My inappropriate attention spidey sense is tingling
September 29, 2009 6:31 PM   Subscribe

When I was a young girl, my brother's best friend made very inappropriate advances to me. My brother and his family are visiting this friend on the weekend, and I have a concern about how the friend will behave to my young niece. There are complications over what I should do …

I have never told anyone in my family about this, and I wasn't physically harmed, but there are still tiny but incessant alarm bells many years later. The families are meeting at a social event, so it's not like brother's friend and niece are likely to be alone at any time.

I live in another country, so I won't be able to keep an eye out. My brother's wife will not be there, so I won't be able to say, "Hey sis-in-law, [bloke] acted weirdly around me when I was a kid. Watch him if he's near [niece]." My mother is friends with brother's best friend's parents, and would be reduced to a torrent of worry about things that happened years ago. My brother is not the best communicator, and doesn't handle messages beyond daily pleasantries very well.

While I'm 99.5% sure nothing will happen, what can I do? Should I warn someone, or just let the whole thing go?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total)
Leave it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:33 PM on September 29, 2009

Why protect a creep? If this man did something inappropriate towards you when you were young, why not call your brother and tell him what happened and why you're concerned he might behave inappropriately toward your young niece? If you're genuinely concerned for your niece's safety, and you know that her parents socialize with this person on an ongoing basis, you should say something.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:37 PM on September 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

You don't say how old he is now versus how old he was when this happened, and the age gap between you and him. Without more information, this seems very alarmist.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2009 [11 favorites]

My take on the situation would depend critically on the ages of the parties involved. How old was your brother's friend when this occurred? How old is he now? How old were you when this occurred? How old is your niece now?

To my mind there's a HUGE difference between a 17-year-old (say) making advances on a 12-year-old and then having another 12-year-old come into his orbit when he's thirtysomething, versus a 27-year-old doing the same thing and then meeting another 12-year-old five years later. If it's the former situation (which strikes me as more likely, assuming that you, your brother, and his friend are all about the same age), then I agree with turgid dahlia.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:41 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

This question requires some significant judgement calls, but you leave out some important facts that make it hard to reach those judgement calls. For example, it would be very helpful to know how old you were and how old he was when he made the very inappropriate advances to you. It would also help to know how old your niece is. It would help to know more specifically what those advances were.

Perhaps you could ask the mods to post these additional details by using the contact link at the bottom of the page.
posted by alms at 6:43 PM on September 29, 2009

I want to know how old this BBF was, and how old you were, when he whatevered you, but since this is anonymous, I'll answer both ways.

(A) If he was a stoned 14-17 year old punk and you were 10-14... I'd probably let it go, since his judgment is probably a bit more developed now.

(B) But if he was already an adult OR you were under 10 and he was any age... I'd talk to your brother directly. ("Please don't tell Mom, and don't make a big deal about this, but...")

Even if he brushes you off, at least he'll have that seed of worry, which is enough to stay alert.
posted by rokusan at 6:43 PM on September 29, 2009

How inappropriate were the advances? How much older than you was the person who made those advances? How old is he now, and have you seen him in the last few years? Do you have good reason to believe that he may harm your niece, or any other young girl?

If the answer to that last question is "yes," you have a responsibility to say something to someone.

You could always say, "Hey, sis-in-law. I never told my family about this, but your husband's best friend made inappropriate advances toward me many years ago (insert details here), and I think you and my brother should watch out for any odd behavior on his part."

If you think there's a real chance that he would make inappropriate advances toward any young girl, you should say something to someone. If your brother isn't a good communicator, talking to his wife may be an option, but I really do think this is something your brother himself needs to know.

