So... your husband. Not a child molester, by any chance?
October 5, 2010 5:26 PM   Subscribe

There is a very small, but still nonzero, chance that my brother-in-law might be a pedophile. I have a toddler daughter who is very close to her aunt. How can I tactfully gather more information about this, and how should I handle it with my family?

My younger sister, mid-twenties, has been married for about a year to a guy I'll call Pete. They were semi-long-distance until the wedding and he's a very quiet guy, so nobody knows him all that well. Since then, it's emerged that he has some emotional and character issues (nothing at all DSM-V-worthy-- mainly, weird clinginess; being emotionally manipulative; frequent bouts of weeping; staying up until all hours surfing the 'net for god-knows-what and sleeping in until noon every day; constantly quarrelling with my sister and being very inflexible about having things his own way). But their problems are their business, he's always been nice enough to us, and since they're both young everyone has just hoped they'll work it out.

Recently, a piece of somewhat disturbing hearsay drifted my way. Pete's parents divorced when he was eleven, and his dad went on to marry and have a daughter with another woman. My dad mentioned that Pete's mom had told him at some point that when Pete was 16, his dad's wife had basically kicked him out of her house because of an unspecified event involving Pete and her (then ~5-year-old) daughter. As a result of that event, the stepmom also forbade him to come near her daughter ever again.

Now, there are a host of perfectly innocuous explanations for this, including: crazy stepmom, overreaction to an accident, or simple misinformation. But there's also at least one possible explanation that would mean my daughter should never ever be alone around my brother-in-law. I have zero wish to get all hysterical and To Catch a Predator-y about this, and I'm certainly not losing any sleep, but my sister's already talking about getting a toddler bed for sleepovers, so I do need to figure out at some point whether those-- and various other extended unsupervised aunt-niece activities-- are OK.

My dad says he's "sure" Pete is fine, but can't really give any firm reasons for that judgment except that Pete doesn't seem like a "weirdo" to him. I know that my sister would be deeply offended if I ever asked her directly about this, and while I'd like just to call the stepmom up and ask her what happened, I worry that Pete might somehow hear about the inquiry and be angry.

My question is: what, if any, steps are open to me to get more information on this, or, in the absence of information, to safeguard my daughter? Is there anyone I can ask without completely destroying family harmony, and if so, how can I best frame that approach? And I'm guessing any neutral-but-direct approach ("Hey Pete, I totally don't think you would do this, but you should know that if anybody ever tries anything to harm my daughter I will personally pin him down and cut his balls off") would be unlikely to be productive? Is there any empirical way to gain information on somebody's sexual proclivities?

Please no replies along the lines of "whatevs, don't worry". I know we'd all like to chalk it up to media hysteria and overreaction, but this stuff does happen pretty frequently, and I think I have a duty of due diligence to lower the odds of it happening to my daughter. Ideal outcome of this, for me, would be that I find out that what happened was that Pete just smacked his half-sister or broke her doll or something, and then I can relax and move on.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How did you come upon this information? Do they know you know? Does your sister even know about this?

I think you just need to come out with it that you know about this? But to your sister.

If it was me... I'd run a background check on this and see if there's anything else to know. But that's me.
posted by mittenbex at 5:30 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know of any other way to deal with this except contact the stepmother. She's the only one who can tell you whether or not you should be worried. It's your responsibility to keep your daughter safe, and this very unpleasant conversation is the only way to do so.
posted by raisingsand at 5:31 PM on October 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

It sounds like the only people who know what happened are Pete, the stepmom, her daughter, and probably Pete's dad. Without asking at least one of them I don't see how you can know what happened.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:31 PM on October 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

This isn't going to go away. I'd bite the bullet and bring it up with sis. Yes, there may be drama, but if he's innocent, that can blow over in time. If he isn't innocent and something happens, that drama could really destroy harmony.
posted by nomadicink at 5:34 PM on October 5, 2010

there will be a lot of good advice on how to handle it, but i want to congratulate you for keeping your ears and eyes open.

as to this: My dad says he's "sure" Pete is fine, but can't really give any firm reasons for that judgment except that Pete doesn't seem like a "weirdo" to him. - i think most people would be surprised at who the pedophiles in my family are. the reason that people known to the family get away with abusing kids for so long is that they don't seem weird. they seem perfectly safe and friendly usually.

personally, i'd have the female parent (is that you? your wife? unclear at who is asking the question) call the step mom and take her out for coffee and figure out what's up. i'd probably mention to the sister that i'm doing this. feelings are going to be hurt and your child is going to be more protected for it.

my family is in generation (at least) 4 of protecting child molesters because no one wants to cause a scene.
posted by nadawi at 5:35 PM on October 5, 2010 [36 favorites]

Fucking creepy uncles.

This is a tough one. But since he's already shown himself to be sort of a nutcase, regardless of the stepsister situation, there's nothing wrong with you holding off on sleepovers for a LONG time. Not because of HIM, but because of YOU. You've got every right to have your daughter not attend auntly sleepovers for quite a few years. Cause you're, you know, crazy and overprotective like that. That should be less disruptive to family harmony. And if your sister doesn't like this, you can a: blame it on the weeping arguments and b: tell her to have her own baby.

