How can I help my sister deal with abuse at the hands of our brother?
November 25, 2009 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I recently discovered my brother was sexually abusing my sister and how the hell do I deal with this over Thanksgiving weekend?

I recently found out that my brother was sexually molesting my younger sister from the fifth grade until she was a sophomore in high school. The details became clear when she opened up to me a few weeks ago. Last spring, after he was arrested, I’d been given vague descriptions from my mother (‘he messed with her covers’) and veiled allegations from my sister – (‘I’d like to talk to you abut this, but in person, and not when you are here on vacation, but there are things he did.’) Our family is stoic, repressive and completely ignoring this situation.

I was the primary caregiver from the age of 11 while my mother went back to school until I just flat-out left them all when I turned 16. Yes, I have massive, massive guilt about this.

It came to light when the SWAT team was called on this brother because it was thought at the time that he had his roommate’s girlfriend at gunpoint; he was saying he was going to kill her and then himself. My sister confessed everything to my parents that night because she felt another woman might be in danger. It turned out it wasn’t true, the girlfriend wasn’t even on the premises, he was drunk, and had been drinking a fifth of vodka each night for at least a year. He spent 30 or so days in jail and has been working off his community service/debt/sentence (felony menacing was what he was prosecuted for) since then at part-time jobs and whatever he can get. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to go back to jail and he’s been doing his part to stay clean and comply with his sentence.

This, however, doesn’t explain or erase the harm he did to my sister. She is traumatized and has a very hard time spending any time my parent’s house. My mother completely minimizes her experience and says she’s being ‘difficult’ and ‘dwelling on things.’ I was also was subjected to sexual abuse when I was younger (non-familial) which was ignored, so I understand what my sister is going through and want to help her. Hers is far, far worse since it was at the hands of her brother – he’s three years older than her, she is almost 21. I can’t imagine her pain and I love her so much. We are the only rational people in this family and I have a hard enough time dealing with my own unresolved issues, but I need to help her, she’s beautiful, strong and has an amazing spirit.

The questions are: how can I: 1) help my sister deal with this, 2) convince my parents that what happened was WRONG and 3) make my parents okay with her not staying at their house? Right now they don’t see why she doesn’t want to sleep in the bed her brother molested her in. I asked her to make plans to stay with a friend over this weekend but she is afraid of offending them (she is in college and lives a few towns away). I told her to do it anyway. She’s young and doesn’t understand the benefits of therapy yet, since it was ridiculed as part of our upbringing. If these questions seem rather cold it’s because I am completely out of my depth and have no idea how to approach this holiday weekend where we will all be together.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

You should take your sister away for Thanksgiving. Neither of you should go to your parents' house. Your parents are behaving badly, and you need to put your sister's welfare first, regardless of whether they feel "okay" about it. Your sister needs to have your support at this difficult time and understand that you believe her. You can do that by telling your parents that neither you nor your sister will be spending time with a rapist, and that they can't pretend this didn't happen because you're not going to let them.
posted by decathecting at 7:29 AM on November 25, 2009 [64 favorites]

We are the only rational people in this family and I have a hard enough time dealing with my own unresolved issues, but I need to help her, she’s beautiful, strong and has an amazing spirit.

Take your sister and go elsewhere for Thanksgiving. Spend it with loving friends, or with just the two of you. You need to get her out of that triggering and unhealthy environment. The sad truth is, you might never be able to convince your parents that what happened was wrong. All you can do is protect your sister, and yourself. This is important--and it's what your family failed to do for years.

By the way, it was not your responsibility to protect your sister, or care for your siblings, at eleven. You were a child yourself. Your parents have failed to protect and care for their children in the most basic ways. Really, you guys don't owe them anything. All you can do now, as grown-ups, is take care of one another.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:30 AM on November 25, 2009 [45 favorites]

By the way, I should note that there's nothing you can do to make your parents change their beliefs or make them okay with the situation. But you can help your sister. Do that.
posted by decathecting at 7:30 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was the primary caregiver from the age of 11 while my mother went back to school until I just flat-out left them all when I turned 16. Yes, I have massive, massive guilt about this. ()

One of the ways in which you can help your sister is to realize (if you haven't already) that it was not you who abandoned your family, it was your parents. It's their fault, not yours.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:32 AM on November 25, 2009 [20 favorites]

Oh, my. This is such a sad, sad story. I am so sorry for all of you. The thing about parents is that they don't get a manual when they become parents. They're basically just adult kids, and I think that numbers 2 and 3 will likely take lots of time, some intervention, maybe even family therapy for an expert outside opinion.

