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Denial of sexual abuse in extended family
Potentially distressing content warning
Hi, I’m currently trying to bring myself to communicate with an extended family member regarding her ongoing denial of four years of sexual abuse done to a cousin when she was a child. In fact she pretends the person abused doesn’t exist. The mother of this child (different to above person) blamed her daughter for the abuse and abandoned her. The perpetrator got away with it. This same perpetrator attempted to groom me as a child but I was fortunately never alone with him. Another relative did as well in front of other family including my parents who did nothing to stop his behaviour, but again I was never completely alone and apart from suggestive comments and being leered at and asked to do things for him, nothing actually happened. He later went to prison for abusing another under-age person.
I’m not sure my question fits here because it’s primarily about the abuse of someone else. But what I’d like to know is how have others handled denial of sexual abuse in families and the ongoing lies and cover ups that can go on for years? As a younger adult I have experienced two sexual assaults and so I feel all the more angry about how the abuse of a family member is denied. I refuse to pretend the person doesn’t exist and I have nothing to do with her mother who abandoned her. The other family member is trying to get me to connect with the mother and I will not do this.
This keeps coming up at the moment and I’m thinking of writing a letter to the family member I’m struggling with right now. I believe she tries to cover up the abuse because she has been scared for years to rock the boat. But I feel I have to rock the boat even though it’s likely to be destructive of my relationship with family members.
I only found out about the abuse of this cousin in my 20s when my parents told me, years after it occurred. The perpetrator died recently which has put a spotlight back on this issue. Has anyone had to handle something like this? What did you do? How did it go? I have a feeling it’s going to go badly but I refuse to play the denial game. I have never met the cousin in question as she was ex-communicated from her family decades ago. I’m only recently discovering the extent to which other family have gone to cover up the abuse and it’s upsetting me. My parents have died so I can’t discuss it with them now.
Part 1 of 2
Dear Eagle Ray~
I like your content warning at the top - it is well thought out. I'll give one here to you as I may say something that could upset you and that I'd not want, but if this message is to do any good I guess it might be a bit blunt/uncomfortable.
The first thing to say is it is very common for people who have been injured as you have been to need to have that set of experiences totally believed and acted upon. One tends to look to the people one thinks are one's protectors - most often parents - to do this.
If they do not, and go so far as to pretend it never happened I see it is a double betrayal, first by the adult perpetrator taking advantage of a young person for their perverted gain, and secondly by those so called protectors who deny and try to sweep matters under the carpet rather than sticking up for the injured person, believing them without reservation and acting in their best interests
Incidentally I'm not misunderstanding by saying injured rather than abuse. It is a ghastly injury to the soul and can last a long time in one's life
That drive to be believed, and where possible to see justice done can be very powerful indeed and can take all sorts of forms. As the people concerned have passed away most opportunity to do anything is lost
How do you feel about that? Cheated perhaps with avenues closed off? I do hope you have had sensible professional support in the past, and that you always have the opportunity to get more. It can make a big difference if done sensitively and well
That drive can lead one down all sorts of paths and it can be hard to sort out motivation. I would like to ask you what you want to accomplish by writing to that family member who denies the abuse of your cousin? It may do more harm than good - both to you and your cousin.
Part 2 of 2
For you if that letter is not received with understanding but further denials and maybe a personal attack it can make you feel frustrated, alone and that the is a gap between you and the world.
Even if they did express contrition and try to make amends things are still not straightforward
You may not know your cousins 's state, or how fragile they might be. Any unearthing of the past may not be as beneficial as one might hope
If you are really determined may I suggest that if there was any way of letting your cousin know your history without being explicit - NOT making it obvious you were aware of theirs that might be the gentlest way to proceed
I'd value your thoughts on the matter
Thank you for your wise thoughts. You have not upset me at all.
I’m not wanting to punish people in the present for past wrongs. But what has come up is the family member who has been telling me things that are dishonest about the past and trying to get me to connect and spend time with the other family member who abandoned her daughter. The first family member has been someone I always trusted in the past and thought of as a good person. I’m feeling upset that she has recently lied to me. E.g. lying about the number of nieces she has to deny the existence of the abused cousin. It shocked me that she would blatantly lie to cover up abuse. I tried to briefly tell her that I have experienced past abuse myself and that I’m aware of the cousin whose existence she denies. There was just awkward silence followed by her talking non-stop about unrelated matters for the rest of the call, almost as a way of obliterating what I just said.
Since then I’ve had to deal with several passive aggressive calls from her where she has been unpleasant to me. I feel like it’s a kind of pre-emptive strike as she’s scared of what I know and wants to make me wrong in some way first. I just feel really sad about the loss of trust and safety I’d previously had with her and never thought she’d actually lie to me.
I’ve not actually met the cousin as she was shut out of the family by the time I was small. I just know what my parents eventually told me about her. My Dad tried to acknowledge her existence a few years after my parents told me about it. This led to him being threatened abusively by the perpetrator. It was really distressing for my Dad who just sat in the chair shaking afterwards. While I copped physical and verbal abuse from my Dad he was never a sexual abuser and I’m proud that he did stand up for this cousin. It does disturb me somewhat though that we were left in the care of the perpetrator and cousin’s mother at times as kids and they knew the child abuse this guy had committed.
The relative who continues to call me at present (and did again today but I didn’t answer as I’m feeling uncomfortable with her) is really what I’m trying to figure out how to handle now. I think you may be right that a letter may create more stress, though my goal was to write sensitively. I guess I prefer openness. I’ll hold off acting on it as I reflect further on it.