Good luck with this.
posted by cyndigo at 5:37 PM on October 5, 2010 [15 favorites]

also - his mom spoke to your dad and maligned her son based on something the step-mother said? i'm guessing this is a small town? everybody knows everybody? if so - could you talk to any of his exgirlfriends?
posted by nadawi at 5:42 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Find a way to talk to the stepmother.
posted by OmieWise at 5:47 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

as a parent, you have every right to demur in the face of sleepovers with anybody. you have every right and in fact it is your duty to manage your daughter's contacts and friendships. you can certainly, and probably should, do some sussing out of your own a la nadawi and the first three posters. and to your sister? see if you can plan some kind of super-fun outings with her and your daughter, but no sleepovers until you feel that any kind of threat has passed. no need to spell that out to her, though.

5 years old is still very little. in my community of parents, it is rare that a 5 year old has slept over with anyone except Grandma and Grandpa at this age. vigilance is so appropriate otherwise. go with your gut.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 5:52 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

What cyndigo said, you don't have to let her sleep over. I am pretty permissive and my 20 month old son has slept at my parents' house a few times, but that is my limit. This will not change, and growing up, I myself only slept at aunt's and uncle's places very, very rarely even though our families were close. My advice would be to frame it as another issue, either "she's not ready", or "we're not ready", or what have you. You're under no obligation to either let your daughter sleep anywhere else, or be told that it's normal and pressured into doing so. I think that it will take years for her to really be ready for sleepovers, and in those years you can get a more accurate gauge on the kind of person your BIL is.
posted by kpht at 5:52 PM on October 5, 2010

You've got to talk with the stepmom and get the truth straight from the horse's mouth (as it were). I don't see any way around that, and the rumor mill is no place to get your life-affecting decision information. Especially when it concerns the character of a family member.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 5:52 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Toddlers are too little for sleepovers, and there is no reason for a sleep over - So that's where I would leave that. Frankly there is no way we would let our toddler (We have one, and and another soon to be) out of out sight for a second - they are too young. So nip it in the bud and tell sister that a sleep over just isn't going to happen.

Regards the other issue - be very careful. Accusations of pedophilia stick like mud - and you only have hearsay to go on. if you do interview the mother in law - then be careful on how you frame the questions - don't "lead" her. Listen to what she says - and why weren't charges pressed? That's a big one for me - for someone to accuse someone of pedophilia - and NOT get the authorities involved is weird.

Also - I think you could help out by articulating how the information drifted your way. Perhaps it was someone with an axe to grind ?

I do understand your concern.
posted by the noob at 6:03 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take the dissenting voice against "toddlers are too little for sleepovers." Maybe in some families/cultures that's true, but not in mine. My kids stayed at my parents' house for a couple days at a time when they were toddlers, and used to spend a week at their house every summer (they're too busy with music and sports now to do that). My cousin sends her daughter to her mom's house every Friday (they live a mile apart and actually, all my cousins do this with my aunts). I had/have the utmost confidence in my parents. So it's not unreasonable (to me, my family, and all my friends who have kids) that your sister is making noises for your daughter to sleep over.

That said, it's your job to keep your daughter safe. Talk to Pete's step-mom or dad. Really.
posted by cooker girl at 6:10 PM on October 5, 2010

for someone to accuse someone of pedophilia - and NOT get the authorities involved is weird.

This is, in my experience, kind of the norm when families are dealing with "inappropriate" behavior. It can be very unfortunate, but for a variety of reasons the authorities are often not involved.

I'm not sure I would know how to talk with the stepmom in this case, particularly if I didn't already know her I would just avoid unsupervised time and keep a watchful eye.
posted by jeoc at 6:11 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

- and why weren't charges pressed? That's a big one for me - for someone to accuse someone of pedophilia - and NOT get the authorities involved is weird.

that's a discussion for another thread. have you ever had to go through the process of actually pressing charges for pedophilia, rape, etc? have you ever dealt with the "authorities"? the process is expensive, humiliating, consuming. maybe it was just a shade of a problem, not enough for the courts to take seriously. maybe the family dynamic is such, like nadawi describes, that the dominant culture hides these things. that, to me, is not the biggest red flag in this situation and the OP should not necessarily discard the rumor because of the lack of official charges. that said, yes, i agree that the OP should tread lightly, which is to say that toddlers generally do not sleep overnight at this age, and that is enough to keep the sleepover situation at bay for a good long time. it's the OP's kid. enough said.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:12 PM on October 5, 2010

Here's your script:

* "Thanks for the offer, but my daughter is a little young for sleepovers right now."

* "Thanks for the offer, but this quality time with my daughter is very important to me."

* "Thanks for the offer, but I'm concerned that my daughter is getting ill, so we'll bow out on this one."

* "Thanks for the offer, but things around the house are pretty crazy right now. We'll be sure to see you at (insert name of holiday or similar event here)."

Ad infinitum, until you're certain.