I think that you're doing well with number 1: she should not under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES stay with your parents, and even less so in the very place where she was molested. Talk about post-traumatic stress! She should definitely consider therapy, and it's usually free on a university campus. It might take her some time to warm up to the idea, but she'll hopefully try it out. In the meantime, it might be good to get her to go elsewhere for Thanksgiving, maybe to a friend's house. When I was in college, I often brought home friends for Turkey Day who didn't have a place to go or couldn't afford to go home. There's likely even a Thanksgiving dinner at a local church in her hood that she could attend. I'm no expert, but I think that being with the whole family since these events have come to life could wreck her more than she is already.

Thank you for standing by your sister.
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:33 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Your sister needs professional help. Try to get her to a therapist - preferably one who specializes in this area. Try hard. If it can't be done, a book would be better than nothing. Some suggestions.

2 & 3. You can't convince someone to accept a reality they refuse to face. Your parents will blame you if become too confrontational about it. Wish I had more encouragement to offer you on that score.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:40 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't even bother with your parents. Help your sister, and don't waste energy right now (if ever) on them. You can't make them feel or do anything, which is something she (and you) can work through in therapy. They can come to the two of you when they are ready to take this seriously and respect her situation and her boundaries.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:42 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dude. I'm so sorry. I'm assuming you want the secular translation of what I recommend.

Stop and reflect on your feelings and thoughts. Understand your fears, hopes, guilt, etc. enough to be aware of how they might color your efforts to help. Often we try to "help" with the motivation of alleviating our own guilt, avoiding conflict, etc. without a clear understanding of who we're really trying to "help" adn what they really need.

Do what you can to create safe space for your sister. This mostly involves listening. This may involve standing up for her at the expense of immediate relations with your other family members.

Do not entertain the idea of "fixing" this over the holiday weekend. Just Be There.

Find an Al-anon meeting (for family members of addicts and others with severe dysfunction) and start going at your nearest opportunity. They meet over the holidays and I bet you can find one wherever you are. You need to start with your role in the family system and avoid co-dependent types of behavior that exacerbate/enable dysfunctional behavior.

Encourage your sister to seek help from a professional and find a support group of people who know what she's going through.

Be patient and gentle with everybody involved. Address behavior but love the people. Nobody starts out their lives seeking to be that dysfunctional and screwed up. Something went horribly wrong over the years and nobody has all the information and tools they need to handle it.

The writing of Pema Chodron comes to mind. Start with titles like When Things Fall Apart, and The Places That Scare You.

Sending healing thoughts your way. (translation: praying for you and your family.)
posted by cross_impact at 7:48 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

You will probably not be able to do anything about 2 or 3, at least not in time for this Thanksgiving. A close friend was also molested by her older brother, over a period of years, and it took her parents years and years to really come to grips with it.

If you live near her, perhaps suggest that you both go into therapy together - there are groups for sexual abuse survivors, and she may be more open to it (and less scared of going, because confronting feelings about what happened is scary) if you go with her. It can help you too, of course.

And nthing everyone else that if at all possible, you and your sister go elsewhere for Thanksgiving. Turn off your phones, don't check your email, and just let her spend time with someone (you) who doesn't minimize or deny what she's been through. If that's really not possible, then at least spring for a hotel room for the two of you so you don't have to stay at the house. Good luck to you both.
posted by rtha at 7:55 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should take your sister away for Thanksgiving. Neither of you should go to your parents' house. Your parents are behaving badly, and you need to put your sister's welfare first, regardless of whether they feel "okay" about it.

Yeah, I agree.
posted by delmoi at 7:57 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

i am so sorry you and your sister must deal with this.

i would like to favorite PhoBWanKenobi about a million times, but i can't so i am just linking to it here.

he is incredibly was not your responsibility and not your fault that any of this happened.

if you are able to call a crisis line, usually found in the front of the phone book, or googling crisis line and your city/state, you could talk with a person who might be able to help you with some of this and recommend resources for you and your sister.

if nothing else, be thankful that right now, right here, you are helping your sister by getting her away from people who are damaged. just being with you, someone who supports her and believes her and empathizes with her, will mean a great deal for her.
posted by sio42 at 8:05 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

First and foremost you are a very strong person for all you have done thus far. Don't feel guilty for leaving when you did. It is not your fault what happened to your sister. It is your fucking worthless younger brother's fault and your parents' for turning a blind eye. All that is important is you are providing support now. You are more than likely her only stable family member.

