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The Vine: October 16, 2013

Submitted by on October 16, 2013 – 1:58 PM16 Comments


I have a moral dilemma that I cannot resolve and I could really use your perspective.

I have very vague memories of being sexually abused as a child. REALLY vague — they're more just remembered feelings than remembered events, and I can't totally swear that they ever even happened. I also can't really remember who my abuser was, but I'm pretty sure (if it was anybody) it was my dad.

I am now a grown woman with a husband and three daughters. We live far away from my father and only see him a few times a year. I have told my husband about my memories of being abused but stressed that I am really uncertain about the memories and don't entirely trust them. But we have agreed that just to be on the safe side, we'll make sure never to leave our daughters alone with my dad. This is easy enough to engineer because he visits rarely and when he does visit we tend to do things as a big group so it doesn't look weird that he's never left alone with any of the girls. I should point out though that he has never done anything remotely creepy/inappropriate with them and is as far as I can tell a totally devoted grandfather.

My dad lives with his girlfriend and they often provide childcare for girlfriend's grandson. They live close by and look after him at least one day a week. This situation hasn't concerned me because I have no reason to suspect a little boy is in any danger from my father. But we recently found out that his girlfriend's daughter is pregnant again and this time it's a girl.

Do I say something? And what do I say? And to whom? I have never confronted my dad with my memories. I have genuinely no desire to discuss it with him. I don't want to know if it ever happened or the extent of it. I would far rather move on with my life and never think about it again.

If I did say something (leaving aside the question of what and to whom) it would absolutely ruin his life. I am sure it would end his relationship with his girlfriend and her family, with whom he is very close. He would lose his home, he would lose his friends, and of course it would ruin our relationship, and his relationship with my daughters (who are fond of him). It would utterly destroy him. And how can I do that when I am genuinely not sure that anything ever even happened? And even if I can trust that the memories of my abuse are real, I couldn't say for certain that my dad was the abuser.

But on the other hand, how can I risk something happening to this little girl if I say nothing?

I have no idea what to do for the best. Help?


Dear Anon,

Go to a therapist. You need to talk to someone about the "remembered feelings," because my sense is that you've chosen to fixate on the practicalities in the present day — whether to tell, whom to tell, what would ensue — in lieu of dealing with what may or may not have happened in the past, because you can control present-day practicalities. You can't control what happened in the past, during your childhood, whether your father abused you sexually, or did something else suspect that you can still sense psychically somehow, or something else entirely happened that you don't entirely believe you can handle.

Not that that isn't a normal response or coping mechanism; I think it is. I also think you're genuinely concerned for your future sort-of-step-niece. But my sense here is that you don't want to know for sure because then you will 1) have to deal with the emotional fallout for yourself and 2) feel responsible as well for protecting others, and it is a lot easier for everyone to leave it in the realm of what-if, and again, it's pretty much exactly how I'd play it so this isn't a judgment — but you should still talk to a counselor, I would say, not about what did or didn't happen (unless you want to) but about your particular reaction to it and way of managing it might suggest. At the very least, you have a safe space to discuss the issue, and with a mandatory reporter who could walk you through what that would look like, if you chose to do it.

A counselor will tell you what I'm about to, which is to give yourself a break because you're trying to juggle what's best and safest for everyone without all the information (and/or with information you don't want). The situation has the potential to get seriously messy and ugly and never un-get back to normal; it's scary. But think about the fact that the only thing you do seem sure of here is that it's your job to figure out what to do. That's a lot of weight, lady. No matter what did or didn't happen or what will or won't, get some help carrying it. Because you can lift it yourself, if you have to; you sound afraid that you'd buckle, but you wouldn't. You don't have to, is the point. Find a therapist and get a hand. That's the right thing for you, so start with that.

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  • heatherkay says:

    Please make sure you don't go to a therapist that advertises as being a specialist in recovering memories. Study after study has shown that these people just reinforce and elaborate on false memories.

  • attica says:

    Being the messenger of such awful (possible) news is terrifying, and not just because there's a real chance it'll blow back on you big and hard in a vortex of victim-blaming. One of the things you should explore in therapy is how to position yourself to handle/deflect that kind of thing to protect yourself and your family. Which is not to suggest that townspeople will burn your house down, but it's best to be clear-eyed about that (possible) reaction.

    On the grounds that abusers seldom target only once, I wonder if/how one can dig around to see if other reports attached to your dad exist in the places where he's lived or worked. That information might help you orient yourself.

