My family denies my brother's warning signs.


Dear Stop It Now!,

I'm trying to find some helpful information on dealing with denial. I have a brother who I have not allowed to see my kids for about 10 years now, as he frequently does a number of red flag things towards children. However, as he still lives with our parents, this has caused a huge strain on the family relationship. My parents haven't seen much of us in that time. When we do see them, it has to be in secret so he doesn't tag along, and it has to be a quick visit, which is more difficult, as we live 300 km apart.

In addition, our mom is in a constant state of denial, as is our other brother, and some of our other relatives. Our mom keeps saying it's sweet how he always wants to spend time alone with kids, and babysit for free, and lavish them with gifts (which he can't afford), and that since he was married once, and has since had several girlfriends with small children, he'd never do anything bad to them. (BTW, his marriage ended after his brother in law caught him inappropriately touching his 4 year old, and I caught him showing porn web sites to our close family friend’s 9 year old, so there's no way that I'm reading too much into the situation.)

So the problem is that for the past 10 years, my husband and I have been vilified for keeping the family apart. We're horrible people, who apparently don't take my parents' feelings into consideration, and as they are getting older, and my mom's health is getting worse, we are even worse villains for not allowing her the family get-togethers where every single person is there.

We have tried, before making the decision to keep him away from the kids 100%, but even in a large family group, he would still take every opportunity to try to sneak off with a child, and my husband and I had to be on constant alert, and were apparently "overreacting" when we caught him trying to sneak away with one of the kids, even though he had been told many times that this was off limits.

And of course, people talk. So my mom has a crying fit to tell everyone how awful we are, and all my aunts and uncles tell me how inconsiderate I am, and, how they too, would never believe that my brother could be a problem.

Do you have some advice on how I can handle my other relatives aside from continuing to take the emotional abuse they are collectively dishing out?

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Dear Vigilant Parent,

It is so very difficult when caring adults aren't able to get support and agreement from family when striving to provide safe environments for their children. And yes, when the safety concerns involve a close relative, it is common for families to experience a lot of conflict and confusion about next steps.

Talking About It
I'm wondering if you have ever talked directly to your brother about your concerns, specifically identifying his behaviors that concern you? Has he been informed of clear family safety rules you have for all adults?

Given the evidence of sexually abusive behaviors already around children, has anyone talked to him about getting professional support? These types of conversations are of course difficult and can be uncomfortable, but they can help take the "secrecy" out of concerns about children's sexual safety. So, is he aware of the concerns you have? Our guidebook, Let's Talk may help if you decide to have this conversation with him, but please also consider your safety and having a support person there with you. And of course, it’s possible you’ve already done this or you don’t think this is the tact to take – trust your instinct as you have been doing to protect your children.

I’m also curious about whether there was any consequences following the discovery of him touching the 4 year old or showing pornography to a child? These are not just warning signs of an adult at risk to abuse a child, but in the U.S., this is actual sexual abuse and could be reported. I would encourage you or any other adults who have specific knowledge of your brother’s abusive actions to consider pulling in child protection authorities.

Safety Planning
Let me also say more about safety planning. When you have rules about the types of interactions adults have with children, this means that all adults are to be held accountable - which in turn means, no one is singled out – all adults follow the same rules. Rules such as:

  • Adults buying gifts for children in my family must first inform a parent
  • Adults do not show adult/mature sexual content to children
  • Adults do not close the door when they are in a room with a child
  • We play with others when we are clothed.
  • Adults will not leave a room with a child without checking with the parents.

In this way, we can talk with adults about their behaviors, without assuming their intentions. We can talk about their behaviors as how they contribute to the general safety of a child’s environment without accusing them of abusing a child – how their actions may confuse a child about what safe adults do. As your brother has already broken at least one of these rules, you can make the decision that this adult is not safe to be around the children because even if he hasn’t sexually abused them, his behaviors around other children indicate that he poses a risk to your kids.

It’s wonderful that your children have parents that are committed to their safety; and there probably just isn’t the best solution to this as families are so complicated. It is so hard to take a stand like this but it certainly appears as though you have good reasons for staying strong on your decisions to keep your children safe from identified risks. Feel free to share our site and this letter with your family; perhaps it will help to open up the conversation.

I hope this information is helpful, and I wish the best for you and your family.

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: June 1st, 2021