As for your questions:

The questions are: how can I: 1) help my sister deal with this,

Personally you are not trained to handle this. More often than not family will only enable another family member and not attack the root of the problem. I would encourage her to talk to someone about this. Even if it is a support hotline where no names are exchanged. I did some quick googlefu and found this

2) convince my parents that what happened was WRONG

It is hard for any parent to admit that one of their children is a molesting POS. They love both children equally and will normally try and help the most screwed up one first. They are in some type of defensive denial right now. I honestly do not know what to say here.

3) make my parents okay with her not staying at their house? Right now they don’t see why she doesn’t want to sleep in the bed her brother molested her in.

At this point screw them. If going over your parents' house is going to cause anxiety then skip it.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:11 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I am seconding and thanking PhoBWanKenobi. When we are young, when we are children, it is NOT our responsibility to be adults. I know the guilt you feel. I know how hard it is to let go of said guilt; I still struggle with this 10 years later.

Know that you did all you could as a child, more than you should have had to. You did not abandon anyone, you preserved yourself so that you could be here today and continue doing the best you can for your sister.

The two of you should spend Thanksgiving (and heck, all of your family holidays) together, doing something that doesn't involve your family.
posted by MuChao at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Focus on the things that are withing your power to change: Give your sister an enjoyable holiday by providing her a safe and comfortable environment in the company of loving and support people.

Let go of the things you cannot change: You absolutely will not change your parents' attitudes about this. Trying will only lead to more heartache and rancor.

When you inform your parents of your plans (and those of your sister - this is where you step up and make the phone call on her behalf), explain simply that you're not coming and why (your sister is not comfortable being there). Don't negotiate, don't ask for their acceptance or understanding. All they have to do is acknowledge it.

You, your sister, and your entire family are in my prayers.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:25 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

You and your sister do not 'have' to do anything. You do not have to go to your parent's for Thanksgiving. I would guess that your sister feeling she has to go would keep perpetuating her feelings of powerlessness (just a guess, not a therapist). In a way, the family abuse is continuing with the lack of support from your parents.

I think the idea of going away with her, or letting her choose what she wants to do, and supporting her in that, would be fabulous. What a great idea. It would show her that she has a choice, and her choices are valid.

Also, maybe you can go to therapy with her. It is a family trauma you went through, and healing together would support her and help you at the same time.

Have a great holiday, both of you!
posted by Vaike at 8:42 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your parents apparently cannot acknowledge that you and your sister were hurt severely, that your brother was the person who hurt your sister, and that they- as your parents- failed to protect you. If this continues you might want to consider cutting your parents out of your life completely, as continued connection with people who care so little about you can exacerbate your problems.

I spent twenty years trying to forgive my father and finally realized that there was no point in forgiving someone who didn't think he had done anything wrong. I have not spoken to him in 22 years.
posted by mareli at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

You don't realize how strong you are. You have built defense and coping mechanisms that have got you this far, far enough to see this situation so clearly, to write this AskMe, to request help, and to be able to look out for others. I just think that's worth noting, if you haven't acknowledged it yet. Let it be a source of strength.

Let this Thanksgiving be the start of a new tradition of disengagement with your parents. You and your sister will go do something else, and it'll be the strengthening of the bond of trust between you two. You both have been through some really traumatic shit.

After the holiday, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to help her...finding her a therapist, talking through past and future interactions with the parents, discussing independence skills (which you have and shouldn't feel one bit bad about), and just continuing to be her ally – the one person on the planet who truly gets the chaos of it all. You're the best person for this, and all you have to do is keep being you, and keep being there. I wish you both the best, and Happy Thanksgiving.

One last thing, it's ok to say something like "We're not coming to Thanksgiving tomorrow because we don't feel comfortable and we're not willing to discuss right now." End of story.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:08 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Safety first. I'm concerned here b/c your brother has a violent history and is now out of jail. Do whatever you think it is that will reduce the likelihood of him physically harming your sister.

Re Thanksgiving. If you think it would be safe and most healthy for your sister, then invite her to your house instead and do it up big for Thanksgiving. Maybe invite some of her friends from college to come, too, if their parents live too far away or whatever for them to go back. Maybe invite friends of yours. You're both old enough to do your own thing for T-Day and I wouldn't ask someone to be anywhere near the site of previous abuse, especially for a holiday when we're supposed to feel safe and secure.