Mind you, these are not negotiations you'll have. These are decisions you'll make. Nobody is owed time with your daughter. Just keep saying no until you want to say yes, not until you're bullied into a sleepover.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:15 PM on October 5, 2010 [18 favorites]

As a parent your number one concern and priority is your daughter's safety. Any worry about ruffling your sister's feathers just doesn't compare. You have to protect your daughter. That means no sleepovers, no unsupervised time with uncle, maybe no unsupervised time with your sister if you can't trust her not to leave your daughter with her husband.

We've had a similar situation in our family. It wasn't related to potential abuse, but it was about not wanting to trust a perfectly nice, friendly relative alone with our child. It was difficult putting this out, but when we did the message was understood and respected, and it lead to a productive conversation on other related matters.

Good luck with this!
posted by alms at 6:18 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Why did the BIL's mother tell your father this awful awful story??

Do you think she was trying to warn your family? Is she really to be trusted? I ask because your BIL sounds like he is a mess, and I bet it's in no small part thanks to his upbringing.

You can dodge this issue indefinitely by never ever leaving your daughter alone with your sister.

FWIW... If it were me, I'd want confirmation for the sake of my sister as well as my daughter. I can see a situation where if you start asking questions the right way, it will be uncomfortable for everyone involved, but will also be perceived as the mature and responsible thing to do.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:29 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you live in the United States, you should be able to have access to a list of sex offenders living in your vicinity.

US Department of Justice Registry
Family Watchdog

There are state specific sites, too.

If b-i-l shows up, well... You'll have your answer.
posted by patronuscharms at 6:30 PM on October 5, 2010

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
As an adult who was molested and raped by a cousin amd a grandfather on separate occasions, my advice is threefold.

1. Gather as much info as you can (police record - everywhere he'd lived, stepmother, ask him what's up and gauge his reaction - but as for me I wouldn't trust him. I know that's unfair, tough shit.)
2. Don't allow your daughter to be alone with male relatives. Not alone for 30 seconds while you take a drinking glass from a living room to a kitchen, and not alone with your sister who promises not to leave her with the husband. People who are aware of the risks of a pedophile are usually not aware with the speed they can act. Also not aware of how that trip to the kitchen can turn into answering a phone call. Better safe than sorry.
3. Believe your kids when they tell you they don't like/trust/feel comfortable around so-and-so. Teach themthat they can excuse themselves from the company of adults who make them uncomfortable. This is a good life skill for romantic and professional relationships in adulthood. Easier to learn it now.

And if, god forbid, your child ever levels accusations of sexual misconduct against anyone please take them seriously.

The sexual abuse of my childhood would likely be just a blip on the radar rather than the recurring nightmare, if only the adults around me had listened.

(also, good for you for being brave enough to even consider asking family members about this. I get that it's hard to be afraid to offend a brother in law over something that might not be true. So I reiterate - teach your daughter that her safety is important enough to risk misunderstandings and seeming a little ride. You don't have to say that so directly, but give her the control over her personal space, and she'll be well equipped in adulthood to handle stressful people, even of she can't put her finger on what bothers her.)

Finally, even if the guy has no pedophile tendencies whatsoever, the relationship that it sounds like he and your sister will be modelling for your daughter is not a form you want her to follow. Please try to limit her exposure to the pressure he exerts to get his way, or she'll learn that that's ok.
posted by jessamyn at 6:34 PM on October 5, 2010 [37 favorites]

Of the people who have the information you need (and you do absolutely NEED this information), the stepmother is simultaneously:
- the one most likely to know exactly what happened
- the one least likely to mention your inquiry to her estranged stepson or his family
- the one you can most easily pin blame on in the unlikely event she actually does bring your inquiry to your family*

(*as in, "What do you mean, your crazy hateful stepmother told you I asked if you were a child molester -- she's the one who approached me with that possibility!" Not strictly speaking an ethical tack, but certainly a compromise worth contemplating, in the interest of protecting your daughter and preserving your relationship with your sibling.)

So tactfully approach the stepmother, without asking her any leading or loaded questions.
posted by foursentences at 6:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

"That means no sleepovers, no unsupervised time with uncle, maybe no unsupervised time with your sister if you can't trust her not to leave your daughter with her husband."

This advice from alms should be emphasized. It only takes one moment alone for an abuser to harm a child for a lifetime. Until you've verified with the uncle's step-mother that the rumor is baseless, I would not give the uncle any chances to be alone with your daughter.

