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Concerned about niece's safety around nephew

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My niece confided in me that her brother has body shamed her and touched her sexually. My nephew has many other behavioral issues. We brought the issue up to the parents and they tried to blame my niece, saying "she likes to play" and "they wrestle in the pool so it just happens". They have shut us out and won't respond to our attempts to help or take either child for awhile. My niece has asked for therapy but they only focus on her brother. She told me that her mom said she would have a talk with him about touching, but he continually does things he is told not to and never recieves discipline or consequences.  We need help for these kids!

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Relative,

I can see that you have some serious concerns about the safety of your niece and nephew, both in regards to sexually harmful behaviors and general safety. I’m glad you’re keeping an eye on these concerns and that you reached out to us for help.

Response From The Parents
It’s great that you tried to Talk To Parents About Their Child’s Behaviors in regards to your niece’s disclosure, even though they didn’t react the way you might have hoped. You're right that when a child is the focus of unwanted sexual attention, whether from an adult or another youth, that child is never at fault. 

Your nephew may have a sexual behavior problem, and it’s up to the adults in his life to help him learn appropriate behaviors so that everyone in the family can be safe. I’m wondering if these parents’ focus on this boy have included therapy of his own.

It may be that they don’t know what to do about his behavior, or it may be that they don’t see his behavior as a concern. In either case, you’re right that your niece’s needs, safety, and healing should not be overlooked, and that both children may need professional support.

Getting Help
You’ve spoken with the parents about your concerns, but they may not be taking action to keep your niece and nephew safe. Instincts are important, and it sounds like yours are telling you to get outside help. Reaching out to a school counselor was a good idea, but it can be difficult for schools to take action based on the concerns of unfamiliar adults. So, I’m wondering if you can take another step for your niece and nephew’s safety by contacting Child Protective Services (CPS).

Reporting
Because these parents seem unable or unwilling to take more steps to ensure everyone’s safety, it may be most helpful to your niece (and the whole family) to report your concerns to CPS. When filing a report, it’s important to focus only on facts that you’ve witnessed or heard – like your niece’s disclosure of her nephew’s sexually harmful behaviors. Give as much information as you can about specific incidents that make you concerned about their safety, and avoid giving any opinions on parenting practices or what you think should be done next. CPS will examine the information and decide on their own whether to investigate and what steps to take for the family.

Facing The Practical Difficulties of Speaking Up can be frightening. It may help to review our information on Reporting, or to read more about Reporting Child Abuse from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services website mentions that anonymous reporting may be an option. If you decide to file, you can do so in Pennsylvania by calling the reporting line at 800.932.0313.

Supporting Your Niece
You mention that the parents have shut you out, so I’m unsure whether you’re still able to see your niece and nephew. It sounds like your niece considers you a safe adult to confide in and a safe space to be. This is so important.  If you’re still allowed to see them, although the parents have turned down offers to keep either child for an extended time, it may be most helpful to instead continue to offer your niece a safe space even for short visits.

This may not seem like much right now. But being able to give her a break from what feels like an unsafe environment even for only a short amount of time can still be beneficial, as can spending time with adults that acknowledge her needs and her voice. Please don’t underestimate the power of your love and support. For more on how to support your niece, consider our advice column, What do I say to a child who talks about being abused?

Your Own Support
I can tell from your email that you care deeply about the safety of these children. I imagine that this has been a very difficult experience for you. It can be easy to forget our own needs when trying to speak up for others, but I want to encourage you to seek support for yourselves as you continue to stand up for your niece’s safety and both children’s wellbeing. You might benefit from seeking your own professional support. If you aren’t already receiving this kind of support, please consider using our Finding and Choosing Professional Treatment resources to help you locate a counselor.

I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: March 20th, 2017