If you think you have to go along with things to whatever extent needed to avoid someone getting physically hurt, do that for now. Your secondary concern should be your sister's psychological welfare. Anything else (i.e. your parents' feelings) is so minorly important by comparison as to be irrelevant. You should be calling a hotline for victims of abuse for their recommendations, as well as a psych who specializes in this kind of thing. Decide with your sister, when she's in a safe place and hopefully a good frame of mind, whether reporting this to the police would be best for your sister.

Also, don't feel bad. You did your best. From a practical standpoint, feeling bad won't help your sister. Smoothing things over re Thanksgiving won't, either, unless it's in the interest of keeping your sister safe, physically and/or mentally.
posted by lorrer at 9:13 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll be the odd man out here and give some different advice. I do not believe that you and your sister should go elsewhere for the holiday. For one thing...this is "new-news" to you but "old-news" to your sister. Oddly enough your sister may very well want to have Thanksgiving as she always has in familiar surroundings. Even though this news is very devastating and quite possibly the worst thing you have ever heard in your entire life...your sister is operating and has always operated as "business as usual". You may not want to take that away from her right now. Let her tell you what she wants. If she would like you to suffer through a Thanksgiving at your Mother's it. It is a small sacrifice when you consider what she has endured.

I come from a family where there was incest. It was unspeakably damaging to EVERYONE in my family. Even the ones who were not molested. However, (I know this will be difficult for you to understand)..I love those people very much. Even the molester. I hate what he did...but I do not hate him. When you are in the throes of something this major it is next to impossible to gain the perspective you need. Again, it is your sister who should tell you exactly how she would like you to support her. I can assure you there is zero you can do to get your Mother to apologize. It won't happen. Many many many people are in your sister's boat. No one will talk about it...but there are legions of people who have been sexually abused by family members. Your sister can and will overcome this personal hardship. She can soar. Don't make it your drama. It's her her, but don't drink the poison of resentment and hope for all the others to die.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:14 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) has a 24 hour crisis line number you and your family can call: 1 800 656 HOPE. They also have an online hotline. Survivors of abuse, family members of survivors and friends are encouraged to call/use the online hotline. All contact is held in strict confidentiality. By calling you will find a wealth of legal, medical and referral information as well as kind, knowledgeable people who can help you process what has happened to you and to your family. Please pass this information on to your sister and mother as well. Please know that you are not alone in dealing with this, and that there are people who can help you. The best of luck to you.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:15 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oddly enough your sister may very well want to have Thanksgiving as she always has in familiar surroundings.

The OP said that the sister didn't want to spend time at the parents' house. Of course it's her choice, but if she's made the choice not to go there, the OP's joining her for an alternative Thanksgiving celebration would be immensely supportive and loving.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

The best things you can do for someone who has been through this, as you may already know being a survivor yourself, is to 1) believe her- and do not diminish how important this is and how much you are already doing for your sister with this act, especially given your parents' reaction(s) and 2) let her be in control of her situation. With regard to the second point, it's clear that staying at home will not be a place where she is in control or feels safe. I would encourage her to stay with friends, or better yet, for both of you to stay together in a hotel if money allows. Do not let her stay by herself- the last thing she needs is to feel ostracized because of what has happened to her.

I would definitely suggest therapy, but also note that people come to it in their own time, and it will have to be with a therapist she is comfortable with and when she is at a point she can deal with it. If possible, go with her to some sessions, but I'd also recommend it for you individually as well. This has to be a triggering situation, and even if that didn't exist, it would be a REALLY difficult situation for anyone to deal with, survivor or not.

With regard to your parents, you cannot force them to deal with the reality of the situation, but you can refuse to enable their denial. If they make dismissing comments, please don't let those go- but neither do you have to engage fully. Just say enough not to endorse with silence. If your mom says, "It wasn't a big deal," you can say, "I disagree" or "That's not my feeling on the matter" and then drop it. I'd push back just enough that your position is clear, your sister (if she is present in the house) feels supported, and you don't feel enormously guilty, but I wouldn't start a fight over it. It's pointless at this time, and will only lead to a heated situation which will make both you and your sister feel vulnerable and potentially unsafe, as one of the scariest things for your sister would be the idea of more violence and less control.

