Behind a cut for discussions of sexual abuse.
Hi Captain Awkward,
I don’t know if you appreciate trigger warnings, since most of what you deal with sounds like it would apply, but this letter is about my dad who molested me.
When I was starting puberty, my dad molested me. I told my mom, but she told me to tell him to knock it off if he was making me uncomfortable, and there was a resulting crapfest when things were ‘discovered’ years later. He promised he never touched my younger sibling, and that he never would. I knew nothing about the possible recourse you could have about this until he told me that if I told authorities, he’d go to prison and be murdered there, and my family would be ruined. This is a preface to him doing the same thing to my sibling after I moved out. I wish I had warned my sibling, but … I totally failed there.
A while ago, there was another explosion of family drama during the course of this, in which he really proved to me that he’s still a pretty fucked up person (and he was worse than I knew before), and my sibling and I both cut off contact with him for our well-being, and I now pay lots of money for therapy, since apparently repression isn’t working? My mom (who wants us to make up) told me he’s thinking about moving pretty far away and living with his family, but he doesn’t want to leave until he’s settled things with us. Here’s my dilemma (it isn’t whether or not I have to settle things with him; I hate to say it, but my life is just a lot easier): my extended family contains a whole ‘nother generation of kids. And as an uncle, he could plausibly be seen as a potential baby-sitter. None of them know. Now, I’ve (mostly) given up on pressing charges to protect other people, because it would be terrible and miserable, and I… honestly don’t know that it would do any good (if you think I’m wrong, feel free to chime in; I feel pretty hopeless, though). But, I do think I should pick one of HIS siblings, and explain what the deal is. Whether or not it is appropriate, I feel incredibly guilty for what happened to my younger sibling, who I thought I could protect without saying anything to. My dad’s side of the family has been encouraging me to mend fences, and they’re kind of old school, no airing the family’s dirty laundry types, and though we’re not close, I’m worried about them alienating me over this, or accusing me of lying, or… thinking it’s no big deal?
So, I’m not sure what to do. Is my instinct in talking to one of my dad’s siblings a good one? Is there something better I can do that would actually protect other kids? Does that mean pressing charges? I don’t even know about the statue of limitations (it’s been more than a decade since he abused me like that) or anything in my state. If it is okay to talk to my dad’s sibling, do you have any script suggestions? You’re really good at those, which is why I wrote in. Honestly, whether or not he’s changed in the past year (alleges my mom), he was pretty unstable last year, and without giving you even more identifying info, I just … I think he could hurt someone else. He was emotionally and verbally abusive basically my whole childhood and adolescence as well, and his family remembers him from before he was like this. My goal is not to make his family not accept him, and although I understand I can’t control other people’s actions, I don’t have an adequate model for what they might do. Ignore me? Disown him? Continue to shove the dirty laundry in the kitchen cabinets and hope nothing bad comes of it?
Any advice? I just wish someone would have looked out for me or my sibling. This sucks.
What is your mom’s favorite condiment? Ketchup? Sriracha? BBQ sauce? Mayo? I need to know so I can pour it all over this bag of dicks I’d like her to eat for the way she failed to protect you and your younger sibling when you bravely told her what your dad was up to and for the way she is pressuring you now to “make up” and making the question of whether your dad stays or goes all your problem. So here’s your first script:
“Mom, there’s no way for Dad to ‘settle things with us.’ He molested us. We don’t have to forgive him or settle things. Closure is something he needs to get for himself, by getting treatment for the fact that he rapes children and making sure he is never around them. That’s not something we have to forgive, and fuck you for pressuring us about this. If you and he really cared about settling things, you would both inform (family where he’s moving to) that he’s in treatment for being a pedophile and make sure that they don’t leave their kids around him. That would at least show me that he WANTS to change. I am done helping you cover this up and smoothing this over.”
Run it by your therapist, rehearse it, change it as necessary. Maybe before you talk to your mom you can tell the story to close friends and people on Team You just to get it off your chest and stop carrying it by yourself. Maybe you need the experience of being believed and listened to before you try to slay the dragon in its lair.
The whole thing where your dad’s family is “old school, no airing dirty laundry”-types is a translation for “It’s okay if people in our family rape each other, we have this way of using silence to pressure victims into keeping quiet so that no one has to feel TOO awkward at the holidays.” So, also, fuck those people. And fuck the idea that “We’re a family!” somehow erases fucked up things that people do to each other and carries an obligation to forgive and to continually expose yourself to creepy assholes in the name of some greeting-card idea of what family is. If your family wants to have those Hallmark holidays, maybe they shouldn’t rape each other.
Modified script for your dad’s family:
“It’s sweet that you want us to mend fences, but our dad MOLESTED us, and that’s not something I feel like forgiving right now just so you can feel okay about it. Howabout I won’t go anywhere that he will be, and you never ever bring this topic up with me again and also do your part to make sure he is not around kids ever again. That’s probably as mended as we’re going to get.“
If they treat you like you’re lying and you’re the one making it weird, they have just delivered a clear message that they are not safe people for you to be around. Tell me where to send those bags of dicks. There is so much pressure on you to keep silent in order to preserve everyone’s feelings but yours, what if you didn’t try to save their feelings? What if you prioritized your own safety and told the truth and let people believe what they want to?
If they say you’re lying, you can say “Don’t you think I wish it weren’t true? Do you think it’s fun to have to tell you this? Believe whatever you want. I will not be in the same room with that guy ever again, for any reason, and if you are smart you will stop him from ever being around kids.” And then walk on up out of there and go to where there are people who believe you.
