Wedding Woes

O. M. G. (TW: child sexual abuse)

Dear Prudence,

My sisters and I are very close. I always knew they were uncomfortable around our maternal uncle, but I thought it was just because he’s strange and made a number of poor life choices that affected the rest of the family. I’ve tried to keep in touch with him and his family (particularly his young children) and have often been angry with myself for what seemed like a baseless discomfort around him. Recently, one of my sisters told me that she avoids him because he tried to molest her when she was 11 during a camping trip. They were sharing a tent, and he put his hand down her underwear and likely would have done more if she hadn’t rolled over and “pinned” his arm so he couldn’t move it. The next morning she told our mother what happened. Our mother called her AA sponsor for advice, posing it as a “hypothetical scenario,” and my mom’s sponsor apparently said, “If you don’t report him, I will.” Instead my mother told my uncle to leave the state because it was “out of her hands.” Aside from a single surprise appointment with a child psychologist that my sister was subsequently forced into (and found very traumatic), nothing more was ever said on the subject.

I’m horrified, and I feel utterly disgusted by my uncle. This knowledge explains so many other incidents I never understood as a child. I would never want to punish my young cousins, but I don’t ever want to see or speak to him again. We’re not celebrating weddings and holidays together right now because of the pandemic, but someday that will change. How can I best express my loyalty to my sister without destroying my family or causing collateral damage to family members who aren’t involved? What about how my mother handled it? The worst part is that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this story—only when it was told to me as an adult several years ago, my uncle’s hand “accidentally rolled” onto my sister when he was “asleep.” I feel sick that I never questioned that! I believe that people can learn and change after making mistakes, but where’s the line? Don’t people need to acknowledge and apologize in order to show that they’ve changed?

—Family Skeletons

Re: O. M. G. (TW: child sexual abuse)

  • There is so much wrong here.

    I'd start by talking to your sister and also to your uncle's partner assuming they are together.

    This isn't a "what will people feel" situation when the lives of kids are at stake.  
  • Tell your sister you believe and you are sorry this happened to her. Ask her how she would like you to respond. This is all about her and not at all about how other people will feel. 

    If she wants you to not see him, but also not say anything then do that. It’s up to her whether her story becomes family knowledge. 
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