How to deal with an abuser in the family
September 22, 2018 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I recently found out that a member of my extended family sexually molested members of my immediate family. I don’t know what to do/how to think about this.

Obviously I’m incredibly sad and angry to find out this was happening while no one had a clue. It happened over a decade ago, but is still within the statute of limitations where we live. As far as we know the abuser currently has no access to children. Though of course, we can’t really know.

The victims haven’t told anyone until very recently. There are other victims who were not directly physically abused but were definitely emotionally and psychologically abused in order to keep the physical sexual abuse a secret.

The victims want people to know, as they consider the abuser a threat to children, and there are small children in our extended family who occasionally come into contact with him. There is one complication— one of the victims’ parents works very closely with the abuser in their workplace. The victims are afraid that if the abuse becomes known, their parent will either have to work every day around a man who abused their child (frankly unthinkable), or will do something drastic and lose their very long-term job, which would be a financial disaster (everyone involved is working class, the parent would lose all their accrued benefits and probably have to find a new physical labor job near retirement age). The parent and the abuser do not have a positive relationship, but they do work side by side in a very small team every day.

I don’t have any advice for them and have not advised them, just told them I would support whatever they decide to do. On the one hand, I absolutely understand their desire to keep other children safe. On the other, I think they are right that it will be very difficult to navigate the multitude of family issues once people know, and that there will be collateral damage. I think it would be important to show my support for them if they do decide to come forward since the consequences of doing so are difficult and they are very aware of that. One of them is suffering a lot of guilt for never “protecting” the others.

I guess I’m still processing this and I really don’t know where to turn, what to do or if I have any obvious moral obligations I’m missing in the shock of all this. I am not going to push them to do one thing or another but am not sure if that could be construed as a lack of support. I would appreciate any advice about how to be responsible and kind in this situation, what support is the most meaningful, or how to deal with some of the obstacles above (specifically the parent who works with the abuser, that is one of their main concerns).

I also wonder what the legal implications of any of this are. As far as I know they are not considering legal options right now, but if they did, I really don’t have any context for what that could mean. I have a lot more access to “the system” than they do for socioeconomic reasons wo if there is support I can offer in that way (financial or logistical maybe) I would do so.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
there are small children in our extended family who occasionally come into contact with him.

This is where your support and advice should lie - protecting the children in the family. That is our main job as adult family members. From the outside it seems that you would be prioritizing the victim’s parent’s job security over the childrens’ safety and that is emphatically the wrong choice. The parent can decide whether they want to continue working with the abuser and how they want to handle the situation; the children should not be put at risk in this calculus. I would personally shout it from the goddamn rooftops if it meant a child in my family would be protected. Abusers are able to continue their behavior by counting on the shame and guilt of their victims; don’t be complicit in this.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2018 [22 favorites]


Keep supporting the victims in deciding how they want to handle this, and keep reminding them that anything they do now is not "ripping apart the family" or whatever -- the abuser did that years ago, and any collateral damage is the abuser's fault. Additionally, it wasn't their job to protect other kids -- it was the abuser's job, and he's the one who failed.

If it were me, I'd google "rape crisis center" and the name of where you live so that you can (a) talk to a trained advocate for sexual abuse survivors to work through some of your own feelings about this and (b) give contact information for the center to your family members, if they want it.
posted by lazuli at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


From a Mefite who wishes to remain anonymous:
(If it makes any difference to you, I have personal knowledge of such a situation, and am not merely speaking in the abstract.)

This is an incredibly difficult situation. "Collateral damage" doesn't begin to describe it. There are no solutions that don't involve hurting people. Your instinct to support the victims in whatever decision they might want to make is the correct one. I'm assuming from the amount of detail that they've shared this with you voluntarily, and so I think it is appropriate for you to express an opinion on what to do if solicited, and, if not, to ask them if they would like to do x or y, offering to help where you can. But you must be restrained about this. You may feel guilt that makes you want to take charge of the situation and fix what you didn't notice before. Unless any of them are still children, not even late teens, though, you can't do this. You have to defer to what they want to do.

However, if they truly want people to know, and they truly think he is a danger to children (as a practical matter, if he has access to them, he is), they need to go to the police. Any informal measures will leave children outside your immediate circle unprotected. There is no sugarcoating the fact that this will be painful and probably unsatisfying. They need proper legal advice beforehand--you can help with that, both finding and paying for it. The police may well not bring charges in the end. But then they will have done everything they could to protect others. (If it matters, I also personally think this is the right thing to do; however, the costs are so high and the situation so completely not their fault that I couldn't blame anyone who couldn't do it.)

I'm a little confused about the family relationships here--is the child of the working parent one of those sexually abused, or "only" emotionally/psychologically abused? If the former, it will be nearly impossible to keep their abuse from coming out in a police investigation; if the latter, maybe not. Either way, a police investigation and hopefully arrest and conviction might resolve the work situation. But ultimately the parent is a competent adult and ought to be trusted to make their own decisions; if that's the main reason they don't want him told, it shouldn't outweigh their other concerns. Really, though, you should express this only in the way of asking questions about which value they think is more important. (If they are in your immediate family, I think you are close enough to ask these kinds of questions, but use your own judgment.) You can't pressure them to come forward if they ultimately decide against it.

They may end up disagreeing about which path to take. In the situation I know of, it was very fortunate that all the people who knew agreed on the course of action. But if there are several of them, disagreement is certainly possible. It sounds like some of them may not be adults yet? The one scenario where I think more direct expression of an opinion may be appropriate is where there are younger or more vulnerable ones who want to tell, if you become aware that they are being pressured by the others not to. In that case, you should make a special point of supporting the ones who want to tell in "whatever they want to do." People who genuinely want to come forward should not be dissuaded by others. That is re-victimization. But accept that this may cause devastating conflicts.

Whatever anyone decides to do, you should offer to help them find a therapist. If this is a blue-collar family, there may be some resistance to the idea. But it's badly needed. Not just for the ones who were sexually abused, but all of them. You can help them navigate that process, which can be daunting if you're not feeling strong to begin with. Consider it for yourself, as well.

Above all, knowing that there is someone who believes them, who loves them unconditionally, and who will support whatever they do will be a blessing. You won't be able to protect them from everything. You won't always say the right thing. You can't fix this yourself, no matter how much you want to, and there will be blows you can't cushion. But many victims in this kind of situation never even get that much.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on September 22, 2018 [17 favorites]


This has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with me wanting to prevent others from experiencing what I did as a child, and the silencing that followed.

OP, there is no legal restriction preventing you from reporting this.
posted by kinoeye at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


[Couple comments deleted. Don't berate other commenters. And folks please don't oversimplify in a way that makes it sound like you're blaming the victims for not doing whatever you think they should do.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Victims do not have a legal or moral obligation to report. Obviously, voluntarily reporting is the optimal outcome, but you are correct in supporting this person or persons in whatever *they* decide to do.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


The victims are afraid that if the abuse becomes known, their parent will either have to work every day around a man who abused their child (frankly unthinkable), or will do something drastic and lose their very long-term job, which would be a financial disaster (everyone involved is working class, the parent would lose all their accrued benefits and probably have to find a new physical labor job near retirement age). The parent and the abuser do not have a positive relationship, but they do work side by side in a very small team every day.

Everyone seems very certain that it would be the parent who loses their job. It seems like you could come up with a strategy for the work situation such that the abuser loses his job first. Nobody likes having a child abuser around the office.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:30 AM on September 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


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