But no. I wouldn't leave it. When you say his advances were very inappropriate, would you say he might have harmed you? I might not link it specifically to the upcoming social event, but if you think he might ever do anything like that again, to anyone, you really need to say something. If not, you might let it lie, but I would still advise you to talk this over with a family member at some point down the road.
posted by brina at 6:48 PM on September 29, 2009

tell your brother EXACTLY what happened. Tell him what your concerns are, let him know exactly what you expect of him in regards to your daughter's safety. It is up to you to set the boundaries.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:17 PM on September 29, 2009

Tell your brother. Write or call your sister in law. It sounds like you will have a hard time sleeping at night without feeling like you have done something to protect this girl, which makes you a good aunt. Their parents need to know--they have a right to know. Whether or not they deal with it in a mature responsible way is on them.
posted by tk at 7:28 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the original poster:
The asker would like to add that she was 9 and the brother's friend was 15 - and this was 30 years ago. The niece is now 5.

It will be difficult to talk to the sister-in-law before the event, and the asker is not very close to her brother.

The advance was that the friend asked her to sit on his lap and there was an inappropriate embrace - and the friend later admitted he was aroused by this.

The asker doesn't think there was serious psychological damage done, but doesn't want it to happen to anyone else. The asker is worried that the friend may still regard young girls inappropriately, but realizes he's now a grown man with children of his own.
posted by mathowie at 7:36 PM on September 29, 2009

Who did he mention the arousal too? Was it to the asker, or a third party?
posted by kylej at 7:40 PM on September 29, 2009

It is not just this weekend I am guessing but other occasions that this man might be around your niece. Please keep in mind that children are not always able to advocate for themselves and as an adult who has first hand knowledge of how this man has acted in the past you have a responsibility to make sure your niece is safe. Inform whoever you think can best make sure your niece remains safe.
posted by mlis at 7:42 PM on September 29, 2009

After hearing more info from the OP it still seems very alarmist to me. We don't know if that bit about "arousal" was a joke. It's legally hearsay. Things like this can spiral out of hand and innocent people can get accused of things.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:44 PM on September 29, 2009

Things like this can spiral out of hand and innocent people can get accused of things.

Or children who have no control over what happens to them can get abused.
posted by mlis at 7:48 PM on September 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

I vote alarmist. Keep an eye on the guy, but don't help ruin his life by labeling him a child molester.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:48 PM on September 29, 2009

It doesn't sound alarmist at all. Trust your instincts. Your communication might not be perfect or end up how you want it to end up, but I think it's better for your brother's family to know and make decisions based on that than to not know.
posted by kathrineg at 7:49 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

The only person you really can tell is your brother. He probably won't believe you and will find you alarmist. That's okay, he'll also probably keep a close eye on his daughter, just in case.

You can frame it as "maybe this is moot, but it's always bothered me, and if you had a concern like this regarding the safety of my kid, I'd want to know, even if I didn't like hearing it."
posted by desuetude at 7:52 PM on September 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

15 year old to a 9 year old is a bit creepy. Drop a hint.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:01 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Close or not, you need to inform your brother about this, so he can look out for his daughter. It doesn't need to go any further than that.
posted by Ouisch at 8:12 PM on September 29, 2009

I'm going to make a judgement call based on what I see above: he was fifteen, and considering he is a longtime friend of her brother who is socially inept, it is likely he was/is socially inept as well. So I would say that letting the brother know is a good idea, framed as desuetude frames it above, and let it go at that -- with the limited information available, I think this is much more likely a scenario where horny young awkward teenager suddenly finds himself aroused inappropriately, versus sexual predator.
posted by davejay at 8:13 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Terrible idea to let anyone know. Alarmist and silly. Let it go. You're trying to take a harmless incident between two children and have it haunt the man in his adulthood. Don't do it.
posted by jayder at 8:31 PM on September 29, 2009

"The families are meeting at a social event, so it's not like brother's friend and niece are likely to be alone at any time."

I don't think anything will happen at a social event, even if there is something to worry about, which I doubt.
posted by xammerboy at 8:45 PM on September 29, 2009

I apply to the better safe than sorry rule...I would think it very irresponsible to not say something to your brother regardless of how well he communicates...even if you put the bug in his ear and he scoffs at you, when he is around this man he will be on alert, it is after all his daughter...and isn't the most important part of all this what is best for her? I say convention be damned.
posted by gypseefire at 8:53 PM on September 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

The problem with anonymous questions like this is that there are so many variables that could swing the answer one way or the other. So, anonymous, you're really the only one who can answer this question. If you honestly, dispassionately believe that the actions of the 15-year-old merit suspicion of the 45-year-old man with children of his own (!), then you have an obligation to mention something to your brother or your sister-in-law in the most neutral, non-accusatory tones possible. If you're going to tell them, acknowledge that your brother's friend was young, and that "you're sure he's changed now, but if it was my kid I'd want to know." Or something like that.

