Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

In Other Words: “How Do I Protect My Daughters From my Pervy Brother-in-Law Without Offending My Sister?”

From a recent Carolyn Hax column:

mama bear

I adore my older sister, but she is married to someone I find difficult. His personality is not a match for mine, but much larger than that is he was inappropriate to me from when I was 13 through my early twenties. Nothing he could get arrested for — he would “accidentally” touch my rear end or chest, ask very inappropriate questions, once even made a model of genitalia and showed it to me. They had daughters and I kept a VERY close eye on them. Thankfully, nothing has seemed amiss and they are adults now.

These days I manage to be civil and sometimes fairly friendly — he was raised very badly and I can see he isn’t all bad. He has also mellowed out quite a bit as he’s aged.

Problem: I have kids now and my sister wants them to spend the night with their favorite aunt, as her kids did with me and my husband hundreds of times. I just can’t see ever allowing that, but I don’t know how much longer I can make excuses.

My sister knows of a few instances but made excuses back then and it immediately was a non-topic, and she is absolutely one who would cut me off forever if I just said, hey, hubby isn’t someone I have good memories of, so no thanks.

I can’t imagine I’m overreacting, or am I? — Mama Bear

You can read Carolyn Hax’s response here. Mine is below:

I had a teacher once when I was 14 who was inappropriate with me in a similar way your brother-in-law was inappropriate with you (albeit, not nearly as aggressive or over-the-line). A few times, I remember him giving me (unsolicited!) massages — both in class, and at back-to-school picnics for teachers and their families (my parents worked with him) and making comments that made me cringe (“You really blossomed over the summer!” That kind of thing. Ew, even thinking about it now… so gross). And a few times, when I babysat his young daughter, he’d make more inappropriate comments as he drove me home. Again, nothing that he’d get arrested for, but totally cringe-worthy anyway. I should have spoken up about my discomfort, but I didn’t want to draw anymore attention to myself and, anyway, he was in a position of authority, and I didn’t yet fully understand that I didn’t have to put up with his bullshit.

Looking back, I would only hope that if I had expressed my discomfort, I wouldn’t have been brushed off like you were by your sister all those years ago. (And I don’t think I would have. Once, I told my mother about a clueless gym teacher who made me jump rope in front of a class of mostly boys as he told them to “watch my form carefully.” My “form,” as it were, was very developed — as a favorite uncle let me know a few months earlier — and I was humiliated that a room full of teenage boys had been instructed to watch me jump up and down for any length of time. Anyway, when I told me mom, she was outraged and stormed the gym, where she let the poor PE teacher have it).

Another time, when I was 15, I was on a school trip and we were staying in a hotel for a few days. One morning as my classmates were boarding the bus, I ran back up to my room to retrieve something I’d forgotten. On the elevator back down to the lobby, I was groped and felt-up by a middle-aged man who was also staying in the hotel that week, after he pushed the emergency stop button and shoved me against the wall. When I told my teacher about it a few minutes later, obviously still shaken-up and thinking she would say or do something to make me feel better, she told me I shouldn’t have been walking through the hotel in my bathing suit down to the pool earlier in the week — that I’d given the guy “ideas.”

The point of these stories is to confirm and second what you already know: gross and inappropriate things happen to teenage girls ALL THE TIME, and you can’t always count on them to speak up or to be taken seriously and reassured if they do. It’s a parent’s job, as long as his or her kids are underage, to protect them from this kind of behavior as much as possible, and to help build self-confidence and mutual trust so they know their boundaries and feel empowered to speak up if they’re ever crossed.

You have to protect your daughters from your pervy BIL, even at the risk of offending or alienating your sister. Obviously, keep making up excuses to avoid an overnight visit as long as you can. You know from experience that sharing your thoughts about your BIL with your sister doesn’t amount to an ounce of good, and you also know she’d be fast to cut you out of her life if she feels offended. So, keep making excuses and hope she never puts you in a position to give the real reason you don’t want your daughters in their uncle’s company without your supervision. But if she does put you in that position, then you have to tell her the truth. Because your daughters’ well-being is more important than your sister’s pride.

As a parent, it’s your job to continue empowering them and reaffirming for them that it’s never ok for anyone to infringe on their privacy or personal space or to touch them in intimate ways without their expressed permission. Tell them that, if they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation, even if it’s with someone YOU love or someone THEY love or someone who has authority, they need to let you know immediately. They need to know you’ll listen to them and have their backs. Protecting them now is imperative, but empowering them gives them the confidence to stand up for themselves for the rest of their lives.

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    PumpkinSpice October 6, 2015, 8:34 am

    Oh my goodness. No, I would not let them sleep over either. I would say something to my sister. I would risk her cutting me out of her life to protect my daughter. People like your BIL see what they can get away with, in front of people, then when no one is watching. And if my sister were to start a fight with me over it, I would tell her exactly what Wendy said “My daughters well beings are more important than your pride”. Your sister should have stood up for you, not just brush you off.

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  • avatar

    Jane63 October 6, 2015, 8:43 am

    The next time she asks you say, “Fuck, no. Any other questions, Sis?” How hard is that? Practice a few times and you will be good to go.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh October 6, 2015, 9:01 am

    Completely agree with Wendy. It’s unfortunate that your sister chose to ignore you when you were younger. And she’s very lucky that he seems to have not harmed his own daughters. Maybe just your sister could come for a girls slumber party at your house. The BIL would be out of the picture and you could control the situation.

