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Ask a Therapist: How Do I Hold My Abuser Accountable?

From the time I was 8-12 I was sexually abused as well as my brother who is 4 years younger than I am . As I am getting older I am learning the thread of lies that I was told from my family regarding the situation. Growing up I believed my grandmother adopted a child from Haiti, he was 8 years older than I am. Through the time he was 19 he sexually abused myself and my younger brother. I repressed much of my memories from childhood due to this but I vividly remember the abuse. My mother took me to the University of Massachusetts sexual abuse center where I was tested for rape and attended counseling. My parents moved us to Florida away from this. I assumed he had been in trouble until recently when I found out that his high school counselor told my parents he would be deported if they reported it and it was never reported to police. After we moved for years he continued to call to talk to my brother and myself but we refused to talk to him. My grandmother and father hid most of what happened. Now that I am 29 I want him to be held accountable for his actions. To make sure he isn’t hurting any other children. I am not sure what to do or how to handle it. I wanted to contact him and after much research learned he changed his name and still was not legally in this country. Because of this abuse I have sexual issues , depression and still cannot trust people. I have seen three therapists and it never helps, just knowing he is married with a child makes me sick and scared.

A: I’m so incredibly sorry about the abuse you and your brother suffered. I suggest gathering as much information as you can about him today. Then contact Child Protective Services in your state and just ask how they would handle it. It is often empowering for a victim to report and take action against the perpetrator, even years later. Watch the video for the rest of the answer.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: My Best Friend Is Suicidal

Q: My best friend is suicidal and I want to know if there is anything I can do to help her. She has already told her parents but they really aren’t doing anything to stop her. I have told a teacher at our school and the counselor but all they do is recommend seeing a psychiatrist. I am really worried about her she almost always has cuts all over her body arms, legs, and stomach. Her mother has been in and out of prison even before she was born. Her mother is also in right now and has been since she was 7. In the past few years she has had a lot happen, she lost her grandmother on her dad’s side two days before Christmas in 2008. Right after that she moved from a big house to a small one and in the process lost connection with her former best friend. Many of her animals outside died and she sat with one of her cats and had to watch it die after it got attacked by a dog. This past year she had her aunt on her dad’s side die and lost a lot of her friends. She also found out that her mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by four different psychiatrists and borderline personality disorder by one or two. We were in seventh grade this year and for most of the second semester she was labeled a whore because of how she dresses and who hangs out with. This past summer is also when the cutting started it started off pretty bad but not frequent. It then went to minor burns and small scratches and then blew up again to bad cuts and they were very frequent. At the current moment she only has scars but is thinking about cutting herself again. I would just like an idea of what I could say to her to get her not to cut anymore. Thank you for taking the time to read this (and respond if you do).

A: First of all, your friend is lucky to have such a mature and concerned friend like you. For 13 years old, you are wise to get some advice on how to handle this serious situation. You mentioned that your friend is suicidal. Has she told you that she has plans to end her life or are you suspecting that she is suicidal because of her cutting behavior? Often intentional self-harm, or parasuicidal behavior, is a cry for help without an intention to die. The two are related but don’t necessarily go together.

Does your friend acknowledge that she needs help to address her cutting? If so, she may want to ask her parents to take her to their family doctor. Sometimes parents are more willing to take their child to get “medical” help than “mental” help. Also, have you talked to your parents or guardian about this situation and asked for their help and advice? It may be a good idea to sit down with your friend and both sets of parents and express your love and concern and see how you and your parents can support your friend.  Another possible resource is Childhelp national hotline. You can tell them about your concerns with your friend and they will identify resources in your area.

If your friend’s parents are fully aware that their daughter is cutting and in need of psychological intervention and they refuse to get their daughter the treatment she needs, then this may be a case of medical neglect requiring or your parents to report the situation to child protective services. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Thank you again for writing in to Ask the Therapist.

Take good care of yourself.

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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