  • CJ says:

    Man I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I second Sarah's recommendation of a helping hand. There is nothing worse than dealing with these things and having a neutral party is really helpful. Good luck.

  • Maria says:

    Therapy is a great idea, because it's a safe and neutral place to dump it all. He/she may have some great resources on the family dynamics angle.

    That said, are you even sure they will be providing childcare for two kids on a regular basis? An infant and a toddler is a heavy load for a young person, let alone older people who are growing older all the time. I think you need (for your own sake) to find out if the scenario you fear will even have a chance to play itself out.

    I'm sorry that you are wrestling with this heavy burden.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I am so sorry you have to deal with this, and echo everyone here: Therapy. Don't be afraid to do research and interview the therapist to make sure she/he is good fit for you and isn't one of those "recovered memory" quacks heatherkay mentioned.

    Yes, this has the potential to be so gruesome you'll wish you'd never started, but stay strong. No matter how bad a secret is, it does less damage in the light.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    My two cents: I agree with all those who suggest therapy. You definitely need to talk to a professional who can help you work through this. I also agree with poster HeatherKay – make sure it's not someone who deals in "recovering memories." I've heard the same stories about how dangerous that can be due to "false implantation," etc.

    Best wishes to you.

  • Megan says:

    I'm going to disagree with the advice here. I do go to a therapist, and she believes I was molested. I believe I got creepy vibes as a kid but wasn't physically molested. We've agreed to disagree on whether I was touched or whether I perceived inappropriate interest that wasn't acted upon. She says it doesn't matter, that the effect on my psyche would be similar, and so we've worked on addressing that. All that's fine, because I don't have any interactions with the man (who was a friend of the family but moved across the country for unrelated reasons).

    1. The shrink will not be able to settle on whether you were molested. She wasn't there. She doesn't know. If you are uncertain, she can help you tease that out. But she won't give you any more certainty than you have. If you don't know now, you won't know just because you go to a shrink.

    2. It is fine for my shrink and to disagree on whether I was physically touched because I don't have to do anything about it. But an accusation of molestation carries very high penalties and it is irrefutable. If it didn't happen, or didn't physically happen, that is a terrible thing to do.

    3. Right now, the evidence you have is that your father is a doting grandfather and shows no signs of being inappropriate. Further, sex offenders generally age out of recidivism. And you don't even know he was a sex offender.

    Go to a shrink if you want to see a shrink. If you feel yucky, they are great. I really like mine. But seeing a shrink doesn't mean that you'll ever know what happened or what to do with this dilemma. You'll just have better emotional skills while you don't know.

  • Annie GS says:

    I have been down this same road (not my father but a close friend of the family). I agree with the advice to not worry over the logistics of what to do next but to take care of your own self first. What helped me was a 12-step program called Cosa. The only requirement for membership is to have been affected by someone's compulsive sexual behavior, so survivors of sexual abuse can get help there. (It's like Al-Anon but for family/friends/whayever of sex addicts.) Check out There is help out there!

  • Anon for this one says:

    Just because offenders can age out of recidivism, doesn't mean they *will*. My mother told me that when she was an older teenager, she was left alone with her grandfather, who was blind and a bit frail mind you, and she had to spend a couple of hours hiding from him because he was trying to grope her. There were some older grandfather aged men I grew up around who I feel definitely would have tried something if they had ever had the chance. Luckily for me, my parents made sure they never did.
    That said, I do agree that therapy is the best thing for the letter writer.

  • Dukebdc says:

    Anon, I don't have any advice to offer, but wanted to send my support to you.

  • Cora says:

    The part that jumps out at me is that you say you're only "pretty sure" that it was your dad, but not absolutely certain. I think the who may be as important as the how to move on with a therapist, because as other people have stated, it's an enormous accusation to make. I'm reminded of an old Vine letter that had a comment left by a guy who had always been the friendly, trustworthy go-to Big Guy for help, until a woman accused him, out of nowhere, of rape. Even though she publicly recanted later — in truth it was a violent ex-boyfriend she was frightened would come after her — to this day he's still vilified for something it would never occur to him to have done.

    I don't doubt that something happened to you; you wouldn't feel like this without a reason. But very young children can't always distinguish between people in real life, much less in memory. I wonder if hypnotism might be something to try — and no, I don't mean some fly-by-night charlatan like heatherkay rightly points out. I mean maybe you could read up on the info given by the National Institutes of Health and see what you think.

