The Vine: October 16, 2013
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?
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.
Tags: ethical dilemmae health and beauty kids the fam