DEAR AMY: I’m a man in my early 40s. Recently, through work, I’ve found myself in a mentor role with a 20-year-old girl. (I feel I need to say, in this day and age, that there is nothing improper happening between us.) Through the mentoring process, she recently confessed to me that she had been sexually assaulted (raped) her first semester of college. She cried and referred to it over and over as “her fault,” due to the fact that she agreed to meet this person and got into a situation where it could happen. I don’t know much about this stuff, but I do know that it was most definitely not “her fault.” She told me that she has never told anyone, because she was ashamed. Sadly, she does not have a very open relationship with her parents and considers them very judgmental. She cried and cried and is obviously in great mental anguish over this incident. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I know from a previous conversation that her family went to group therapy when she was younger. So I suggested that she should see a therapist just to have someone to talk to. I suggested she contact her old family therapist for a referral, but she told me she would be ashamed and couldn’t. As a mentor, I won’t bring it up again, but I know she needs help. I truly think this experience is impacting her life. She seems to have issues with self-esteem. She thinks she can deal with this alone. What should I do? What services exist to help her through this? She doesn’t think she can talk about it with anyone, so is there a solution for her?
Mentor Over My Head
DEAR MENTOR: Your mentee entrusted you with her traumatic story, and it seems that she chose well. She obviously needs to talk about this, and she is willing to talk about it, under limited circumstances.
I hope you will follow up with one more suggestion for her: You should point her toward RAINN.org, where she can connect with an online or phone counselor. She can also connect with other survivors, at her own pace. RAINN recently added a 24/7 “chat” function to their website, so that people who really don’t use telephones as often as text (any 20-year-old would fit into this category) can initiate a text-based help session. A RAINN counselor could point her toward local services, but would also listen (anonymously).
She can recover from this, but she should have more support. Your compassion and concern is an important first step.
DEAR AMY: I have two different female friends who constantly speak to me about how horrible their husbands are. This has been going on for some time. It’s exhausting. Neither of the women will leave their husband, and they don’t listen to my suggestions. I’m tired of hearing about it, but at the same time, I don’t want to shut them out. They are both being gaslighted by their husbands, and when I point it out, I’m the crazy one. One of the husbands is physically abusive, and I feel like the other is surely on his way — based on scenarios I’m told about. I’ve given them both resources to utilize. I’ve shared my story of how I was able to get out of an abusive relationship. I really don’t know how to proceed. It’s taking a toll on me.
DEAR TIRED: I prescribe a course of loving detachment. This is where you listen and bear witness, but don’t weigh in with advice, opinions or fixes.
You need only say, “Well, I hope that someday you will be ready to leave. When you’re ready, I’ll do my best to help.”
It’s a perverse aspect of human nature that the more forcefully someone tries to fix another’s problems, the more forcefully they may resist. These friends might expect your exasperated and tense reactions to their stories. When you change the script, their attitudes could start to shift.
You absolutely must take care of yourself. If this burden brings you way down, then these abusive relationships will have claimed another victim.
DEAR AMY: “Torn” relayed her shock that her husband of 16 years had been smoking cigarettes the whole time. I was shocked at her sense of smell. Non-smokers can detect cigarette smoke on someone’s skin and clothing in a nanosecond.
DEAR NON-SMOKER: I had the same thought. Either “Torn’s” husband is extremely stealthy, or she should get herself to an ear/nose/throat doctor.