  • Lisa M. says:

    I'm engaged to a divorced man who has 2 young daughters. In the custody battle, his ex-wife falsely claimed that he had molested the older girl (who was 4 at the time). The ploy worked, and my fiance got only very restricted opportunities to see his daughters after the divorce was final. Apparently this is a common strategy, the mother is given temporary custody of the children, and by the time the divorce proceedings roll around, the kids have been with the mm for so long that the judge is reluctant to disturb the status quo.

    To this day, his ex-wife says things to the girls to perpetrate this lie. [Let's assume that I am right and that it is a lie, that my fiance did not touch his daughter.] I believe that my fiance's ex will continue to chip away at his relationship with his daughters, and the damage will be very difficult to repair.

    I'm not saying anything like this happened to you, but there are some parallels. Accusing your father when you don't know that he did anything to you would be so damaging, and you should consider carefully whether you want to interfere in his relationship with the coming baby.

    I wish you luck in finding resolution.

  • Anonymoose says:

    the accusation might not ruin his life. It might barely make a small ripple, depending on how defensive the rest of his family is. I made accusations against my rapist which would have been sufficient to send him to jail for the rest of his life: but because of the statute of limitations and some forensics not panning out, he'll never go to jail unless other victims come forward. Because of the small town rural culture he doesn't run into any trouble because of my accusations: he continues to coach girls softball, see his grandchildren, etc. so, as you're what-iffing, remember that you can't predict other's behavior, even if it seems obvious.

  • anotherkate says:

    Do you have a good enough relationship with your dad or other family members to ask about who was around during the time period you remember? If you were less than 5, your memories are probably vague and few, right? So it's possible that there are men who were around that you aren't remembering. If your memories are so vague that you're picking your dad just because he was around and it seems logical, you might be missing someone. It would be worth asking about, and if you frame it as a general "asking about my childhood" thing it shouldn't upset anyone.
    Also, you seem to think that talking to the parents of the kids in question about this will somehow destroy your dad's whole life. You don't give a lot of detail, but there's at least a possibility that won't happen. Warning people they might not want to leave their daughter alone with someone isn't the same thing as having someone arrested. The consequences might actually be smaller than you think.
    Anyway, a therapist would be a good person to guide you in any attempts to find out what happened, help you recognize if stress is clouding your thinking, and come up with the best way to approach the family if you do decide to talk to them.
    Last, I just want to say that an abuser is the only person responsible for his/her actions. Whether or not you say anything it would be his fault if he decides to molest another child. You aren't responsible for his actions.

  • spooky says:

    Agreeing with Anonymoose. Confrontation may not actually change much of anything.

    I was touched inappropriately by a my father. It happened once. It wasn't penetrative, but it was very very wrong. I told no one because I thought it would destroy my parents' marriage, etc. because of promises made that my parents would do anything to protect me. I had assumed that protecting me would have meant… protecting me.

    When I finally spoke of it in therapy, I got the courage to tell my Mom. Who confronted my Dad, who sorta kinda maybe apologized? And also sorta kinda maybe put some blame on 11 year old me? He remembered, he admitted to it, and he said it was't 'like that.'

    Also, when my Mom asked why I didn't say anything at the time and I said, "I didn't want you and Dad to get a divorce…"

    She said, without hesitation, "That wouldn't have happened."

    My parents are still married. Post reveal, I'm no longer carrying it around as something that has power over me. However, the real and hard repercussion of speaking up was an unhappy confirmation of my suspicions that I was never the top priority to my parents. It is one thing to think you're not second fiddle, but quite another to have it confirmed that you're really third bassoon.

    But since I was already in therapy, I got to safely deal and move on.

  • Felis D says:

    I wish I had more to add to this, but I think it's been covered already by Sars and previous posters. I do think it would be a good idea to find a way to verify if your memory of it being your father and not (say) an uncle, or a family friend who's no longer in the picture) is a good idea… if it is at all possible. Maybe a quiet conversation with your dad himself? Much hugs and support to you, OP!

    Sorry to also gank the topic away slightly here, but for Lisa M: Regarding your fiance and his alienating ex. Not sure if you have any support for yourself and for him, but if you want some resources, I highly recommend – they have some good resources there for those looking for ways to fight the lies with the girls, as well as resources that may help in court. My husband and I were in a similar situation with my husband's ex, except we were fortunate that she never actually out and falsely accused him to authorities. There were a great many threats and insinuations that she would though, and they were experts at making his daughter afraid of him without actually accusing him of anything to her. We armed up on information as a result, and I'm happy to share that with you if you ever want to have it. The website and support groups run by PAS Intervention are a good start though.

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