Even if the uncle isn't a pedophile I don't know if I would be comfortable leaving my child in his care. From what you've written he sounds mentally unstable, and erratic behavior or intense emotional outbursts like you describe could be very frightening to a small child.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:39 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

for someone to accuse someone of pedophilia - and NOT get the authorities involved is weird.

it isn't weird. "this is a family matter" is a sadly oft repeated phrase. church authorities told 4 different families in my extended family (mine included) that this is a matter to be dealt with in the home and at church - that it's not appropriate to take it to the cops/family services, that they are there to tear apart families, not fix sickness. and then the victims are told to repent for letting satan into their hearts.
posted by nadawi at 6:42 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not to single you out or anything, cooker girl, but I think the point being made here about toddlers sleeping over (or not) is that in this particular case, the OP could use it as a legitimate excuse (whether or not he actually believes in it) to keep his daughter safe without disrupting family harmony. Also, letting your toddler child stay over at your parents' place is pretty different from letting your toddler child stay over unsupervised at your sister-with-a-husband-you-don't-really-trust. Like many have said upthread, I would totally act the part of an unreasonably overprotective parent if that's what it takes to keep my daughter safe. Good luck to the OP, this must be difficult.
posted by misozaki at 6:46 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pedophilia is about power/control. Your brother in law is exhibiting behaviors that show an unbalanced attitude toward control in his relationship with your sister.

Regardless of what you find when you do a background check (nothing on it simply means he's not a convicted offender. It's pretty hard to get a pedophile convicted in family situations, as mentioned above, so no record doesn't provide me any comfort), please don't let this guy have much influence on your daughter, and definitely don't allow situations where he could in even the slimmest possibilty be alone with your child.

And if he gets offended about it, remind him that your job is to raise a confident adult. If you do your job well she won't be a child at 35.
posted by bilabial at 6:51 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

My dad says he's "sure" Pete is fine

I have a general rule that when someone says they are "sure" of something, "sure" is synonymous with "unsure". Examples:

Q: Did you unplug the iron?
A: I'm sure I did.

Q: Is the door locked?
A: I'm sure it is.

(my response is then to go check the iron and the door lock).

In these examples, if the answerer knew the answer definitively, the answer is yes. Your dad's reassurance would mean nothing to me and I would take every step I could to find out more about Pete before you left your daughter (or any child regardless of sex) in his presence without you there to supervise. Don't brush it off by convincing yourself that you are "sure it will be fine".
posted by murrey at 6:52 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

quick anecdote: did i turn off the stove? i convinced myself the other day that i turned off the stove. meanwhile my tummy did flip-flops. i knew that i had not turned off the stove. i convinced myself that either i turned it off or the guy who was working on my house would do it. neither were true. my house was ultimately fine, but my gut was right. no biggie. trust your gut. it's the path of least resistance.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:09 PM on October 5, 2010

his mom spoke to your dad and maligned her son based on something the step-mother said?

If this is correct and the information is coming from Pete's own mother, I would err on the side of "quite possibly true". I mean, if your own mother is willing to talk openly about that sort of thing*, there's a chance there really could be something to it. I mean, how many parents would openly tell other people, "Oh, BTW, my son is totes a pedophile..." and think it wasn't true?

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, I've heard of accusations of abuse (sexual and otherwise) from feuding family members or when there's already bad blood, and it's clearly untrue because it's just a mindless way to trash another person. On the other hand, obviously child sexual abuse is a real thing that happens far more frequently than anyone would like to admit. And your kid's safety is more important than who you side with in some long-dormant family drama.

*Depending on context, of course. Maybe the mother talked about it in the sense of, "Can you BELIEVE someone would say that about my baby?!" in which case that's a totally different thing.
posted by Sara C. at 7:13 PM on October 5, 2010

You said, if anybody ever tries anything to harm my daughter I will personally pin him down and cut his balls off.

That's an understandable sentiment, but the fact is you won't do that. You may not even be able to convince anyone that anything happened. Meanwhile, our daughter will already have been injured.

You also said, I know that my sister would be deeply offended if I ever asked her directly about this, and while I'd like just to call the stepmom up and ask her what happened, I worry that Pete might somehow hear about the inquiry and be angry.

The time to be fearless in protecting your daughter is before she is hurt. If you're willing to cut someone's balls off, you should be willing to offend your sister or make your brother-in-law angry.

Oh --- and in terms of checking registries and such: you have no idea if anything was ever reported to the police, and even if it was you have no idea if there was ever a conviction. You can certainly check sex-offender registries. It's an easy step. But if he doesn't show up there that doesn't mean anything. There's no substitute for talking to the stepmom.
posted by alms at 7:16 PM on October 5, 2010 [22 favorites]

Your daughter is at an age where you can have talks (or find an age appropriate book on the subject) about what is "appropriate" touching. I never felt I could tell my parents when people throughout my life molested me because I thought they'd be mad or that I had done something wrong. I can't advise you on how to protect your daughter from potential predators, but it makes all the difference to have a parent tell a child that it's okay to tell.
posted by loquat at 7:22 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

(nothing at all DSM-V-worthy-- mainly, weird clinginess; being emotionally manipulative; frequent bouts of weeping; staying up until all hours surfing the 'net for god-knows-what and sleeping in until noon every day; constantly quarrelling with my sister and being very inflexible about having things his own way). But their problems are their business

Those are sufficient reason not to want your kid around their house, even if the dude was never caught red handed. Family is family, so you tolerate them, but that does not extend to unsupervised time with your kids. You always want to trust an instinct to not trust someone with kids. If you can't dodge them permanently, they'll be offended; that's one of the things you have to endure on your children's behalf.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:25 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is a book on this topic by the same author of The Gift of Fear: Protecting the Gift. I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about it.

