Dear Straight Talk: The problem is my stepfather. He doesn't walk around in the nude like some parents, but he looks my sister and me up and down, staring at our breasts and crotch in a way that makes us very uncomfortable. If it was just me, I might think I was overreacting or being paranoid, but my sister feels exactly the same way. He usually does it when he's had too much to drink, which is almost every night! We haven't said anything to our mom because he hasn't really done anything, so what do you say? However, we're nervous when we're home alone with him and try to stay in our room with the door locked, feeling like prisoners. What should we do? -- Santa Ana, Calif.
Kira, 20: I would feel uncomfortable too! You must tell your mom, maybe when you are driving somewhere together. If you are close to your real dad, tell him, too.
Brandon, 20: There are astounding numbers of stepchildren raped by stepparents. His behavior could signal abuse. I don't know your mother. Would she support you? Would her telling your stepfather create a more hostile environment? Older alcoholics and teens often don't mix, so, I would keep riding it out like you have been.
If things get worse, however, you must tell your mother. Or alert the authorities if she's no help. Of course, this could cause repercussions from her. I've met a few girls being abused in similar situations whose only solution was moving out. Do what you need to feel safe and live your life.
Colin, 19: Being ogled is creepy, especially when the man is older. Usually they just never learned manners. Asking him to stop (in a public setting) is the appropriate response for now.
Justin, 25: This is not OK! Call a (sober) family meeting and bring up the topic non-accusingly. Something like, "We feel uncomfortable when you look at us. Maybe you don't realize what you're doing." Speaking up, while giving benefit of the doubt, might stop the behavior without making things weirder.
Brie, 21: This is potentially very serious. His behavior is wrong and you shouldn't feel like prisoners. Tell your mom now! If it gets worse, it's better she knew ahead.
Dear Santa Ana: Do not discount your intuition. Sexual abuse expert, Dr. Diana E. H. Russell, found that girls whose principal male figure is a stepfather are six times more likely to be abused than those with biological fathers. The ratio is startling: 1 girl out of 6, versus 1 girl out of 40. Serious stuff.
The panel offers a variety of responses; however, in cases of potential sexual abuse -- which this is -- ALWAYS follow your intuition, even if it feels like overreacting. Girls are conditioned to be polite and make excuses for people -- and to fear they will make things worse if they speak up. Abusers know this and rely on this fear.
Your defense is four-fold: 1) trust your intuition; 2) make yourself powerful; 3) make it public; 4) ask for help. Without knowing your stepdad, and because he's an alcoholic, I can't recommend confronting him at this stage. But you must tell your mother and several other close adults. Put their numbers on speed dial -- along with 911.
Buy pepper spray and keep it handy. Enroll in self-defense or martial arts classes (lifelong benefit here). This isn't being paranoid, this is being smart.
Finally, make yourself independent as soon as possible with jobs, car, etc.
To find out if he is a known sex offender, search the Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Web site, Family Watchdog, and other free sites. -- Lauren
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