Dear Eagle Ray~
Thanks for coming back and explaining more. So you have a person who did not acknowledge what happened and is now trying to sideline you, in an unpleasant manner. That relative may well have been comfortable to pretend nothing happened and you cousin did not exist and you have opened it all up.
All I can say is what I'd do for may own welfare in such circumstances. I agree I can become quite easily upset and for it take a very long time to recover.
That being the case I'd simply break contact and leave it that way, even if there is the potential to cause awkwardness with other people who know you both. Anyone that would prefer to attack (even wiht just words) rather than acknoledge truth does not strike me as someone you are ever going to get anywhere with.
I've had times in the past where it's felt I ought to act on the my expereinces, however I've tried to balance that against firstly waht would be the likely outcome and secondly the fact it would keep my experiences in mind, when I believe I should encourage them ot take a back seat.
A friend of mine who suffered the same treatment by our employer took them to court, a matter that went for several years. It sort of cemented all the hurt in place. I took the opposite approach and walked away accepting what they offered, and feel the better for it.
For me that would simply cause me to suffer greif to no important purpose.
It is sad the realtionship wiht oyur relative can never be the same, however being told untruths at this level would have come as a shock. Past affection is a powerful thing and sometimes it is hard to break through to a new set of feelings.
As for you dad, he sounds human, and I'm glad despite his poor judgment he did something for you to feel proud about. Do you know if he ever made contact wiht you disowned cousin?
I know you are turning all this over in your mind, and I'd really like to know what you decide.
Thanks so much again for your wise thoughts. I really appreciate it.
Yes, this relative has essentially been trying to co-opt me into partaking of the lie as she has aligned herself with the mother who blamed her own daughter for the abuse committed against her and then rejected that daughter, pretending she no longer exists. The mother has never shown remorse for her actions. Under no circumstances will I ever be part of that lie.
Today I decided to speak with the relative. I managed to avoid having a confrontation over it but I pointed out the things I have been through, including instances of sexual abuse and how it’s affected me. This was my way of saying what happened to the cousin wasn’t ok and this is the legacy of harm a person has to deal with. It was my way of pushing back. So without having an argument as such I stood up for what is right. I don’t think she’ll try to drag me into the lie now.
I didn’t say I was breaking off contact with her, but I’m feeling this is probably best as I can’t see any kind of healthy relationship with this relative as it stands moving forward.
I agree with you that simply walking away can be the best response rather than feeding the bad energy and conflict. Part of me still feels like writing a letter to complete things I didn’t express today, to clarify my position and why. But I’m not sure if that’s necessary.
With regard to my Dad, he was actually an accidental witness to the abuse when he walked into a room. The cousin later went to relatives asking for their support to go to the police. She was talked out of it by an uncle. I know my Dad never felt right about this and I think suffered great guilt that she wasn’t supported, as if it was just up to him I think he would have supported her (including acting as a witness in court). It was his desire for the truth that I think made him raise the issue later, leading him to be aggressively threatened.
I’m still feeling riled after the phone conversation this afternoon. There’s more I’d like to say but held back somewhat today not wanting to have an outright conflict. Will pause and reflect.
Sorry forgot to answer your question. I don’t think my Dad contacted the cousin later, but I think he carried a burden of guilt about her not being supported as she should have been and wishes he’d gone against the uncle who talked her out of going to the police.
I have just finished reading this conversation between yourself & Croix.
Looks to me you are well on the way to making some decisions which are in your best interest.
I was going to write more, but went well over the character count. That may be for the best. I will look over what I wrote before responding further.
Big Hugzies to yuo, ER, & to you too, Croix.
P.S. I like your "Potentially distressing content warning" too.
Thank you mmMeKitty
I’m still awake at this late hour as I’m still seething with a kind of anger towards my relative, but it’s actually a good, assertive anger and I’m letting myself feel it and know it. Today I stood up for my cousin, myself and for honesty. I feel empowered by allowing myself to be angry rather than suppress it. Just starting to get sleepy now though which is a good sign I’m relaxing a bit too.
Hope you sleep well mmMeKitty 😴
Accepting how we feel is important & necessary. While doing this with respect to our own emotions, we next are in a better position to understand & respect the feelings of others.
I've had to accept we are all human, all of us not perfect, all of us capable of disappointing each other, sometimes in very profound ways, which may seem unfathomable to us.
I will never have all the answers I have wanted. I will never hear the words from people who abused me, saying whatever it is I need from them - I am thinking, I need to find out for myself what I want to hear & tell myself those things.
I mean, when people can't or won't give me the support I need, I must either find people who will, or learn how to support myself.
This hasn't been easy for me to answer. I wrote & rewrote, & what I wrote was different each time.
For myself, i spent a lot of time & energy trying to keep myself from fully feeling, or thinking, recognising & naming what my experiences were. It was all too much, even when separated into distinct incidents. I am not sure I will ever actually put all the pieces of my childhood back together into something that does not appear scrambled, with pieces missing.
I'm not sure I will ever fully grasp how much those incidents of my childhood have altered the person I might have been without those incidents. The effects seems to be far wider & deeper than I have thought ten years ago. & different before twenty & thirty years ago. & vastly different to what I thought fifty years ago.
I messed things up with my family, If people aren't willing, & would rather turn away & not at least try, there is little to be done, or gained by bringing up the difficult topics - not until they are ready. My rellies weren't ready to hear & didn't become ready after I had contacted those few. I still haven't contacted two of my sibs, & none of the step-sibs, & not my (ex-)step-mother.
I've tried to talk to my sis, but since it's all small talk.
I'm not sure, but I hope this is helpful.