HOWEVER. Before you do this, be 110% sure that you actually can be honest and dispassionate about the whole thing. Be absolutely sure that your (very understandable) emotional reactions to the childhood trauma you suffered are not unduly colouring your perception of the man thirty years later. Be certain that you can, in fact, talk about this in neutral and non-accusatory tones. Take a long, hard look at what your id is telling you about this man. Then tell your id to shut the hell up, try to look at things in a calmer way (examples of which are in the comments above), and see if you still feel a need to spill the beans. I know that sometimes you need to lob a metaphorical grenade into your relationships with other people, but you should only do this when you're sure that the harm that these relationships are causing outweighs the harm you'll cause by pulling the pin and counting to three.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:03 PM on September 29, 2009

You're anonymous so therefore can't reply to questions we might have, yet you are completely and totally vague on the details on this guy "acting weird". What did he do, exactly? How old was he and how old were you? How old is your neice? Without this info it's impossible for us to give you good advice.
posted by zardoz at 9:26 PM on September 29, 2009

I don't have any real advice here ('tho I guess I'd be inclined to tell brother); I just dropped in to note that 15 year old boys have spontanous erections All.The.Time. AllTheTime AllTheTime AllTheTime. It just doesn't take much for it to happen. And, an inappropriate embrace? I really have no idea what that means, but I think I'd be much more concerned if clothes came off..

ps. Not to be alarmist, but it's not unlikely your brother did something similar -- this is the age when they experiment & discover sexuality.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 9:28 PM on September 29, 2009

I just want to say that the only times in my life when I've gotten hurt by other people is when I've ignored that "feeling". I vote that you say something to someone who can make sure your niece doesn't have the same 30 years of feelings that you've had.
posted by dejah420 at 9:47 PM on September 29, 2009

I vote alarmist. I also think it's inappropriate to mention in this context - they're meeting in a public, social setting - it's not like he's babysitting your niece.

I'd also like to point out that he may feel similarly awkward/embarrassed/shamed about the inappropriate interaction that happened between you two in the past.
posted by gnutron at 10:25 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a tough one but you're talking about a 15 year old getting an inappropriate erection and considering potentially destroying the guys life over it thirty years later. Thirty years! Apparently he's been friends with your brother for longer than many of us have been alive and your brother has seen nothing that would indicate any kind of weirdness.

Furthermore, 15 year olds get erections when the wind blows on them funny. It could have been a yorkshire terrier on his lap and he probably would have had the same reaction.

The only potentially problematic part is what you say he confided to someone later. But you don't provide anything like the details necessary for someone to come to any kind of conclusion.

I just can't shake the feeling that this is a bad idea.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 PM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hitting on a 9 year old is skeevy, but you're basically insane when you're 15 and there is a world of rational difference between a 6 year age difference to a mid-teen boy and a 40 year age difference to an adult man. With no other evidence against him I side with those who afford him the benefit of the doubt. Although my history contains nothing so icky, still: God help me if I had to defend my sexual proclivities from 14-17.
posted by nanojath at 11:08 PM on September 29, 2009

I would say to your brother: "look, this was a long time ago, but I still have a bad vibe about this guy. I know it's been decades, but just humor me and don't leave him unspervised with your daughter, OK?"
posted by zippy at 11:41 PM on September 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

Maybe this is the wrong advice from someone with their own conflict, so take it as you will. I don't have an older brother nor do I or will I ever have to see or deal with either of these two again, but I was about the same age as you were when this happened:

A neighbor's older brother "J" (a year or two my senior) and a kid my own age "T" -- both of whom I thought I knew quite well as I'd hung around them before and spent many years at the neighbor's house -- locked me in a bedroom while both my little sister and "J"'s little sister were in another room playing. They pushed me onto a bed and proceeded to egg each other on by telling me inappropriate things they wanted to do to me while trying to illustrate them to me with dirty magazines. Shoving one after another in my face -- laughing hysterically the entire time.