As for making your parents "feel" okay about your sister not staying at their house, don't worry about this. It is not your responsibility to make them feel better, nor can you control their feelings. You and your sister are adults and able to make your own decisions, which do not need to be justified to your parents. Simply say, "She has to do what works for her right now" and do not offer any further explanation. Hell, your parents don't even need to know WHERE she is staying, just that it's her choice, and it is how it is. Let them have their own reactions to it- which are not your responsibility- and make sure your sister does not cave in. As a side note, having her NOT stay there is upsetting to your parents because it will force them to, in some way, acknowledge that things are not okay, which they are clearly unwilling to do. They'd like the whole family under the house so they can pretend all is well. But again, that's THEIR problem and not yours. Additionally, if your sister does stay there, I would not be surprised if they used it against her later, saying, "Well, she was okay to be here at Thanksgiving or around her brother then."

I hope you can recognize what a resource you already have been for your sister, and how much you have already done to help her just by listening and supporting her. These are no small feats, especially given your family history, and it sounds as though you need to give yourself credit for all the things you have already done rather than blaming yourself and holding yourself accountable for things that were not your responsibility (and completely beyond your control). You did the best you could at the time, you did what was best for you when you left, and now you're doing the best you can for both you and your sister because you're an adult, and capable of doing more in many senses. Letting yourself believe all of these things will make you a stronger person who is able to keep helping others as well as yourself.

As an ending, no matter how this week goes, tell yourself and your sister that it'll end eventually and until then, you'll get through it together.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:19 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

you need to understand that she still wants to be the "good girl" for them and not upset and hurt them, regardless of how their denial hurts. She believes they will eventually see sense and ride to her rescue in an emotional sense and then everything will be OK. They will wake up one day, feel awful about how they didn't respond to her needs, protect her as they should have and there will be a tearful re-union coupled with a total rejection of the one sibling who hurt her so badly. She may even reject any suggestion of not going to them out of some sense of this.

If they even remotely let the pain of their failure in, it will crack them wide-open, so it is almost certain they will continue like this to their graves.

It really will take a therapist to help her deal with the reality, it's not going to happen the way she imagines in her head it's going to happen. This is as devastating, if not more so, in my opinion, than the original abuse because they should have protected her. That;s what parents do right.

All you can do as others have said is be there for her. DO NOT attempt to get her to understand they won't eventually see her pain and ride to the rescue. Let the professionals do that.

Let her play out the fantasy in her head that they will come round as long as she is the "good girl" until someone helps her see this for what it is. This is so incredibly painful a realisation, it takes a very long time.
Believe me, I know.
A huge hug to you, you're simply wonderful. Don't neglect your own healing and underestimate what this is doing to you. And you know what, you did ride to the rescue.
posted by Wilder at 9:21 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm going to preface what I'm about to say with this: Keep everything I'm about to say in perspective. Not all of this may be true to your situation, not all of this may make sense, not all of this may work for you. Nor am I judging anyone involved. Take what works and leave the rest.

I agree with everyone above who suggested that you and your sister not stay in the house for Thanksgiving. However, I can see how your sister may not want to "rock the boat" any more than she already has. Don't get me wrong...I can see how she did the right thing, you can see it, everyone reading this can probably see it, but she may very well have an inner voice telling her "there was no family drama until you opened your mouth...see what you caused?" That's not reality, but if she's thinking that in her mind it IS reality to her right now, so you have to take that into account. Don't take offense to what I just said...there are a million thoughts and feelings tangled up in this situation and victims often feel an urge to "take everything back" and undo everything about their confession. It's hard stuff. She's probably feeling her own sense of guilt right now. may have to compromise with her. If she absolutely MUST see the family for Thanksgiving, go for a visit but do not spend the night. Set an arrival and departure time, and arrange for a "quick escape" if she feels uncomfortable or things get bad (in other words, don't run to the store and leave her there without a way to get out. Take her to the store with you).

