Case # 1

Nancy, a shy, insecure 27-year-old woman, came from an emotionally rejecting home and described her childhood as unhappy.  Her parents were divorced when she was three, and she first lived with her grandparents, and then with her father until her stepmother "got rid of me."  She lived with her mother from age five to seven and then lived with her father again until she was married at age 16 when she was still in high school.  She remained in school and graduated with honors.

Her husband was physically abusive but she didn't tell anyone because "I can't admit I have failed."  A son was born when she was 20 and she was finally divorced at age 22.  She was not close to her parents or siblings and they provided no support to her during this time.

Several months later she met her current husband, Steve, and they moved to his family's farm after they were married.  A son was born two years later.  For a while things went well and Nancy felt that her life was finally good.  She had a husband who treated her well and two healthy sons.  When the couple saw an announcement in the church bulletin regarding the need for foster homes for southeast Asian children, they signed up.

They met Kim, who was 13 years old and in seventh grade, at a preplacement visit.   Kim's mother was dead, his father still in Vietnam, and although he had relatives in the United States, he couldn't stay with them.  The preplacement visit went well and Kim moved in with them.  Kim was depressed about his inability to see his family and Nancy and Steve had problems with his lying but in general the placement seemed to be working well.

The farm developed financial problems and in an effort to solve their financial difficulties, Steve joined the National Guard.  By this time, Nancy was pregnant and Steve put off basic training until the child was born.  Their son was born with severe birth defects but Steve had to leave for basic training shortly after the child's birth.  He was in basic training when the baby died at six weeks of age.  Steve flew home for the funeral but had to return to basic training for several more months.

Nancy was left to manage her grief and care for her two sons and Kim.  The farm was isolated and she saw few people.  She received no help in dealing with the death of her child.  During this period, she and Kim, now age 14, began talking more to each other.  They would watch TV on the couch and he told her about his past in Vietnam.  One night he asked her if he could sleep in the water bed with her because the younger boys had done this occasionally.  Nancy agreed, and their sexual involvement developed from this.

When Steve returned several weeks later, the sexual involvement continued.  By this time, Nancy wanted it to stop but she was afraid that telling Steve would destroy her marriage.  Nancy and Kim generally made love each morning before Steve and the younger boys woke up.  Nancy was guilty, frightened, and ambivalent about the relationship with Kim but the longer it lasted, the harder it was to tell Steve.  By now it had been going on so long that she was afraid of what would happen to her if the relationship with Kim was disclosed.

She tried to stop the sexual involvement with Kim but he persisted.  She tried avoiding him but Kim threatened to cut himself with a knife.  Finally, when Kim was away at a routine counseling session with his social worker, Nancy told Steve about the sexual relationship with Kim but said that Kim had forced her.  When the social worker and Kim returned, Steve accused Kim of raping Nancy.

Nancy and Kim gave the authorities very different accounts of their relationship.   Nancy said that Kim had threatened that he would blame her for the sexual acts which would break up her family.  She claimed that she was physically afraid of him and was therefore unable to resist.

When interviewed after the disclosure, Kim referred to the love he had for Nancy and the love he thought she had for him.  He was confused over what had transpired and spoke of Nancy as a friend and lover rather than as a foster parent.  He had ambivalent and conflicted feelings about both Steve and Nancy and told the social worker that it was all his fault and that he did not want to get Nancy and Steve in trouble.

Psychological testing indicated Nancy was a reticent, withdrawn, nonassertive, and insecure woman.  She was likely to be a perfectionist who controls her emotions and is vulnerable to situational stress.  She avoids disagreements and conflict and does not want to draw attention to herself.  She was diagnosed as having an adjustment disorder and a possible avoidant personality.

Nancy's withdrawn, insecure personality, and her physical and social isolation made her more vulnerable to developing the relationship with Kim.  The loss of her baby and Steve's absence were precipitating factors.  The original motivation for becoming sexually involved with Kim was more emotional than sexual.  But once it started, her nonassertiveness, reluctance to draw attention to herself, and fear that disclosure would result in still another loss — of Steve and maybe her sons — kept her from controlling the situation and stopping it once she began to regret what was happening.

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