I dealt with this by covering my ears with my hands and closing my eyes as tight as I could and yelling at them to stop in addition to humming so I couldn't hear what they were saying. I realized that my sister and her friend were outside of the door hearing everything they were saying, because they started screaming at the boys to let me out. Finally I just grabbed an inflated boxing glove and threw it at one of them and ran out of the room. I ran downstairs, jumped on my bike and went home.

When my mom asked me what was wrong, I said, "nothing." When she asked me if 'those boys' had done something to me, I said, "no." I continued to ride the bus with them for the next three years and was even in the same 5th grade class as "T" one year later.

I would say you're being a tad ridiculous, but the experience I had is something that crosses my mind an unhealthy amount because I wish I had had the courage to tell someone.. and I can't imagine the hundreds and thousands of girls before and after me that have endured an insufferable amount worse (even in my own mind, this is nothing compared to other stories) and done nothing, and even worse: blame themselves.

I knew that it was never my fault, but the unphased looks on their faces while they continued to "be boys" on the bus while I sat there, terrified, that they would bring it up in front of everyone on the ride home from school everyday for years.. I would not trust these idiots around anyone, no less a little girl, despite knowing that they've "grown up."

You say this hasn't traumatized you but obviously it has to some degree that you feel it necessary to try to keep this girl safe. That said, he might very much remember that moment -- hopefully he feels incredibly shameful and embarrassed about it. Being as he was your brother's friend and had perhaps known you for years, the age factor may have seemed irrelevant to him. Does that make it right? No.

I've thought, even just a few years after my incident, that if I had asked either of them if they'd remembered it -- they would have said no. I would tend to believe them despite how devastating it was for me.

If you're going to tell him, tell him it in its entirety, spare the dramatics. Don't speculate that anything like it will happen again, but that it's something that you needed to get off of your chest. Let him respond to that knowledge on his own. If he's a good brother, he'll at least understand why you told him before the social and not after, regardless of how he handles it.

Best of luck to you.
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:52 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Tell your brother - if he doesn't communicate well, even if he 'hates' you and thinks you are alarmist, tell him what happened in the most bland way you can - "He asked me to sit on his lap. He said it aroused him. Yes, I'm sure it is irrelevant. Have a nice day." Because as rokusan mentioned up thread you plant the seed of worry, let him take it from there.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:56 AM on September 30, 2009

she was 9 and the brother's friend was 15 - and this was 30 years ago

The asker is worried that the friend may still regard young girls inappropriately, but realizes he's now a grown man with children of his own

Having been one of each, I know for sure that there's a world of difference between horny 15-year-old boys and 45-year-old fathers. I'm with Justinian and nanojath on this; I don't think your niece is at risk.
posted by flabdablet at 3:48 AM on September 30, 2009

I don't think your niece is at risk, but you should just tell your brother and the rest of your family about what happened to you regardless. No embellishments, no dramatics, just the story as it is and as you have told us. Don't need to bring your niece into this, but you DESERVE THE RIGHT for the rest of your family to know, especially your brother.

Women should never have to endure sexual harassment in any form, even if it's boys just being boys, in my opinion.

Or on preview, what june made him a gemini said.
posted by moiraine at 3:55 AM on September 30, 2009

Listen to your gut. Do you honestly think this man could be a danger to your niece? If the answer is yes, you have a moral obligation to say something. In the worst case scenario, your brother is angry that you cared enough about his daughter to reveal a painful and embarrassing memory from your childhood at the risk of making an ass of yourself.

If that's the worst he has to be mad at you for, he's damn lucky to have such a sister.

The chorus of "Alarmist!" seems a little harsh to me. You're not asking if you should contact the police or take an ad out in the paper describing this guy as a raging pedophile. You seem to be wondering if you should discreetly mention a disturbing incident from this guy's past to your brother. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me, especially since the stakes are potentially so high.