Sadly, you won't be able to convince your parents that what happened was wrong anytime soon. Don't even waste your energy with words (actions provide a good wake up call though...see above). Whether they admit it or not they are probably feeling their own version of guilt and shame, and they are in denial so they don't have to face those feelings. Hence the reason why they want to have a "happy, normal family Thanksgiving"...they don't want to face reality. So, in your own mind to calm yourself down, tell yourself "OK...I'm not going to force them to face that reality" (that stuff will come later). and your sister need to set boundaries for this holiday (see above) and they WILL have to face THAT reality. If they start in as to why sister doesn't want to spend time at the house, the answer needs to be clearly thought out and repeated ad nauseum. Something like "She doesn't feel safe here because of what brother did to her. We can stay for 3 hours but then we are leaving." Practice this answer with your sister so she can enforce the boundary as well. Don't get drawn into an argument about whether or not it was true. Just set the boundary and enforce it. Therapy and everything else is for figuring it all out later on. Right now you need to focus on what to do to make it through the next few days, and that literally means thinking one. step. at. a. time. Tell your parents if they want to discuss the details you'd be glad to set up time with a counselor to help mediate that discussion. But don't worry about that part over Thanksgiving.

As for you, definitely go find an Al Anon group. Speaking from experience, they definitely meet on the holidays because that's when the members need the most support in setting boundaries with their addicted loved ones. You don't have to tell your full don't really have to talk at all (if they ask, you can just say "a history of abuse was recently revealed in my family, and I'm dealing with some guilt and need to figure out how to set boundaries). Just listen. They will talk about boundaries and how to keep themselves from being sucked into their loved one's "stuff"....doesn't matter what the stuff is, you need to hear the boundary part of the discussion.

I recommend therapy for both you and your sister. If she's not willing to seek it out herself, make your own appointment and see if she would come with you. I would do the first appointment or two on your own, then talk to the counselor about bringing sister in. Make the focus about YOU talking to YOUR counselor about YOUR feelings. Once she sees that therapy is not as far out there as she things (and can actually SEE you participating in it and not turning into an alien or whatever) she might feel safe enough to go on her own. But if the counselor knows the back story and is a good counselor (use your gut instinct here), then he/she will know how to approach your sister appropriately.

Another random thought: If brother is going to be at Thanksgiving dinner (or whatever), he should not sit right next to your sister (so he can't "brush" against her..whether he means to or not) and he shouldn't sit directly across from her at the table (so he can't make direct eye contact). Either of those situations would put him in a perceived position of power over her (think about how you don't want creepy people sitting next to you or staring at you). I don't know the current dynamics of their relationship...he may be appropriately remorseful or he may be acting out spectacularly. But it's something to just keep an eye on. If you feel he's doing some sort of power play, do something to intervene, even if it's just changing where you sit.

Sorry this is so long...I'll stop now. Just take it one step at a time.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:24 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

thank you Sidhedevil, I did miss seeing that the sister isn't crazy about staying at the family house. I retract some of my advice...however, cutting ties "completely" with this house and the Mother is possibly more than is necessary. Unless the brother is menacing and coming around to do harm (and OP states he is currently not)...then a dramatic break from all that the house represents MAY not be necessary. Again, this is the sister's story and it is hers to write. It is doubtful that she wants to completely cut least until she gets through college. She may be dependent on her old home until she is self sufficient. I vote that the OP provide anything sister wants...and that includes a conservative approach. People tend to think molestation is so damaging that drastic measures must be taken. The damage has already occurred and life must go on. Sister should only cut ties in a dramatic fashion if she is in personal danger. If it is her desire to cut ties--that is different. She would be well within her rights to do so. Sister holds the key here--to direct her next moves. Sibling should support but not direct.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:30 AM on November 25, 2009

I come from a similar situation, but with violence, rather than sexual abuse, and with a family that still refuses to even acknowledge with the events or the emotional toll this has taken on all of us. Spending a holiday in the place where the events happened, pretending to be all jolly is excrutiating, I know.

One thing I realised through therapy is that I can't 'make' my parents realise a situation and change, all I can do is mitigate the circumstances and take care of myself and my feelings. With my parents they deny the situation because it's easier than admitting to themselves what a grievous fuck-up they made.

I made my own set of rules - for example I visit for the day but will not stay the night. When I'm not with my family I don't celebrate the holiday and it's very freeing (after everything that's happened it's a complete farce, anyway).

I nth getting away by yourselves, and if you can't then at the very least make a hotel reservation for her so she doesn't have to stay that night and can get away to a safe space at the end of the evening.

Also, please don't blame yourself for this, you were the child not the parent and your actual parents should have taken responsibility for what was happening.

