'My grandfather is molesting me'

The Star/ANN

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.

Dear Thelma,

I am 16 years old and my life is a mess. When I was nine, my grandfather started molesting me. He is still at it. I told my parents about it but they dismissed it as a joke. Now I'm not talking to my grandfather because I slapped him for molesting me. I can't believe that I'm living under the same roof with him.

Recently, I broke up with my boyfriend, N. We were in a long distance relationship. I met him on Facebook four years ago. One day, my parents found out about us and they took away my phone. They forced me to forget him and never contact or text him again. I tried not to miss him but I failed miserably. He is a part of me. I called him using my friend's phone and told him everything. He begged me not to leave him but I did. I forced him to forget me. I had no choice. I was so happy with him but I chose my family over him. I sacrificed my happiness for my family, yet they do not trust me. I told N to move on and focus on his career. He finally understood my situation. Well, I know I'll always love him.

My parents don't even know what I want to do with my life. They told me I should become a doctor. They control my life so much. I can't even go out with my friends. I have to listen to them. I do everything they say because I love my father and never want to hurt him. In the end I am the one who gets hurt. I want to live my own life. Sometimes I feel like running away from home. I'm a teenage girl who is trying to reach her dreams with a broken heart. - Messed up

Dear Messed up,

Sexual abuse in families is a very real issue. There are news reports about it almost every other day. People read it, click their tongues and think it is something "crazy" or "sick" people do. They talk about doing something about the problem. And yet, when a child complains about a family member who molests her, her complaint is often dismissed as a lie or a call for attention.

People have to accept that incidents of familial sexual abuse are serious. It can happen to anyone. It is not about being sick or crazy. It is about power. And, who has the least power other than a child?

Because children are taught to respect their elders, and because they learn from a very early age that their voices mean very little, they are not likely to speak up when they are sexually abused.

Whether it is an inappropriate touch or grope or rape, it is abuse because an adult has misused his power over the child. It is abuse because they have breached the trust that the child has, that the adult will protect her. It is abuse because it causes so much harm to the growing child. This harm continues into adulthood if it is not addressed early.

You should not feel bad about standing up to your abuser - your grandfather. Alas, because of the position of power he has in your family - and, most abusers of this ilk are those with considerable power within their homes or public institutions - you are made to feel like you are the bad one. Instead of him being treated like the wrongdoer, you are made to play the role. This is the reality for anyone who speaks up about abuse of any kind. It is painfully ironic that the victim is the one who is "on trial".

It is no wonder that you found solace in a long distance relationship. You would have been 12 years old when you met N. You say that you asked him to focus on his career. This implies that he is considerably older.

Oftentimes, children who have been abused seek solace in the possibility of love and protection from someone older or stronger. The psychological aspect of the appeal of this relationship aside, it is also no wonder that you feel this way about this young man because you feel alone.

Your parents' reaction to this relationship may seem harsh, but they probably did the right thing in terms of protecting you. It is inappropriate for a child as young as you to be in a relationship with a much older person. You may feel like N is your soulmate. The truth is that you and N probably have very different expectations of the relationship.

Also, you have to consider that as an older person, his needs are different. You may be made to feel compelled to do things you may not necessarily want to, or even feel prepared to, with him. This does not mean he is a bad person. It just means that you may not be a suitable match for each other. This is not something you want to hear, but it is the truth.

Yes, break-ups are very painful. And while you feel like you are losing a part of yourself, the truth is far from it. Romantic embellishments aside, the reality is that you are always your own person.

Chances are you will always love N. It is just the nature of the love which will change over time. This is true of all relationships. Your memories of him will remain. For now they are painful to recall. With time, you will be able to recall them with fondness. It will make you smile. It will remind you of this time in your life in a different light. What you need is time.

You don't know what you want to be when you grow up? Well, very few people do. Your parents want you to be a doctor because it is a very noble profession. Doctors will always be in demand, and they command a good salary. So what your parents really want is the best for you.

Of course, this is not the only option for you. It is what they know. The best thing you can do is to focus on your studies and do well. Read about people - what they do, the trials they endured to become successful.

Find out about different occupations and the qualifications required. The Internet is a treasure trove of information. Also, newspapers like The Star often have pullouts on education that feature different professions and universities along with the courses they offer. Don't wait to discover your true passion. You have to help yourself. That means not being passive.

Teenagers need to realise that what they are going through - as serious as it is - is also a phase. Everything passes. Nothing is so bad or so severe that it calls for the ending of one's life. Accepting that life has problems and no one lives a problem-free life, helps one to deal with these problems. Don't ask why it is happening to you. Ask instead, what can I do?

As a teenager, it is natural to assume that your parents want to control your life. This is not always the case. It only seems that way from your perspective.

It may seem unlikely now, but there will come a time when you will be able to look back and view your family differently. As much as we may hate what happens in our family, and feel resentful of things we have to do because of family piety, there is value in these things. What is important now is that you are safe - not talking to your grandfather means he is not likely to hurt you. That matters. You matter. Don't give up. - Thelma

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