I think Cool Papa Bell is on the right track. I'd make excuses about separation anxiety and nightmares until your sister gets the hint. Let them think you are a crazy overprotecting parent.

... weird clinginess; being emotionally manipulative; frequent bouts of weeping; constantly quarrelling with my sister and being very inflexible about having things his own way...

That's enough reason to avoid any sleepovers at your sister's house.
posted by clearlydemon at 7:32 PM on October 5, 2010

You simply don't leave your child alone with any male unless you can trust them 100%. This rules out just about everyone (uncles, so and so's boyfriend, cousins, etc). Statistically children (boys and girls) of all ages (babies to older teenagers) are much more likely to be sexually molested by males than females. And if you want to see what a sexual predator looks like, watch "To Catch a Predator". You will see doctors, priests, law enforcement officials, truck drivers, grand fathers--basically everyone that you wouldn't expect to be a predator. Err on the side of caution and just don't let your child be with anyone other than female relatives who are totally willing to keep them safe (doesn't sound like the sister is one of those women). And as they get older, definitely teach them how to protect themselves from predators.
posted by MsKim at 7:38 PM on October 5, 2010

Just another couple thoughts to roll around in the mix...

Sis and Pete are married for ~1 year... don't know each other all that well... and are only mid-20's... and Pete's kind of an emotional mess? You might not have to worry about this for too long. I don't wish it on them, of course, but the fact remains that theirs sounds like a marriage that is a strong candidate to break up. I hate how cynical it sounds, but there it is.

Also, I have an alarm bell about the stepmom's objectivity here. I myself am a stepmom, and I know full well that the relationship dynamics that can occur within a blended family where personal agendas run amok... well, they're complicated, to say the least.

I'm not saying that the stepmom is lying, or that Pete did or did not do something inappropriate with his half-sister.

But I am saying that "the unspecified incident" (which we only know about from the stepmom, and which we don't know was anything sexual or physical at all), the event that caused such a severe reaction from the stepmom... could have been Pete telling his little sister, "Your mom is a slut and it made my parents break up" or some other half-cocked notion that a teenager might find wholly reasonable to tell a little kid.

Maybe he hit her, in a fit of hormone-driven 16-year-old rage. Maybe the girl walked in on him masturbating—which was indeed a sexual moment but not necessarily an abusive situation.

I'm not trying to make excuses for anyone in the story... just trying to point out how little we actually know about "the incident". We don't know that the sister made an outcry, we don't know that the stepmom is actually an outcry witness, and we do know that there is some amount of personal agenda (where X > 0) on behalf of the adult parties.

And Pete's mom is the one who relayed this hearsay about what Pete's stepmom did or said in response, to Pete?

I'll tell you this for free: no one should believe a word that I say about my husband's ex, nor a word she says about me. We simply are incapable of being objective. I think that she is pretty much full-on insane, and I'm sure she thinks the same.

It doesn't make us bad people... it's part and parcel of co-parenting after divorce. But psychologists and attorneys have often lauded our blended family as "an good example of the sane ones"... and we are far, far from perfect people.

So just be aware that if you ask the stepmom about her opinion, there are three likely scenarios:

1. The incident between Pete and his half-sister was truly bad, an abuse that she was right to take a hard stand on, and which indicates an illness that means he should never be around kids.

2. The incident between Pete and his half-sister was not nothing, and the stepmom was right to do what she did at the time... but it was a one-off, maybe caused by a possible misunderstanding, a teenaged lack of judgment, or a rage-filled kid acting out in some way that doesn't translate into a dangerous adult.

(Remember: the OP, who knows Pete better than any of us, not only knows DSM-IV well enough to name-drop it, but also thinks Pete doesn't match a diagnosis)

3. The incident was overdramatized by an angry stepmom, or imagined altogether, and Pete didn't actually do anything wrong.

If it's #1, then asking the stepmom will provide usable information.

If it's #2 or #3, asking is likely to make the stepmom defensive, and might create enormous problems within the family. (A family that has already proven that it is prone to idle gossip... since Pete's stepmom told Pete's mom who told OP's dad who told OP that Pete might be a child molester)

Again, OP: I'm not advocating not to ask. I'm just saying to be aware that those among us who are cavalierly saying "just ask the stepmom", might not be considering that that could make the situation far worse: the OP then doesn't have truthful, useful info, and also now the family is all riled up and everyone is angry—over what is essentially a personal decision between the OP and his/her spouse.

If it were me, I'd go with Cool Papa Bell's approach. The child simply isn't available for unsupervised visits in a circumstance you aren't comfortable with, and you have the right and obligation to be firm about that, and the rest of your family has the obligation to respect it.

You are entitled to protect your child, but you are well aware that doing so will likely hurt feelings. Families have been destroyed over less.

Now, that's a small risk to take compared to the alternative, obviously—but I think that in the absence of actual concrete information about whether Pete is abusive, and in the absence of any 100% safe way to gather more information... the conscientious thing to do is to protect your child while you keep your suspicions and fears to yourself. You have the ability right now to protect your child and also not accuse Pete of being a pedophile.
posted by pineapple at 7:39 PM on October 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

Your daughter does not stay over in that house. Your daughter does not spend time in that house without you present. Explain it however you like, but do not bend on this.
posted by LarryC at 7:47 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I second everyone who says you need to talk to the stepmother no matter whether it's likely to cause drama.

And if you don't get a straight answer, there is nothing wrong with just indefinitely refusing sleepover offers.

But this: "Don't allow your daughter to be alone with male relatives. Not alone for 30 seconds while you take a drinking glass from a living room to a kitchen, and not alone with your sister who promises not to leave her with the husband." I would disagree with. I understand why this suggestion is made, and I totally think you should apply it to your brother-in-law, but not to men in general. My mother (who was raped and molested multiple times while growing up), made a huge effort to make sure I was never left in the room alone with a man ever, not my relatives, not friends, not the plumber... The convolutions this required meant that I was aware that being left alone with a man was "dangerous" and I grew up terrified of men in general. This is not a great outcome either.
posted by lollusc at 8:07 PM on October 5, 2010 [12 favorites]

He sounds unstable, they have a contentious relationship: that's reason enough to disallow sleepovers.

Make sure you tell your sister NOT to buy the bed, so that it doesn't become a point of pressure ("I spent all this money on the bed, and you never let her sleep over!"). Of course you wouldn't bow to such pressure just to ensure family harmony (right?) but it's best to avoid it anyway. Just say that you don't expect her to be ready for sleepovers until she's well beyond the age where a toddler bed would be useful.
posted by palliser at 8:14 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just as a data point:

I found out two weeks ago that one of the singers in my church choir was arrested in an FBI child sex sting, driving to Colorado to meet who he thought was a 6-year-old girl and her willing mother. This guy used to play peek-a-boo with my 4-year-old daughter during the after-church coffee hour every day, and he was never creepy or inappropriate at all. Never set off my MomDar even once.

"I'm sure he's fine" doesn't go real far with me.
posted by KathrynT at 8:39 PM on October 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

Another data point:

I had a friend from high school, who remained a friend of mine for 35 years, until the day he confessed to me that he had molested his stepchildren.

I have searched my memory many times, covering all our interactions over those 35 years, and I can safely say I never once saw evidence of pedophile behavior- and we were close friends- the kind you drink with and share secrets with.

I have eight grandchildren, and to say this was a distressing revelation is something of an understatement. It was the most difficult thing I had to do, but I immediately and unilaterally cut off the friendship and all contact with my family.

Like KathrynT says up above, "I'm sure he's fine" doesn't go anywhere with me. You can't judge anyone to be innocuous based on a 'gut feeling'. You can' t look at someone and say "They're OK". I had a close and continuous relationship with someone for 35 years, and had they not confessed, I might never have known.
posted by pjern at 9:50 PM on October 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

As a non-pedophile male, I am saddened by some of the 'don't trust any male' sentiment above. The sentiment may be understandable (more so in some cases than others), but where do you draw the line?

Secrets can very destructive. 'Knowing' something, acting on it as if it was fact, without telling those directly involved, will undermine that relationship.

I think the OP had a duty to ascertain, to the extent possible, if this rumour has any foundation. If the OP believes there to be a basis for the rumour, he(she?) needs to talk to the sister, outline what s/he knows/believes, and what s/he is going to do about it re sleepovers (or anything else). Yes, this might be hurtful for the sister, but if you have a basis for your fear, I do not see that you have a choice.

OP, remember that it is not just your daughter that is at risk (if there is a risk) with the person concerned. Secrecy is the friend of pedophiles.
posted by GeeEmm at 10:56 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I honestly don't see how you can possibly get a hard-and-fast, 100% accurate answer on this question. There are way too many variables, and the issue is far too emotionally charged.

Here's what it comes down to: the risk to your daughter is, as you say, non-zero. Stick with that. There is a non-zero risk that this guy could sexually assault your daughter.

Therefore, it's your responsibility to make sure that she is never - and I do mean ever - alone with him. Or in the house when other adults are present, but perhaps sleeping, as during a sleepover.

Say whatever you gotta say. Make excuses if you want. Demur. Explain that you're doing this new parenting regimen and it doesn't allow for blah blah blah. Hell, tell your sister "I heard he's a pedophile and I don't want him near her."

It doesn't matter what you say. Just keep your daughter away from him. The End.
posted by ErikaB at 10:57 PM on October 5, 2010

2. Don't allow your daughter to be alone with male relatives.

That is bullshit. You don't paint every man with the pedophile brush. For fuck's sake, women can be pedophiles, too. Should you keep your child away from all relatives?

Use your best judgment. If that means keeping your child away from someone, so be it, but, don't paint all men as bad guys.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:48 PM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

Holding a married adult accountable for an event that happened when they were 16 seems totally crazy to me. Boy touches girl, bigot mom freaks out, and everyone cries "pedophile!" 10 years later? Seriously? What's wrong with you people?