Congratulations on being such a caring person - I hope you and your sister thrive by taking advantage of the support groups mentioned and/or therapy.
posted by poissonrouge at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2009

I have nothing to add to all the good advice in this thread, but I did want to at least say that my thoughts and prayers and love are with you both.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:52 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

#2 is probably never going to happen. There's a history of sexual abuse in my own family and the only way that it's been dealt with is by cutting off contact with the abuser. While vague apologies have been made, a lot more accusations towards the abused party have also been made that she's "exaggerating" and needs to "get over it." No one wants to think that their [insert family member here] is a horrible person, so there's a natural amount of disconnect when you find out that [family member here] was the perpetrator of abuse.

I don't know what to tell you - in my family's experience, it was not resolved "happily." The parties involved don't speak and haven't for about fifteen years. It's the only way that the abused relative could feel comfortable.

Get your sister out of that house. And don't concern yourself with what your parents think of it. Don't do anything to antagonize them, certainly, but if they have issues with your taking care of your sister that's their problem - not yours. Beyond that - play it by ear. I know that you want to, but this isn't a situation that can be fixed. All you can do is not make it worse at this point.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:04 AM on November 25, 2009

You're probably resistant to the good advice given above regarding staying away from your parent's house (this being Thanksgiving and all). I mean, family dinners are an important holiday tradition, and we don't want to add to the pain and suffering do we?

However, please stop for a minute and understand this:

What has happened is an insane tragedy and your parents will be well served by the absence of you and your sister. It will make a "normal" Thanksgiving--full of denial--impossible for them.

You, yes YOU, Anonymous, are being asked to stand up straight and demonstrate the backbone which has been criminally lacking in your family for many years.

posted by General Tonic at 10:16 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

1) help my sister deal with this, 2) convince my parents that what happened was WRONG and 3) make my parents okay with her not staying at their house

Guilt. At 16, you had to get out, and you are not in any way responsible for bad actions committed by another person. You are not the parent.

1. Your sister needs therapy, love, acceptance, safety. There are family violence advocacy groups in every state. Find them and get help for her.
2. You can't convince them, but you can invite them to therapy, later in the therapeutic process.
3. Their acceptance, or lack of, in not important.

You don't say where the perpetrator/brother is living. Your sister should not have to see him. She should at least consider the fact that reporting him for abuse is one of her options.

Your sister should choose where and how to spend the day, and if someone is uncomfortable with her choice, that's not her problem.

She is lucky to have you. Good luck to you both.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I was sexually abused by a family member for years. I told my mother and other adults around me what was going on and the unified response was, "that is not a nice thing to say about somebody." Nobody in my family acknowledges, to this day, what happened to me. The person who assaulted me is in jail for victimizing someone else.

I finally started taking better care of my emotions two years ago. I wish I had done it sooner.

The program I attend is called Trauma Resolution and Integration, and I was referred there by my university because that psychology center is only set up for short term care. TRIP is a year long program that clients can repeat as many times as needed. We use Dialectical Behavior Therapy and it has been so helpful to me. There is a group meeting once a week (we don't go into the details of our traumas, they run the gamut) and I have an individual appointment with my own therapist once a week. Some weeks I see her more often.

Your sister has a lot of needs, and sometimes those needs will appear to conflict. You can do a lot to help her, but there is a lot that you cannot do.

If you want to send me a me-mail, or use a throwaway email address to email me, feel free. I'd be willing to ask my therapist if there is a similar trauma program near your sister.

And if your sister wants to email a fellow survivor, feel free to pass my info along to her. I go back and forth between being selfishly glad that other people have been through this and, well, now I'm crying because I know exactly the pain your sister feels. It is a squirmy mix of shame, anger, fear, pride at getting out, disappointment, jealousy of people with normal lives, or stronger support systems for coping, and about 1000 other emotions all at once.

Please make sure your sister knows that it is absolutely ok to skip the holidays, or to surround herself with you and others who understand and acknowledge her.

As for me, I'm spending tomorrow on the beach with a fabulous group of friends. Some of them know exactly what happened, and some I've only told that my childhood sucked and I don't speak to my parents.

If you're comfortable showing your sister this question, I think it might be helpful for her. It would have been a boon to 21 year old me.
posted by bilabial at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

I agree with most of the advice given. Give your sister some relief by giving her an option not to be with your family over Thanksgiving. You are providing her with a way out.

2nd. Find a meeting of Survivors of Incest Anonymous. Meetings are held everywhere and a lot of people in these meetings have dealt with very similar stuff. Including how to deal with families over the holidays.