Your niece's safety is much more important than your brother's and your brother's friend's potential feelings of anger or awkwardness. They will get over it, or they won't--but you will know that you did what you could to protect your niece from someone you believe to be dangerous.
posted by balls at 5:25 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

I also think you should say something. Better safe than sorry - for protecting a child rather than protecting a forty-five year old.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:16 AM on September 30, 2009

Here's the problem- your spidey sense only exists in your head. You have no experience or knowledge of this person as they are now. Those creep alert feelings one gets when they meet someone weird should be trusted, generally. But those feelings are being caused by your memories, not by something in the here and now.

Also, don't let some of the quasi-sexist answers derail you; is this about protecting someone, or is it about relieving yourself of a memory? You have the absolute right to do either, if that's what you choose. But it seems wrong to self-justify relieving yourself of a memory as protection. Figure out what your actual intentions are and proceed from there.

Double also, don't get derailed by the "protecting a 9 year old" versus "protecting a 45 year old" false dichotomy. It implies that your brother is not an issue here; that he has no parenting skills or spidey-sense of his own. Do you trust your brother to be a careful, vigilant parent? Then it probably does no good to say something- chances are he is capable of parenting his children to the extent he doesn't let his daughter go off with a grown man alone.
posted by gjc at 7:03 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

My gut tells me that everything will be fine and the difference between a 15 year old boy and a 45 year old man with a family of his own are huge. Then again, MY gut was never actually party to what happened and yours was.

As many have said before, the details provided are a bit vague.

My questions to the OP would be:
1) Did you regularly interact with this man? As your brother's BFF, was he around you and part of your life for a significant amount of time or did you just meet him once or twice?
2) Did you know him before the incident? Did you see him at all after the incident? If so, what were these interactions like?
3) Did these inappropriate acts happen more than once? If so, regularly?
4) Did he ever verbally act inappropriately outside the context of this incident (the friend later admitted he was aroused by this).

Based on the information we have so far, I would agree with those that say making an issue out of this would be alarmist. However, based on your answers to the questions above, my view may be different.

FWIW - these are just some thoughts that come to mind and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have no real experience in dealing with things like this.
posted by ASM at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2009

Facts cannot be alarmist. You don't need to say, "OMG THAT GUYS PROBABLY A RAPIST!!1!"

Simply say to your brother, "That guy made inappropriate advances towards me when I was 9" and let him deal with that fact however he chooses.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2009

Simply say to your brother, "That guy made inappropriate advances towards me when I was 9" and let him deal with that fact however he chooses.

According to the follow up from the OP, he didn't make any "advances". It seems he had an untoward reaction to her sitting on his lap and then made some kind of joke about it afterward, which she apparently heard about second hand. There's no excuse for it if it is true, but that's all that is verifiable from the information provided. Reflecting on this again after yesterday it seems very much blown out of proportion.

As others have said, trust that your brother cares enough about his own kids to look after them.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2009

You're anonymous so therefore can't reply to questions we might have, yet you are completely and totally vague on the details on this guy "acting weird". What did he do, exactly?

This question has been troubling me a bit and this here nails it. We're talking about something that could potentially destroy someone's life on the one hand or protecting an innocent child from harm on the other. And yet we aren't provided anything like the kind of information necessary to make anything but an ill-informed and knee jerk judgment. I don't think anything good can come from this question except by pure luck and happenstance.
posted by Justinian at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2009

30 years ago, it seems to me it was still within the scope of normal things that a 15 year old boy might tease his friend's little sister about something she was too young to understand: sex. Today, we would see this as sexual harassment, and condemn the behavior, maybe too quickly, maybe not. I am fortunate to not have to concern myself with such things. But I suspect kids aren't as ignorant of sexuality today as they were back then.

As for your brother's friend saying he was aroused: at that age, just about anything pressing against his crotch would have caused arousal, so long as it wasn't threatening. He may well have been weirded out by the experience. Even adult men often have the problem with squirmy little kids in their laps, and getting squicked by it.
posted by Goofyy at 12:38 AM on October 1, 2009

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