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The Vine: September 23, 2015

Submitted by on September 23, 2015 – 12:35 PM9 Comments

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Despite being a bit introverted and not particularly talkative, I usually don't have much trouble expressing myself. However, life has recently thrown me a curve that I didn't see coming and I'm not sure how exactly to respond.

I just found out that a not-immediate-but-not-too-distant older relative is accused of child exploitation involving two teens. He informed my mother, who passed along word to me and my sibling. The fact that he was accused and is awaiting trial made the local news in his area, where he was a respected member of the community. Outside the bare facts reported there I have no knowledge of the details in his case. It came as a complete "What?!?" surprise to me. As a teen (decades ago) I spent a month at his house during a summer break where nothing even remotely suspicious happened. Otherwise most of my contact with him has mostly been in the company of other relatives and rather infrequent (i.e., once every year or two).

I've already decided to email/write/phone him a message of personal support to let him know that I find it difficult to believe these allegations and no matter the outcome of the case he will have my love and support.

And that's about all I know I can say at this point. Of course I'd also include my hope the trial will swiftly end in his favor, but I don't know as there's much else I can or should say. Offer to provide an affidavit regarding his character? That's something I'm comfortable doing except for the fact I'm having a difficult enough time composing this message! Plus, it seems like an empty gesture given my limited contact.

I haven't even decided how to send this message to him. Part of me wants to tell him this by phone as that seems quickest and most personal. However, I worry that it will kind of put him on the spot (whether guilty or innocent) to give out details that he has obviously decided not to as of yet. And a more indirect, less personal form of contact would be following his lead (as it relates to me and my sibling). Maybe I'm overthinking this and should just go with my gut, no matter the potential awkwardness?

Thanks in advance for any advice,

Now wishing I hadn't ignored the Duggar case quite so completely

Dear Wish,

Yeah, you're overthinking it — totally understandable, but don't let your fear that you won't say the perfect thing get in the way of your saying something. "I find it difficult to believe these allegations and no matter the outcome of the case you will have my love and support. Take good care. Love, Wish." That's it. Write it on a plain notecard and mail it. (I have no problem with calling, but if you're concerned about putting him on the spot — or being put there yourself — a note is probably best.)

If he wants you to testify as to his character, a note would signal to him/his counsel that you're willing to do that (though that's another whole issue that you should talk through with your family, should it come up). Again, though, don't let trying to bake that into your note stop you from simply saying what you mean in a timely fashion. My tax return says "writer" on it, so I am intimately familiar with the feeling that I "should" know what to say on which critical occasions, but the fact is, words only come up to the ankle of these things sometimes — heartbreak, dread, the passing of a loved one. Your relative will love hearing from you and knowing you're thinking of him; he's not sitting up nights waiting for you to fix it. All you have to do is acknowledge it, really. So, do that.

And continue ignoring the Duggar case if you can. God forbid it screw a guac recipe or a remembered kitten out of a brain cell.

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9 Comments »

  • Wish says:

    Thanks for the advice!

    As an update, a couple of days after writing you I finally came to the same conclusion that you did: that it was better to say something, even something possibly awkward, than nothing. I ended up calling, as I realized I didn't have a current address for him. Although the conversation was very brief and a little stilted (I basically got a thank you and a promise to keep in touch) I was glad I did it.

  • Lynz Morahn says:

    Sars, this line is so good: "My tax return says "writer" on it, so I am intimately familiar with the feeling that I "should" know what to say on which critical occasions, but the fact is, words only come up to the ankle of these things sometimes — heartbreak, dread, the passing of a loved one." Thank you for it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You're very welcome.

  • Katie says:

    I don't know the specifics, but please be prepared for evidence that may suggest that these illicit encounters are true. I don't have a lot of experience in this matter, I'll admit but deciding to support him whether innocent or guilty means you accept the guilty behavior, and want to help. Helping someone with an unhealthy addiction means talking them through stressful court dates, possible sentancing and recovery efforts.

    Furthermore if the allegations aren't true, this will have a significant effect on his life, where kindness, understanding, and a sense of loss of respectability is to be expected. This entire situation is life changing, so be cognizant of that, guilty or innocent.

    Either way your relative is going through hell, so be prepared for all the emotions that come with that.

