want, which is girls, not “young women.” Pursue this and you will likely end up in jail, and when you come out, you will be a registered sex offender. Popular opinion holds that people who commit sex crimes are among the most incorrigible of criminals. But their recidivism rate is strikingly low. That means people with deviant sexuality can be helped and can change. The fact that you wrote to me is a good sign. Come on, you knew I’d slap you down. So now you need to find a therapist who will challenge your assumptions and help you work through what might be extreme discomfort with women your own age. You know pursuing your desire is wrong; now pursue your need to get help.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence, 
I’m fortunate enough to be marrying a smart, funny man in a few weeks. My problem is that when he proposed he was very proud that he managed to surprise me. It was a romantic moment that couldn’t have been better, except that I knew it was coming. I had my suspicions leading up to the proposal, then when I was looking for my phone chargers I accidentally found the ring box (I didn’t open it). He thinks his subterfuge is particularly impressive because my profession involves investigation, research, and being more observant than your average person. So he likes to tease me about the proposal and brag to friends. Only three people know that I knew beforehand and none of them would tell him, so I’m certain I can keep this a secret. But should I come clean and tell him that I knew it was coming?

—(Dis)Honest Bride

Dear Bride,
I don’t know if you’re in the National Clandestine Service or a paparazzi, but your fiancé is getting a kick out of telling everyone how he put one over on a professional. But if two young people are in love, have set up housekeeping, want a future together and even a family—and have talked about all this!—ultimately it’s a little silly to think one partner would be totally dumbstruck that the other is ready to get married. I’m betting your fiancé was so full of tells about his romantic plans that even the most oblivious girlfriend would have suspected what was coming. But I don’t see any reason to pull a Sherlock on him and enumerate all the little giveaways (including a ring box) that let you know. Just tell yourself that surely there was something about the event that came as a surprise to you. As for your friends, keep in mind this observation by Benjamin Franklin: Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Last week in church I sat behind a couple whose 4-year-old son was playing a Walking Dead video game that featured a zombie menacing a child in a tree house. Aside from the obviously inappropriate nature of this game for church, I am concerned that the parents were not bothered by it. Violent media is harmful to little children and I feel like I just witnessed an act of abuse. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I feel I should say something the next time I see them. The problem is I am a single guy with no kids and am worried I would just be ignored or seen as judging their parenting. Is there a way to call parents out for their bad behavior without seeming nosy or getting blowback?

—Concerned

Dear Concerned,
Of course the boy should have been playing a Bible story video game. I’m sure you would have been delighted by the imagery for Fun With Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac Take a Hike, Joseph’s Brothers Play a Trick on Him, and Jesus Goes to Golgotha. One can take issue with choosing a Walking Dead video game, but it worked. The little boy was absorbed in zombieland, thus allowing the services to go on. That’s strategic parenting, not abuse. And believe me, you don’t want to go around making explosive charges against well-meaning people. If you have kids some day, I hope you will look back on this and laugh, because there will be times you’d let your child play God of War: Ascension if it would just keep him quiet for 20 minutes.

—Prudie

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Shadow of a Doubt: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband believes she lied about the rape that left her pregnant—to hide an affair.”
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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.