DEAR ABBY: When I was 7, I spent the night at the home of a friend and was molested by her father. It happened again when I was older. That time it was a cousin who spent the night with us. I never told my mother. I was afraid she would blame me. My father never spent time with me – I am one of several children – so it didn’t occur to me to tell him.

I have lived with this all my life. I have suffered from low self-esteem and had relationship problems since childhood. Few days have gone by that I haven’t thought about it and felt deep personal guilt. I never told anyone what happened until after my mother died, when I finally confessed it to a psychiatrist.

Now I would like to tell my older brother. Should I? Or would it be more difficult for me if my family knew? – SAD, SCARED AND CONFUSED IN FLORIDA

DEAR SAD: Not knowing your family, I can’t predict how they’ll react. However, this I do know: You were victimized twice as a child. You have done nothing for which to feel guilty. THE VICTIM IS NEVER AT FAULT.

Because you still have difficulty accepting this, it appears your sessions with the psychiatrist were not as helpful as they should have been. Please pick up the phone and call the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (R.A.I.N.N.). The toll-free number is (800) 656-4673. Counselors there will guide you to specialized services that can help you. Their entire focus is on helping victims of sexual assault, and the fact that your assault happened long ago should not be a deterrent.

After you have been counseled, and accept that you were never at fault for what happened, it will be safe to tell your brother because, at that point, his reaction will not be all-important to you.

DEAR ABBY: I recently attended a birthday dinner celebration for my father at my brother and his girlfriend’s home. While the girlfriend, “Cheryl,” was eating, she speared a bite of her food with her fork and then held it down to the floor for the dog to eat. Then she put another bite of food onto her fork and ate it. This continued throughout the dinner, with Cheryl and the dog alternating bites off the same fork.

When she was finished eating, she placed her dinner plate on the floor for the dog to finish eating. It was revolting. Dad and I just sat there, stunned, and stopped eating, not knowing how sanitary the plates and dinnerware were. How would you have handled this? – HORRIFIED IN HOUSTON

DEAR HORRIFIED: I would have handled it as you did, having lost my appetite, too. However, if your brother and his girlfriend have a dishwasher with an extra-hot and sanitizing cycle, the plates were probably “safe” to eat from. (Yech!)

DEAR ABBY: I recently purchased a “mother’s ring” for my mother and am having all of my siblings’ stones added to it. However, last Thanksgiving, my brother, the baby of the family, passed away unexpectedly.

Should I still add his birthstone to the ring, or just the survivors’? Your thoughts, please. – TORN IN TENNESSEE

DEAR TORN: By all means, add your brother’s birthstone to the ring. To do otherwise would imply that he never existed. Please believe me when I say that when your mother looks at the ring, your brother’s stone will remind her of the precious time she had with him. What would make her sad would be knowing that one stone was missing.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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