    On a personal note, please don't offer help if you are going to disappear later. When I was diagnosed bipolar the most hurtful reactions were family and friends who said they would support me and disappeared from my life because it was too hard to accept my reality.

    So if you want to support, keep doing it and don't suddenly ignore him when the reality of helping someone through this experience is too hard.

  • sam says:

    Wow. Really? "A relative of mine was accused of sexually exploiting two teenagers and I wanted to let him know that no matter what I support him!" Guess what? This isn't an "unhealthy addiction", it's actually a choice. If guilty, he made a choice to "exploit" two teenagers. And false allegations are the exception that prove the rule: the average man accused is guilty. The appropriate course of action is to take a step back and not offer emotional support to the maybe-molester. I could sort of (sort of) understand struggling with this if he was a close relative, like a brother, but by your own admission you rarely spend time with this guy and y'all aren't tight. What the fuck?

    What the fuck, Sars? I'm never coming back here again.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    "Wow. Really?", indeed. I'm not the LW; I answered what I was asked; I have to wonder what good you think storming off my bitty blog is going to do the victims of sexual violence if you yourself just showed up to Have Outrage almost three months later.

    If you really think I espouse the behavior the LW's relative is accused of, why were you here in the first place. Good luck to you.

  • sam says:

    See, I came back here after discussing this with a friend, to show her the email, and I see this reply? First of all, you've been asked a lot of things over the years and given answers more designed for the amusement of your readers than the benefit of the LW, giving advice they didn't ask for (but more often than not needed). I could sit here all night listing them and they weren't written about anything so serious and dangerous as child molester relatives. So, yeah, you could have given better advice than "Yeah, you're overthinking it — totally understandable, but don't let your fear that you won't say the perfect thing get in the way of your saying something."

    I didn't just show up to Have Outrage? What an idiotic comment. I've been a semi-regular reader and when I saw the question I settled in to see what sensitive, informed, respectful response you'd give. AS A VICTIM OF CHILDHOOD MOLESTATION it was kind of a kick in the chest to read you encouraging someone to offer support to an accused molester (because he never did anything to her/him so obvs innocent). When you sit down to write answers like this are you aware that survivors are real and actual people, and many read your blog (or did- very few comments on a letter that would have once gotten hundreds)?

    "If you really think I espouse the behavior the LW's relative is accused of, why were you here in the first place"

    Oh, come off it. You aren't some naive 16 year old. Another bullshit comment from a woman who peddles advice and has spent more than a decade writing and reviewing, exploring themes, dismantling characterization and development. You are perfectly fucking familiar with the idea that people can think someone they know (or "know") would never believe or do a thing only to be disappointed. I never actually did think you would offer supportive advice to someone wanting to know how to word a fucking heartfelt note of love and encouragement to a molester. But boy was I wrong.

    Hey, maybe you could try to work this into your next "you're a feminist" essay?

  • sam says:

    "I have to wonder what good you think storming off my bitty blog is going to do the victims of sexual violence"

    I don't know, what good do you think your response is going to do the victims of sexual violence? Just out of curiosity.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    sam, I have to tell you, I don't know what you want from me here. I am not being disingenuous when I remind you, again, that I wasn't asked whether Wish should believe in her relative's innocence. Odds are she shouldn't. I also wasn't asked whether she should continue to support, or express support for, this relative if it turns out he did what he's accused of. Apparently this is unacceptable hair-splitting from your perspective. I disagree with that assessment, and of the one that casts me as a denier of survivor experience, and a bad feminist, and simultaneously a glib bullshit artist and a trusted source of counsel who's betrayed…something.

    With all of that said, I sincerely apologize that what you took from my response is "fuck what your relative's [alleged] victims went through, blood is blood." That was not my point, that would never BE my point. But my advising the family member of an accused molester on how to navigate the complexities of that situation for her is not meant to downplay or ignore the molestation, dismiss its survivors, equate the respective difficulties…of course it isn't. It's acknowledging that, for HER, the situation is complex. If you'd expected a black-and-white "he's a monster, cut 'im off" response, and feel sold out by my not giving it…

    I don't know. What happened to you is beyond shitty. This isn't a place where you aren't believed or don't count. I'm sorry if I made you feel invisible with my response; if you'd like to discuss this further, let's please take it to email.

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