Dear Abby:

You printed a letter from a woman, "Uneasy About My Daughter," who was concerned that her husband might be acting inappropriately with her 11-year-old daughter. She went on to describe her husband sitting on the toilet and eating his dinner every night while the girl took her bath, and also stroking the girl's backside to lull her to sleep at bedtime.

You advised "Uneasy" that her husband's behavior was inappropriate and urged her to discuss the situation with the girl's pediatrician. You said the husband might back off if he heard from the doctor that what he was doing was wrong -- and that the doctor should report the man if he refused to stop.

Abby, I think you threw gas on the fire without knowing more about that mother's concerns. Why is the husband eating his dinner while the daughter takes her bath? Does he get home late, after the rest of the family has eaten? How developed is the girl? My 11-year-old girl looks like she's 8! Is the father really rubbing the girl's bottom -- or her back? A back rub isn't inappropriate.

Eleven is a weird age. The girls aren't women, but they aren't small children either. My 11-year-old thinks nothing of jumping into the tub when I'm bathing my 3-year-old. She also does it when my husband is bathing our son.

If "Uneasy" feels the way she does, why doesn't she have her daughter take her bath earlier?

Trusts My Husband in Tucson

That's a good question. However, she wrote to me because she has a sixth sense that's telling her something is wrong. And she should listen to that sixth sense and act on it. After I printed that letter, the volume of mail I received from survivors of child sexual abuse curled my hair. Read on for a sample:

Dear Abby:

As a child, I was sexually abused by my father, a "pinnacle of the community." I still bear the emotional scars. What "Uneasy's" husband is doing is called "confusing touch" and is very likely a precursor to outright abuse. By confusing the daughter into thinking his behavior is okay, the father opens the door for behavior that isn't. "Uneasy" must get help for her daughter so the girl can learn how to set boundaries and define appropriate touch.

Parents have a responsibility to their children to protect them from sexual abuse by family members, friends or others.

Been There in Plano, Tex.

I was taken aback by the number of first-person testimonials I received describing similar experiences.

Dear Abby:

I am a detective specializing in crimes against children in a central Florida sheriff's department. If the father acts this way when he is being observed, I can only imagine what goes on when the mother isn't present. The fact that the mother referred to the man as "my husband," not as the girl's father, raises more red flags.

Had this been reported to me in my jurisdiction, I believe I would have probable cause for an arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious molestation.

"Uneasy" should contact local law enforcement and child welfare agencies and report her husband. If she doesn't, she could be charged with failure to protect her child.

Florida Detective

Several other members of law enforcement around the country offered similar sentiments. However, pediatricians are mandated to report child abuse if there is evidence -- and that is why I recommended the mother first talk to her child's physician.

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 www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate