Help me navigate this mine field of teenage drama and screwed up relationship between teen and adult.
July 8, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Help me navigate this mine field of teenage drama and screwed up relationship between teen and adult.

I'm not even sure where to begin, but essentially my stepson (17) was caught in bed with his step mom (not my girlfriend, dad side). Both are claiming nothing happened, but they were caught in a very incriminating position (spooning in underwear). So the dad kicked both the mom and teen out, the mom took the kids, and now we're dealing with the teenage shit of him not realizing how messed up the situation really is. Additionally, while he verbally agreed to let the mom and dad sort things out before talking to the step mom and the dad again since initially it appeared he realized how royally he screwed up; but now it's pretty obvious that the step mom and stepson are talking and potentially still seeing each other on the sly.

I'm just not even sure where to begin, we don't have any physical evidence that they actually screwed, just a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence. So charging her with statutory rape is out, and I'm just not even sure what the next step is. The teen is furious that the mom and I are not taking his side, and even the step mom is trying to act like it was no big deal.

So overall, a very, very screwed up situation and I have no idea how to handle this or what to even do.
posted by lpcxa0 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm having a hard time parsing this and understanding the relationships here , but my first question is why did the teenager get kicked out? He's a minor and, regardless of any protestations to the contrary, he was the victim of predatory sexually abusive behavior. I think the first thing is for all parental figures (except the step mom, of course) to treat your stepson with a but more kindness and compassion until this is sorted out. Also, of course, the step mom is acting like it's no big deal, she was in the wrong and is going to downplay that as much as possible.
posted by katemcd at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2012 [24 favorites]

Why in the world aren't the mom and you on his side? What is his side? Who are you in this story? You believe he was statutorily raped, and yet you seem to be mad at him for being a victim. That is very not appropriate. If anything, he needs support and possibly counseling, not blame.
posted by brainmouse at 1:01 PM on July 8, 2012 [22 favorites]

To my knowledge, just about anywhere in the US, if the stepmom is of an age to be a peer of the boy's father and has had sexual contact with a 17 year old boy, she is guilty of child rape and should be reported as such, to the police, immediately. This may add to the short-term drama but it is sadly necessary in order to prevent further exploitation and damage to this young man by this horribly irresponsible and predatory woman.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:02 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is the legal side of this where the stepmom might be guilty of something. It may be that they never had sex, but this woman certainly behaved inappropriately towards your stepson. Only a conversation with the police where you are can tell you if there is something to investigate.

The more important issue is the personal side of this. I'm getting from the question that you are the teen's mother's husband? Be there for your stepson and be there for your wife. Have her back. Have his back. Your stepson needs therapy and you can help him find that. Even if he doesn't think anythng is wrong, the turmoil in his life at the moment is worth discussing. New boundries need to be established in regards to your stepson and how he gets to spend his time and you can suport your wife with that.

The last thing, the scary thing is that your 17 year old stepson is only a few months away from being your 18 year old stepson. Once he's 18 there is only so much you can do about who he spends his time with so its important to act now when you have some sway in his life. This woman has betrayed the trust of her husband, your stepson and your entire family. All you can do at this point is try to help rebuild this by being there and being compassionate towards everyone hurt.

it appeared he realized how royally he screwed up

He didn't screw up. He was taken advantage of by someone who he should be able to trust. Remeber this.
posted by GilvearSt at 1:16 PM on July 8, 2012 [25 favorites]

Who is giving the boy support? This is a kid who needs someone in his corner to sort out what led him to think this was a good idea, and to help him realize how this is not a good idea. His mom and you need to be there for him. You can be upset about the situation, but you need to be in his corner to guide him through whatever happens from here. If he thinks you're just going to treat it all as "teenage shit", of course he's not going to be open with you. Be angry at the stepmom. Be concerned about the boy.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The teen is furious that the mom and I are not taking his side

Taking his side? What does that even mean? He is a kid who was taken advantage of by the step-mom.
The teen is right to be furious. He should get counselling, not judgemental anger.

Are you seriously suggesting that this 17 year old is mature enough, sophisticated enough, to seduce an adult woman?
Being seduced by your step-mom is NOT teenage drama, it is mind-fucking abuse that will haunt him the rest of his life. And then to have the other adults around you label this abuse as "teenage drama" - damn straight the teen should be furious.

I feel sorry for him.
posted by Flood at 1:22 PM on July 8, 2012 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, let me clarify - we're not blaming him, and we're in his corner and he's already in counseling for non related issues. We have a call placed to the counselor, but he's away for vacation until next week. We've talked with him about it already, and while he appears to understand the severity of it, he insists that it was consensual. And by not taking his side - believing that nothing happened, and just letting it drop. Not that we don't believe anything happened with the predatory behavior, that's a given that something happened.

I guess what I'm saying is I've never dealt with abuse, neither of us have, and I'm asking the community for guidance on what to do.
posted by lpcxa0 at 1:28 PM on July 8, 2012

Okay. Aside from everything else, if this were a kid in my care, I'd be making damned sure that the contact between him and the stepmother ceases NOW. If that meant filing for a restraining order against the stepmom, so be it. It's clear that she lacks the mental capacity to understand that what she's doing is wrong. The kid needs to learn about appropriate boundaries, if he won't set those boundaries himself right now (and he's not a bad kid for not being able to do so, boundaries are hard things to learn about sometimes), then maybe it's time to use the legal tools at your disposal.
posted by palomar at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ah, okay, this makes a lot more sense. This is going to take some time ,and I wouldn't push your stepson on this right now. Arguing with him about what happened in the immediate aftermath will not get you anywhere and may actually prevent him from admitting what happened down the road. Create a safe space for him, let him take the lead when it comes to discussing this particular issue, and, most importantly, keep him away from the step-mom. Also, let him know that while you don't and won't always agree about everything, you are always on his side.

Handling the step-mom on the other hand is a whole other story. All contact between her and stepson should be severed. Criminal charges can be brought, and, at the very least, your version of Child Social Services should be contacted. Let the professionals do the investigating and focus on protecting your son (and the other kids in the household). Best of luck.
posted by katemcd at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

OK, the kid's relationship with his father may be permanently poisoned. He's being taken advantage of by a stepparent who may, depending on your state, have special obligations that make his consent irrelevant. The stepparent, depending on your state, could be looked at for corruption of a minor just for the inappropriate touching, if not sexual assault or statutory rape with more evidence. And you, depending on your state (e.g. Idaho and Oklahoma seem to universally require reporting), may have a duty to report child abuse. But you're in a position where you could permanently poison your relationship with him if you went straight to the police.

Have you considered legal hotlines and emergency counseling sessions? Because there are a lot of variables here where you may need professional assistance.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

So he is at least a week away from seeing his counsellor? Let's see, what everyone can agree on is that he was in bed spooning in his underwear with his stepmom. That right there is not "nothing" so just agree to agree on that and leave it there for now. Let him know that she could very well be facing serious charges, so he needs to not have contact with her or it could create more problems for her. And document EVERYTHING. Everything.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2012

In some states (like NY), the legal age of consent is 17, so it may be possible, depending on your state, that consensual sex happened. IF the legal age of consent is 18 in your state, then it is simply not possible for a minor to have legal consensual sex with an adult. It is the adult's responsibility to not have sex with minors.

From wikipedia:
age of consent 16 (30): Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia

age of consent 17 (9): Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Wyoming

age of consent 18 (12): Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania

Even if there's no "evidence" you can still make a complaint, provided he could not legally consent.

If he could legally consent, then I think individual and family counseling is in order. (Definitely him, maybe you, and his mom and dad.) Mostly naked spooning is something, not nothing.
posted by xyzzy at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Forgot to add--regardless of consent, family & individual counseling should happen, but you probably can't do much on the legal side if he could consent.
posted by xyzzy at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2012

If he wants to let it go for a while, maybe the best thing to do is let it go and try to keep things as normal and low-key as possible until he's ready to talk about it. Getting kicked out of his house was really wrong, by the way, and he should be allowed to express how it was wrong (even if he wants to couch that as "nothing happened therefore it was wrong how people reacted"). Because it was wrong how people reacted, and he does have the right to be angry about that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

Regarding xyzzy's list of ages of consent: I think that may not tell the whole story. I believe that in most or potentially all states, there's an additional facet, which is that the "normal" age of consent goes out the window if the adult is in a position of authority or responsibility over the child (such as, I would imagine, being his stepmother).
posted by Flunkie at 2:12 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

The fact that his father kicked him out of the house as a result of this gives him a large incentive to identify the incident as "nothing." If it was "nothing" then his dad is being unreasonable and might come around. If it was "something," then he may feel like his dad was "right" or justified for kicking him out.

That has to be deeply upsetting to him, even if he isn't expressing it. And it is a completely inappropriate and shitty way for the dad to have responded to the situation.

He was betrayed by the stepmom (a parental figure who should be helping him make good choices, not setting up compromising situations for him) and then again by his dad. This is tough.

He may also be struggling with the idea that men are always supposed to "want it." He may have had reservations and anxieties about what was going on, but if he is a man he's always to supposed to be ready for action. Deciding that it was consensual could be a defense mechanism (also used by a lot of women and girls in similar situations).

I recognize there is some dispute about the validity of the Kubler-Ross model, but it might help give context to his reactions if you think about this being a loss or grief process for him.
posted by jeoc at 2:19 PM on July 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

What is it that is he says was consensual and/or acknowledges has "severity" if they both insist that "nothing happened?"

I think you must step in and ensure there is no way for him to communicate with his stepmom or see each other on the sly. Take his cellphone and his keys and only let him use his computer at the dining room table, or whatever else you need to do to ensure that contact stops.

And I would ask the counselor today for a referral to someone who can see your stepson in the next 48 hours. Perhaps a family counselor so you and he and his mom, at least, can talk through the best ways to approach this as a family.
posted by argonauta at 2:22 PM on July 8, 2012

What a terrible situation. Does the young man have other adult friends, with whom he can discuss this? I see how already the comments here show how the situation can be worsened. This is of course terribly wrong, and the stepmother needs to go. But what then? How can one guide the young man towards positive and loving situations?
posted by mumimor at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2012

I'd say that this is an emergency and your step-son's therapist should have an emergency back up. Give that person a call and lay it out for them. The emergency contact should give you some good information and resources.

As for your step-son, if the situation were reversed and it was your step-daughter with her step-father, how would you act?

I'm guessing the first thing would be a restraining order. Call your local police precinct and find out what you need to do to get the ball rolling on this. Also find out if a report needs to be filed, or if charges need to be preferred. As for your wife's ex-husband, he's in the wrong, tell your step-son this constantly.

Teens who are nearly adults are very difficult to talk to about these delicate situations. They believe they're adults who have excellent judgment and discerning tastes. We all know that they are really idiots who like Adam Sandler movies. Tread lightly, don't make judgments and always be willing to listen to your step-son.

You ARE on your step-son's side. This is why you will insure that he has no more contact with his Step-Mother and that he understands that you are doing everything you can to keep him from having contact with her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:55 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

So charging her with statutory rape is out

Don't worry about what to charge her with. If you call the police and say, "We caught our 17-year-old son in bed with a XX-year-old family member, what now?" they will be able to help you take it from there. You may be right - he may be too old, even in the presence of a family member, for this to be a chargeable offense. It's hard to say, but you don't have to figure it out yourself and you don't have to collect all the evidence yourself.

It's possible that it would be a bad decision to not at least find out where this stands, legally. Mandatory reporting requirements vary from state to state, but his counselor may have no choice. If you have to take him to the doctor with chlamydia or whatever, someone might make a phone call. What if one of his friends tells their parents, and somebody makes a phone call? If it wasn't you making the call, CPS is going to want to know why. Are there other children in this family? That could be an issue.

As for him, I think it's fair to acknowledge that he feels this was consensual. That's how he feels, regardless of the thinking and possibly coercion that led to that conclusion. I think the appropriate angle for him today is, "okay, but of all the XX-year-old women in the world, there are certain ones who have an actual obligation to NOT have underwear-time with you and that is why this is a problem."

I'd focus on the practicalities for the next few days. It sounds like he's been thrown out of his primary residence and is now living with you? Get him settled, let him process. I do think you need to explicitly tell him that maintaining contact with her right now is a) a bad idea, b) something he could be revisiting in court one day, so he might want to make sure to check his spelling, c) not going to improve his father's mood or subsequent actions. Making a 17-year-old act in his own best interests is not easy, and you can't chain him to the radiator until he comes to his senses, but you can try to mitigate the damage he's capable of doing.

I don't know if there's anything more mortifying to a teenager than being caught fooling around, regardless of who else was participating. He really really wants this to be "nothing" and you can't blame him for wanting it to all go away so he doesn't have to discuss his sex life with his father, mother, mother's boyfriend, counselor, and potentially a bunch of strangers. Don't put words in his mouth, but I think it's fair to acknowledge to him that yeah, you understand why he wants this to not be a big deal.

Some of your "what next?" steps may be dictated by what the police say. If an investigation is opened, you probably need to get a counselor on board immediately and then circle back with the regular counselor when they get back from vacation. If nothing's going to happen, you can play it by ear.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

Look, everyone is getting all into involving police and hypermonitoring him but I think that is a mistake. The reality is that this child is very near being an adult, that banning relationships for this age group tends to make them more tempting, and that going behind victims' backs and further ignoring their wishes can compound the harm done by sexual assault. Not allowing him to spend time with friends, not allowing him any privacy--these will feel like further violations and punishments and serve to break down communication between you and him, so when something else happens you will be the last ones to know. That is not what you want.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:00 PM on July 8, 2012 [18 favorites]

First off... WTF, Dad? I understand the initial reaction of anger, but if there were ever a time to let your rationale mind take control, this was it.

Also, let's put things in context. Setting aside the potential abuse issue and the callous reaction of the father, this kid is probably freaking embarrassed.

Having your parents walk in on you jacking off is mortifying.

Having your parents walk in on you and your girlfriend is horrifying.

Having your dad walk in on you and your step mom is just out-of-this-world humiliating.

Most people have absolutely no desire to talk about things like that. Ever.

Once everyone recognizes how ridiculously embarrassing this is for the poor kid, someone sensitive and trustworthy needs to find a way to explain to him the problematic nature of this relationship.

I think someone needs to tell him something like this:

"I recognize that you and your step mom are saying nothing happened the other day. That's cool. But here's the problem. Even the appearance of something happening raises serious legal issues. I realize you shouldn't have to think about these things, but it's possible your dad or someone else could bring major charges against your step mom. That can be messy for everyone -- and really, really bad for your step mom. It's tremendously important right now that you not see or talk to your step mom on the sly. Until this gets cleared up -- and it will eventually -- I need you to promise me that you'll hold off on staying in contact with her."

Overall, I would do everything you can, at least in the short term, to create a safe, non-judgmental space where the kid doesn't feel he's under pressure to talk about anything. Do everything possible (without coming across as a complete asshole) to keep the kid out of contact with his step mom. Contact a professional (be it social service, legal, law enforcement, etc.) to see what the next best steps are and what (if any) legal obligations exist for everyone involved.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 3:04 PM on July 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

I believe that since the father kicked out both his wife and his son, in his (father's) opinion the son was as guilty as the stepmother. Of course he wasn't. I think that the main problem here isn't with the woman but with the father. The teen is angry because one important adult in his life just betrayed him and other apparently is supporting this betrayal.
posted by przepla at 3:07 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Talk to a lawyer who specializes in this sort of thing (or several), and then to the son's counselor - in that order.

You are making WAY too many presumptions here, and you are flying blind.

Gather all the good advice possible, then ACT.

*Please don't let this slide under the rug. It's not not not OK. I'm in my 40's now, with a few male friends who were involved with much older women earlier in their lives, and one inparticular near this level of inappropriate. They have ALL had relationship issues going forward, that lasted into their mid-30's, and beyond.

I know you might think the legal route is heavy-handed. Yet. I can not think of a better way for the son to achieve clarity and healing. Letting it slide under the rug will always leave doubts. This is one situation where calling in the authorities will mark a permanent line between acceptable and unacceptable treatment, in terms of relationships and intimacy for the 17 year old.

Don't wait.*
posted by jbenben at 7:28 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both are claiming nothing happened

A key point you aren't addressing is that something happened, even if that something wasn't intercourse. YOu may want to familiarize yourself with the concept of covert incest (aka emotional incest). Basically, it describes a family dynamic where one parent molds a child into a surrogate spouse. Your stepson may feel what happened was consensual, but that isn't the measure important here; the unique mix of betrayal and role reversal can be emotionally damaging for the younger victim.

I don't want to catastrophize, but you need to recognize what happened will have consequences and, of course, your stepson is very much in a position to want to deny that possibility, just as the stepmom is.

I would also brace myself for the long haul, such as a Vili Fualaau/Mary Kay LeTourneau situation, where no matter what you do to separate their destinies they decide they're in love and make a life together as adults. Tread very carefully here.
posted by dhartung at 11:35 PM on July 8, 2012

Clearly the step-mother is at the very very least a damaged and emotionally unsound person, and at the worst a predator. How you deal with her is going to depend very much on the legal situation and what your step-son's feelings are.

I would strongly encourage and facilitate him spending time with same-age peers right now, where he can be an ordinary teenager and have healthy ordinary contact, while absolutely minimizing any contact with her - don't demonize her, minimize her.

But your step-son has also been kicked out of the house by his dad, and been involved in the destruction of his dad's second marriage. That's also a huge deal, setting aside the drama of the step-mom. His dad's actions are wrong yet understandable in the heat of the moment. Long-term, if you and his mom (assuming prior to this mess, he had a decent relationship with his dad) can support and encourage reconciliation there, that's going to be more important than one screwed-up step-mom.

And nthing discussing, agreeing and backing up your wife on all these things - have the arguments about what to do behind closed doors, and then with him, be calm and supportive and united on how you're handling this.

Be prepared for more weirdness to emerge - and that's a good sign, if he can reveal more. But it sounds like you're being a safe harbour for him in a horribly messy difficult time for everyone involved. Think where you all want to be relationship and emotionally-wise in a few years, not just the next few months.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:00 AM on July 9, 2012

Agree with the young rope-rider. Punitive and/or escalating actions right now are not what you want. They make the situation worse. Try to find an adult with good judgment that he trusts (counselor, teacher, relative, family friend, etc.) and see if he will talk with them confidentially about what happened and his perspective.
posted by 3491again at 12:03 PM on July 9, 2012

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