One thing you may well hear is “Isn’t that ancient history?” or “But that’s all in the past now, why can’t you move on?” or “Can’t you just forgive and forget?” or “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public” or other sentences from Silencing Techniques 101: Guilting the Victims into Going Away.
“Unfortunately the memories are still fresh, and I can’t erase them just to make you feel better about it.”
“Yeah, I wish I could just forget what happened, but I can’t. I didn’t get raped AT you.”
“I will never forget. Maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive, but that’s not really your timeline to decide.”
“Yeah, this IS a super-uncomfortable topic. You know what else is uncomfortable? Having your whole family side with your rapist so that they don’t have to feel awkward.”
“What’s worse – raping kids, or telling the truth about rapists who rape kids? Because from the way you’re talking about ‘dirty laundry’, I almost think you think it’s worse to tell the truth than it is to rape somebody. Are you sure that’s the hill you want to die on?”
If you don’t want to get into details with family, a good blanket script might be “I’ve decided it’s better for me if Dad and I don’t talk anymore, and probably the less we talk about that the better you’ll like him.“
I’m paraphrasing an old comment here, I think by PFC Marie, along the lines of “You think I’m afraid of an awkward social situation? Motherfucker, I’ve been RAPED. You think sitting through a weird Thanksgiving dinner is somehow worse than that?“
Can you and your sibling talk and make a united front and decision about this? I think that would be a good idea if you can swing it. That is someone who will DEFINITELY believe you about what happened. I think it’s possible that this family probably has a lot of sad and tragic secrets hiding out. Stuff like what your dad did doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So other people besides you might benefit from your refusal to just shut up and take it for some stupid idea of family unity. You might find a whole pocket of family members who have fled the main group and who are hiding out on the sidelines like you.
As to whether you have a moral obligation to tell other family, I’ll refer you to this post by PFC Marie. The post and the comments are pure gold.
But I may as well tell you now, I believe any sentence that has “moral obligation” in it is trying to fuck with you. Not that I don’t believe in moral obligations. I have some! But they are obligations I have made, for myself, per my own code of conduct. As far as I can tell. The thing is, it’s hard to know sometimes whether your “moral obligation” is a value you personally hold, or actually just a socially sanctioned whipping stick that’s crept into your head.
I bristle whenever I hear the moral obligation line, because it seems to me to be the nicer, more benign end of the victim-blaming stick. Nobody’s telling you the abuse was your fault, okay, that’s progress, but if the abuse ever happens again, somehow that’s on you? You couldn’t control or stop the abuser, okay, but give it, like, ten years and you can stop him now? As if being abused is a great power that also confers great responsibility? The person who has the most responsibility is, obviously, the abuser. After him comes everybody who ever had some inkling of what he was doing — this ranges from anybody who ever heard him make a rape joke and said nothing to people who straight-up knew. They have a moral obligation to stop him. After that we radiate outwards, to a society that does not take abuse seriously. After that, only after all those people have failed in their moral obligations, do we come to you.
Of course, that all sounds nice and pretty as a philosophical bent, but the awful truth is, a victim has the best knowledge of what was done, so hopefully, their disclosure will have the most impact. So you can feel that moral obligation pretty heavy, I know. I don’t think you should do this. I don’t think you have to do this. I don’t think you’re bad if you don’t do this. But you yourself are the best judge of how safe you are. What kind of consequences do you envision if you disclose? Can you handle them? Will they be worth the relief you feel at speaking out? What if nothing happens? What if everybody ignores this, and he goes on raising his girls like nothing happened? Will that still feel worth it? For me, it would, but I am me and you are you, and you get to decide this yourself. I would like this to be a world where you can speak up about this; I think it’s the right thing, but you’re not in a right world.
To that end, I’d suggest that you consult a lawyer and/or a social worker and ask them about the legal implications of revealing what your dad did to your family, statute of limitations, etc. Why not become as informed as you can?
The sad truth is that molesters rape serially. We know this. So if you could inform family in a way that feels safe for you and your sibling, then it’s not the worst idea in the world. Maybe your therapist and your sibling and you can compose an email together and send it to the parents on that side of the family. One possible script:
This is a very uncomfortable topic, and I’m sorry to have to burden you with it, but I heard that my dad is moving out your way and I think someone in the family needs to know our story.
Dad molested sibling and me when we were between the ages of ____ and _____. We told our mom, but she was more worried about the possibility of jail and tearing the family apart than about protecting us, so we didn’t press charges.
To my knowledge he has never sought treatment or admitted what he’s done. He’s definitely lied and said he wouldn’t do it again and then broke that promise. We don’t want to start a witch hunt, but we did want some other people in the family to have the knowledge they need to protect their kids.
Sibling and I are both in therapy and we are both as okay as you can be after something like this. Please don’t feel obligated to respond in any particular way, or at all if you don’t want to. We know this must be extremely difficult to hear, but we had to take a chance that we could save other kids from what happened to us even at the risk of making things uncomfortable.“
If you could send something like that, it would be extremely brave and it may well help other kids. It may not – you kind of have to leave it in the hands of the parents from there – but you can know that you did all that you could.
What happened isn’t your fault.
You don’t have to make up and play nice.
Fuck the whole idea of “family unity” or other people’s peace of mind. Nobody gets peace of mind until YOU get peace of mind.
You’re not obligated to “prevent an abuser” from abusing – that’s pretty much on the abuser to do, but if you can bring yourself to inform someone about what he did you may be a force for good. The most important thing is your own recovery and safety.
If people push back and accuse you of lying, you can say “Ok, believe what you want. I’m done here.” They aren’t making you liars, they are making it known that they are unsafe and can’t be trusted.
Your dad sucks. Your mom also sucks and is not to be trusted.