3rd. You have stood up. The minute you found out about this you didn't go into denial, you didn't cut your sister out. You asked, "How can I help?" That is more than most siblings or parents ever do. I will second that she is very lucky to have you.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving and tell your sister, she is not alone.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:31 AM on November 25, 2009

in my family, i am your sister and i have 2 older brothers, one who molested me.

is there anyway you can set up a dummy email account and have the mods update the thread? or memail me (i'll keep your identity to myself). there is a lot i have to say and none of it is something i want to say in a searchable forum.
posted by nadawi at 12:46 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

nadawi (and others), you can email one of the mods (usually jessamyn) and ask her to post an anonymous comment in this thread for you.

OP, I only have experience in my family with your point two (how do I make my parents understand). In a family of sisters, there's some who are more affected by the issues of the past than others, and it has been really useful for those sisters who *are* affected to band together and present a united front on the issue.

Basically, if you do choose to engage your parents and brother on Thanksgiving, make sure that you and your sister are united in your actions to either refuse to discuss the issue, force a discussion of the issue, or whatever you two decide to do. By deciding to confront the issue together and coming from a similar if not identical background, you will lend a very needed shoulder of support to your sister as well as presenting a harder-to-ignore presentation of the tragedy (and that's the best way I have to describe such an event).

Even then, you may not convince your parents that what occurred was 'wrong' (and indeed, it's very likely that your parents will continue to deny that anything happened), but at the least you will provide support to your sister and relieve her of some of the burden she has been struggling with as the holder of such a secret.
posted by librarylis at 3:58 PM on November 25, 2009

librarylis - the specifics of my situation are immediately obvious to any of my family members (about 100 strong and about 1/3 totally nerdy, so some probably mefites). thanks for the suggestion, though.
posted by nadawi at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2009

1) help my sister deal with this,

By being there and encouraging her to at some point get professional help.

By getting professional help yourself.

2) convince my parents that what happened was WRONG

You're fighting a losing battle here. You need your energy for yourself and some for your sister. Put your parents on the back burner as a problem to deal with later.

3) make my parents okay with her not staying at their house?

I am completely out of my depth and have no idea how to approach this holiday weekend where we will all be together.

Visiting your parents is not a good idea. It is not healthy. It stresses both you out. It it counterproductive to you and your sisters happiness. Several people I know have been in therapy for child abuse and almost to a letter they had this same dilemma, how to deal with parents or their abusers when coming home around the holidays. Every single one of their therapists gently nudged them to the idea that they don't have to go home if it's not safe, if the environment is hostile or non-conducive to their sense of well being.

You don't have to go home. You don't have to do this. If your family is holding something over your head, such as paying for college, paying for your car, whatever, you can survive without those things. Yes, it will be harder in the short term, but your sense of being and safety, along with your sanity will be greatly improved.

You and your sister are in the same waters, but different boats. Perhaps you two should talk about getting in the same boat (moving closer together or some such) so you two can lean on each other in difficult times.

Good luck. Get some therapy and encourage your sister to do so. It's hard at times, but you can move past all this shit and have a happy life. It takes work but it can be done, I've seen it happen and you and your sister sister to be free of these demons. Best of of luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:42 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brandon Blatcher is right. Nobody pays for my car, my education, rent, whatever except me.

Sometimes, money is too expensive.

Yes, being poor really sucks (trust me, I'm barely able to afford a subsidized monthly bus pass), but dealing with a family who cannot acknowledge the fucked-upness of my childhood was a pursuit I gave up at 16.

The reason I don't speak to my mother is not that she tried to kill me. It's not her unexplained absences lastings weeks. It's not the lack of food in our home. It's not her violent boyfriend. It's not the name calling or any of the psychological abuse.

I don't speak to my mother because when I told her I was being raped, she did nothing.

Fuck convincing your family of anything.

I have enough days where I can't convince myself to get out of bed, I'll be damned if I'm gonna spend my energy trying to get blood from a turnip.

Nadawi, I totally respect you for keeping your stuff off the radar. I hope the OP is able to contact you. As far as my family is concerned, I don't expect any of them have even heard of metafilter. But hey, family, if you're reading this, don't track me down to tell me I've disgraced the family name by speaking up about this ugliness. You can't scare me any more deeply than you already have.
posted by bilabial at 5:53 PM on November 25, 2009 [11 favorites]

I saw this post today and immediately thought of this thread, even though it's too late for Thanksgiving: An Adult Child Abuse Survivor's Guide to the Holidays.
posted by rhapsodie at 6:12 PM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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