Dilemmas: Groping for the best retort to harassment

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Dear Virginia: A month ago I was sitting next to my sister's husband at dinner. We were chatting and laughing as usual when I felt his knee nudging against mine. I couldn't believe what was happening and moved away, but he then put his hand on my thigh and squeezed it. Every time I see him now he makes some kind of overture, such as sneaking a kiss in the hall when he lets me in, but though I move away I can never say anything or my sister will hear. Should I call him at work and tell him to stop it? Or should I tell my sister? Yours, Chloe

READERS were pretty much in agreement that telling was completely out. It would only cause unspeakable and probably irreparable rifts in the family. No - laughing at him seemed the most popular form of attack.

'I think Chloe should pretend her brother-in-law is joking. She could tap him in fun when he nudges his knee against hers, and say: 'Get off, you barmpot]' Remembering that attack is the best form of defence, she might also try being ostentatiously 'kissy-kissy' with him in public, blowing kisses and calling him darling.' Diane K Smith, Solihull, West Midlands

Failing that - and who knows, maybe Chloe is someone on whose lips the word 'barmpot' does not hover naturally - then attack is the answer.

'If laughter doesn't work, Chloe must practise the knee-in-groin exercise, administered in silence, and let him explain his groans.' Judy Forsyth, Old Portsmouth, Hampshire

And even heavier . . .

'He's committing a physical assault on her, and I think she should retaliate even if he is 'family'. How about holding the groping hand aloft, saying: 'Look what I found on my bottom? I wonder whose it is?' ' Lorna Verso, Kingswood, Bristol

Needless to say, the only people who imagined Chloe might be getting a secret buzz out of it were blokes.

'Well, Chloe, it sounds to me as though you're getting a kick out of the attention. Stop enjoying it.' Ken Hedger, York

The brother-in-law's behaviour is, to give it its most boring definition, sexual harassment. Being more about power than sex, this is best countered by either laughter or rage.

If neither is possible, Chloe could certainly ring him at work, and say simply how embarrassed she feels and that she'd prefer him to stop; she doesn't have to mention anything about telling her sister since, like a kalashnikov, it's a weapon she can hardly hide under her coat. He'll know exactly what she means.

The one reaction that's unlikely to work is an impenetrable wall of cold loathing. No response drives sexual gropers crazy and they only redouble their efforts.

Of course, it could be that the brother-in-law is just a common-or-garden creep on the sexual make, who tries it on with everything in a skirt. But most would agree it's peculiar behaviour with a member of what is almost his own family.

Could he be jealous of the sisters' closeness and feel threatened when Chloe is around? Two close family members talking intimately about a shared past can make an outsider feel very shut out. Making crude passes would be a very primitive way of trying to break up their closeness.

If Chloe took a male friend along next time, he'd be useful. Not to punch the groper on the nose but, funnily enough, to reassure him and make him feel less out in the cold. Otherwise she'll have to practise roaring with laughter and shrieking 'Barmpot]' instead. And hope her sister doesn't start asking concerned questions about her mental health.

Sad life without a baby

Dear Virginia,

After exhaustive tests it seems that the chances of my partner and I ever having a baby are virtually nil. We can't afford to adopt from abroad, and only want a child of our own, anyway. Even though we both have jobs, I'm extremely low. I can hardly see the point of living any more. How have other people coped? And what do we say to friends?

Yours sincerely, Juliet

Readers' comments are welcome; everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071- 956 1739, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know.

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