How should I deal with my father-in-law who sexually harasses me?

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
An old man looks out of window at a shopping mall in Tokyo, Japan June 30, 2017.

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 50s. My husband is a third-generation business proprietor, and I help him with his job. Since my mother-in-law died about 10 years ago, we have been living with my father-in-law, whom I take care of.

I quit my job to accompany my father-in-law when he goes to the hospital for medical exams, and I visit him when he is hospitalized. My in-laws’ family still has a tradition that they leave all the tasks of caring for their parents to the woman who married into the family. Neither my husband nor his sister, who lives nearby, help me.

My heart almost broke many times, but I gradually came to feel an affinity toward my father-in-law and became able to think it wasn’t all horrible doing everything myself.

Several months ago, however, he moved to a hospice after he was told he had only one year left to live. That’s when he started sexually harassing me during my visits to him.

Although I’ve endured various hardships, I find his sexual harassment nothing but disgusting and intolerable. When I told my husband what happened, he said, “You don’t have to force yourself to visit him. You can visit when I go visit him, too.”

I’ve endured so many things until now, and I don’t want all of my hard work to be for nothing, but I just can’t suppress my feelings on this matter. Please give me advice.

— U, Kanagawa Prefecture

Dear Ms. U:

It’s clear what you should do right now. You should visit your father-in-law only when accompanied by your husband. The behavior of your father-in-law probably has stemmed from cognitive distortion caused by his old age and poor health.

If you feel concerned you still have to visit him on your own, then perhaps you fear that you may be regarded as a callous daughter-in-law, thereby negating the 10 years or so of your wholehearted devotion.

However, it is far more important to protect yourself at this moment than caring about how people around you look at you. I believe your past deeds will shine through only after you take good care of what is happening to you right now.

Thanks to your hard work and dedication, you became able to communicate well with your obstinate father-in-law. However, if you suppress your feeling now, you will only end up feeling repulsion and hatred toward him. If that happens, I think the time you have spent for him up to now will be for nothing.

Moreover, you’ve won your husband’s understanding regarding this. For your husband, that may be a hard reality to take. However, he probably acknowledged it as a way to apologize and express his gratitude to you, because he left everything to you with regards to caring for his father. I think there is nothing that can deny all your work and dedication up until now, and there is no one who can do so.

— Masami Ohinata, university president