To OP: even if the relative was pedophile (i.e. attracted to children sexually), so you know most pedophiles do not practice incest. Therefore, were your doubt founded you would still have a virtually zero chance that anything happens to your child from this guy. So just relax!
posted by knz at 1:44 AM on October 6, 2010

Most pedophiles do not practice incest??? In what planet?

The vast majority of sexual child abuse is IN the family! Get in touch with the stepmom and don't give up until you have a clear answer that you can trust 100%.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:08 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

16 year old (nearly adult) touches 5 year old (just past toddler). this is hardly boy touches girl.
posted by nadawi at 2:11 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

And no matter what you do, don't trust your sister! She will lie to avoid trouble, it's just human nature.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:14 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My daughter stays at home with her dad and often hangs out with him and his brother. I have no qualms about either thing so I am not coming from a hypervigilant space.

Do NOT leave her alone with him. Do NOT send her to sleep over. Just don't. Talk to the step-mother, whatever you need to do to confirm/deny but there's not a single family relationship I would not sacrifice to keep my daughter safe. And I will come up against this in the future because even though my parents are not paedophiles, they do not parent in a way I want for my daughter. So at some point there will be ructions about the no sleep over rule, the no babysitting rule. For the moment her age is excuse enough. In the future I'll deal with what ever comes up but I am not going to place my daughter in a position where she may be harmed simply to stop friction. That's a betrayal of her trust in me.

(and please take the anonymous mefite's advice - women and children (particularly girls) are routinely told their boundaries are unacceptably 'rude' or 'mean' and then blamed when those boundaries are transgressed and they are harmed by it. Assertiveness is a valuable skill.)

knz: To OP: even if the relative was pedophile (i.e. attracted to children sexually), so you know most pedophiles do not practice incest. Therefore, were your doubt founded you would still have a virtually zero chance that anything happens to your child from this guy. So just relax!

That is seriously fucked up. Seriously. Also very wrong. But terribly terribly fucked up. Even if he is a paedophile they should 'relax'?
posted by geek anachronism at 2:53 AM on October 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

There is something to be said about just not feeling comfortable with somebody. It may not be something in particular you can put your finger on all the time, but this is one of those situations where safe is better than sorry. I would rather offend my sister and her husband than have this be one of the rare cases where something would happen. As the parent, its your choice what your child can and cannot do, and perhaps once you see her with him supervised, you can later decide if you are okay with unsupervised visits with her uncle. It isn't necessarily an all or nothing, just a "I'm not comfortable with that right now" situation
posted by gilsonal at 3:19 AM on October 6, 2010

It is absolutely possible, nay moreso, that his accuser is insane.

It is just as likely that YOU, OP, are a pedophile. How do we know? Someone may have said you were..... just saying.

See how this works?

Most people are not pedophiles. Most children are not molested. Most adults, when they were toddlers, teens, and tweens, sexually experimented in one form or another, with or without co-experimenters or subjects.

Most men are not pedophiles. Many pedophiles don't act out.

To those of you who say "Don't ever leave a kid alone with a male", I can only manage a loud "Fuck. You.". I've seen a lot of parents in my 56 years, and frankly, in a lot of cases I'd recommend not leaving kids alone with their parents. Who in the hell do you think is responsible for fucking up most fucked up kids lives?

I've also seen two occasions of blatant pedophile hysteria nearly ruin two people. As foreman of a grand jury, I was able to save one of them from an irrational, lying kid manipulated by a hysterical mom. This shit happens.

Be prudent. Protect your kid. If you don't know how to do that, put it up for adoption. Your only alternative is suiting her/him up in a metal diving bell, buying lockable steel mesh underwear, and standing armed guard over Precious Snowflake's genitalia for a few decades. Life is not free of risk, but risk is generally overestimated.

Hysteria sucks, people. It sucks.
posted by FauxScot at 5:17 AM on October 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

Bring up the subject (sleepovers) casually with your brother-in-law. If he seems even marginally excited about the idea or seems to be pushing for it in ANY way, raise that red flag of yours a lot higher. I cannot see a guy who is (seemingly) emotionally immature wanting a toddler in his home. If you can't bring it up with him, talk to your sister and find out if the two of them have discussed it and, if so, what he thinks about the idea. He might very well be pressing her.
posted by Pennyblack at 7:20 AM on October 6, 2010

Until you have the stepmother's and (especially) the stepsister's, and your dad's and Pete's mom's and dad's sides of the story, you don't know anything.

You don't have to go to them and ask "is he a child molester?" I agree that that's a possibility, but it's also an extrapolation from third-generation hearsay from your dad via Pete's mom via Pete and/or Pete's dad or stepmom. The incident could have been that he threw a red T-shirt in the wash along with the little girl's white party dress. And maybe the girl has been harboring the secret all these years that it was actually her who put the red t-shirt in and the shame and guilt are eating away at her. So the thing to ask is "What happened to get Pete kicked out when he was 16?"

You may not get the whole truth from anyone, but the totality of their responses will be informative.
posted by tel3path at 7:51 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like tel3path's advice about asking multiple people about the history, and framing it in a 'why did he get kicked out' way.

