Dear Barb—Abused in Confidence

Dear Barb:

I am a member of a huge family.  We often get together for family events and have lots of fun.  I know some families have problems, but that never seemed to be the case in our family, until recently.  After a few drinks at family BBQ a relative confided in me that her daughter had told her that she had been sexually abused by one of our older uncles.  I was totally shocked.  At first I didn’t want to believe her.  After giving it some thought I knew it was true as the person confiding in me was very reliable.  She made me promise not to tell anyone else in the family since it happened a long time ago.  I have young granddaughters who are in contact with this uncle and I’m concerned about this happening to them.  When I see him interacting with them, I can feel myself tense up.  I don’t know whether I can continue to keep this secret.  I do not want my grandchildren or any other child to have to experience this abuse, but I don’t want to break this family member’s trust.  What would you recommend I do in this situation? Thanks, Olivia. 

Hi Olivia:

An unfortunate situation to say the least.  Sexual abuse of a child changes who they are and impacts their lives forever.  You didn’t mention whether the girl who was abused has received counseling.  Through counseling she will learn how to deal with the after effects of the abuse, and also how to deal with the abuser.  The occurrence of sexual abuse of children under the age of 18 is staggering.  According to the following website

  • One in six boys and one in four girls will experience a sexual assault before the age 18 (Dube et al., 2005).  Global statistics show that, over the course of a lifetime, this increases to 1 in 3 women (Unifem, 2003) and 1 in 5 men (Barnet et al, 1997) who will experience some kind of sexual violence or abuse.

Your concern for your grandchildren is understandable.  I would suggest you discuss this with the family member who confided in you, telling her about your concern for your grandchildren.  Then perhaps you and this family member could consult with a counselor who is experienced in this field.  It is very important that you not betray the trust of the girl who has experienced the abuse, as I’m sure she is already struggling with trust issues because of what happened to her.  Perhaps with the help of a counselor she can confront this person about getting some help.  Disclosing sexual abuse is such a difficult thing to do that some children are never able to and keep it bottled up for their entire lives.  However If this is not brought out in the open it will be allowed to continue.  Thank you Olivia for talking about this significant issue.

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