That said, I don't care if 'many pedophiles don't act out'. I would absolutely not allow her to sleep over if I were in your shoes, and jessyman's anon advice about inappropriateness happening in fragments of time (like going into the kitchen to answer a phone or something) is dead on. This isn't just about sleepovers, this is about your sister asking to babysit for a Saturday so she and her husband can take your child to the zoo or a million examples like that. This isn't just going to be one uncomfortable conversation with your sister, this is going to be the first of many - unless of course you alienate her right off the bat with the 'hey is he a pedophile' question.

If you want to piss her off from a slightly more forgivable angle, I'd point out his emotional manipulativeness and tendency to pick fights as the reasons you don't want your daughter to be around him. He sounds like a hot mess, sexual issues notwithstanding.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:00 AM on October 6, 2010

If you talk to the stepmother and she is evasive, try just asking if she thinks it is a good idea for you to let your daughter stay overnight with him. That way she could say no without disclosing the reason, and that would be better than no answer at all.
posted by thatone at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't allow your daughter to be alone with male relatives

Ugh this is way too much of an someone mentioned above the majority of males ARE NOT pedophiles

With that being said...go with your gut the minute you find information that any person (regardless of their gender) may have been a pedophile...immediately do your best to dig out more information and until everything is clear never leave your child alone with said person.....
posted by The1andonly at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2010

Do NOT say anything publically without being sure. False accusations of paedophilia can really destroy someone. You're right to be wary - it's worth being wary over anything that can harm your child. Not too wary, but don't let anyone tell you you're nuts for worrying.
posted by mippy at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2010

I am not sure that you can get to a satisfactory answer - if you can talk to the stepmom and just in the course of conversation say hey, why did Pete leave the house? (ideally you would do it yourself and in person so you could see her reaction, but if she talks to your dad maybe it makes more sense for him to talk to her?).

But... I don't think you're probably ever going to know for sure what happened. People misremember things, have their own agendas (to make it seem more, or *less*, serious), and just overall may not tell the truth.

I'm not in the never leave your daughter for 10 seconds alone with a man camp - but I think that something about Pete is "off" to you, and whether or not you ever get "proof" of it, that's an instinct I'd tend to respect. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem like a good idea to have your daughter over there - and you can absolutely make a decision based on that alone.

You will probably have to use plenty of excuses to your sister about having your daughter not spend time there. I think you can do that and maintain the family peace enough.

Maybe over time you will learn the whole story, and you will get more comfortable with Pete. But it's okay not to fully trust him yet just because he married your sister.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:51 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

misozaki, I didn't mean to suggest that the OP allow his daughter to sleep over at his sister's house without knowing what the story is behind what his brother-in-law's step-mother said. In fact, I'm fairly sure I didn't say anything of the sort. My point was that it's not unreasonable for his sister - in normal circumstances - to want her niece to sleep over. Some people were suggesting that this is simply not done, ever, under any circumstances. That's just not true.

And why lie simply to keep family harmony? It's not okay to say, "I don't trust your husband?" Why not? I don't trust my mother-in-law to properly care for my children. I told my husband my feelings and she's never been allowed to babysit alone. And there is always the possibility of the OP and his wife not being around at times (out-of-town and the kid is at a grandparent's house, god forbid they die and the kid is given to a family member; anything), so why not find out once and for all what the deal is with the past accusation?

And, if it comes right down to it, why not protect all the children who may come into contact with this person? If my neighbor is a pedophile, you bet I want to know about it.

OP, the best way to start this is to talk to your sister. Tell her what you've been told. I'd even suggest you get your parents in on this talk. From there, I'd go to the step-mom and the dad to see what they say. Depending on the information you get from those sources, you can even talk to your brother-in-law. Will it upset people? Of course. The other solution is to never let your child out of your sight. Even then, you cannot protect her from everything. Do I think you should protect her from this? Absolutely. But you really need to get more information.
posted by cooker girl at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2010

Mod note: folks - keep answers directed towards the OP and absolutely stop calling each other names. Not helping people get answers, not making MeFi a better place to be, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2010

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
I just read the whole thread after my first comment, and want to follow up. I'm at work and a bit overwhelmed by the folks telling me to 'fuck off'

Until the consist message about sex is 'folk, keep your hands/dicks/objects of choice to yourselves' more than the current 'girls and ladies, don't send men/potential attackers the wrong message' people in vulnerable positions need to take extra precautions. The OPs daughter is extremely vulnerable. 1. Female 2. Toddler. She can't leave an inappropriate/uncomfortable situation on her own, and she likely doesn't have the words yet to describe 'someone makes me feel creeped out' or even 'someone touched me in a scary way' I thought my abuse was normal until I found out it wasn't.

This family has so much drama going on, my advice is for the OP. Not for every mother of every child. But as other people said, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed by family or close friend, and goes unreported to authorities.

Most important take away from my original comment is this: allow your daughter to excuse herself from people she finds uncomfortable, don't force/allow her to hang with people who make you squirm, and make sure she knows that her opnions matter in these situations.
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

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