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    • FireStar

      Firestar October 6, 2015, 2:15 pm

      How do you know? The mother clearly isn’t one to see things clearly.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh October 6, 2015, 2:19 pm

        I’m not sure I know what the how do you know refers to? That the girls weren’t harmed? Beyond the LW’s references we don’t. Which is all I was agreeing with in that statement?

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      • avatar

        Firestar October 6, 2015, 2:43 pm

        Sorry that was less to you than it was to the LW.

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  • juliecatharine

    juliecatharine October 6, 2015, 9:11 am

    F that. Tell your sister no and tell her why. The fact is the creeper isn’t the only untrustworthy one in that house. The LW knows from painful personal experience that her sister prioritizes her perv husband over the safety of a child. She can and should not be counted on to do anything different today. Enablers should be called out when their actions allow harm to come to innocent parties. How many times did people tiptoe around saying something to Mrs. Sandusky?

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  • Nookie

    Nookie October 6, 2015, 9:23 am

    Nope nope nope. I’m so sorry that you went through that Wendy, the incident in the lift sounds awful. I also had a bad experience when I was a young girl and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
    .
    LW, do not let your girls spend time with this man unsupervised. An alternative would be for your sister to have a sleep over with them at your house?
    .
    Imagine how you would feel if something happened? I’d imagine a lot worse than you would telling her no.

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  • avatar

    Ale October 6, 2015, 9:56 am

    What an idiot that teacher was, Wendy.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo October 6, 2015, 10:06 am

      I had a gym teacher who would pick the most attractive girls to help demonstrate things. I remember him basically wrapping his arms around her to show her how to hold a tennis racquet. Apparently, to get the grip right, you need a huge hairy sweaty middle-aged alkie draped over your body. This shit happens.

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      • avatar

        Cleopatra Jones October 6, 2015, 2:33 pm

        Ugh, this brings back memories of middle school.
        .
        We had a female gym teacher that would force the developed girls to open their towels when they came out of the shower (this was in the days of having to shower at school). When one of my classmates asked her why, she said because she wanted to make sure they had taken a shower. Really??? She couldn’t tell by the water on their shoulders or wet hair? She needed to see their private parts to know if they showered? It was so freaking disturbing.
        .
        As a teen girl you expect that from dirty old men but from a female teacher? We didn’t even know how to report that because…it’s a woman, they don’t molest girls, right?

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy October 6, 2015, 10:25 am

      Which one? There were three I mentioned that did me no favors…

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  • Diablo

    Diablo October 6, 2015, 10:02 am

    Here’s much more harsh (but totally fair) version. Your sister is an accessory to multiple counts of sexual assault over several years. She is complicit with and an enabler of sexual abuse. Screw what she thinks. She is a criminal. Too harsh? I don’t think so. Not likely to stand up in a court of law? Maybe. Call it what it is. You owe her nothing. She owes you for her total failure as a sister.
    Sorry for you, Wendy, that you had to go through that. It seems like every woman has a story like this. My M has them. Every woman I ever dated had them. Sad old world.

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  • chief10

    chief10 October 6, 2015, 11:04 am

    Children never stay there on a sleepover. Period. I’m amazed you’ve been able to have anything to do with her and her husband at all.

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  • mylaray

    Mylaray October 6, 2015, 12:25 pm

    It’s so telling when a woman who stays married to a man like that and denies that he could be pervy and gross. She’s just as gross as him and I wouldn’t assume nothing has ever happened to his daughters. Ugh I wouldn’t let my kids over there either.

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  • avatar

    Bubbles October 6, 2015, 12:35 pm

    LW, knowing full well your BIL’s sick behavior toward you, if you allow your daughters to sleep over at your sister’s house, you’ll basically be sending them into the lion’s den! I would tell your sister that your (or their dad’s) policy is to not allow your daughters to sleepover at anyone’s house. Your daughters’ safety should comes first, your sister’s feelings should come second. Period.

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  • avatar

    Cleopatra Jones October 6, 2015, 12:47 pm

    As someone who was in a similar situation as the LW. I can tell you the answer is not just NO but hell to the naw, naw, naw!
    .
    One of my sisters is in a LTR with someone similar to the BIL. Although, I was an adult when they got together, there were years (and I mean YEARS) of inappropriate comments made by him in front of my sister. She always laughed it off as, ‘oh, he’s just being silly’. I never thought much of it because I knew that if he ever dared to touch me, I was going to open a for real can of whoop ass on him. ’cause that’s how I roll. 😉
    .
    But, when my pre-teen daughter told me that he looked at her and my nieces in a perverted way; I told her that she never has to sleep over there again! They would always be welcome to sleepover our house but she couldn’t sleep over there. I also told her that if my nieces asked her to sleepover, she could tell them that I said no or that we had other plans for that day. Then I called my other sister to let her know that she should do the same with her kid.
    .
    My sister and I never discussed it because I already knew her position on the guy, so there was nothing to discuss. If she had asked me, I was going to straight up tell her why my daughter could no longer sleep over. I was absolutely willing to risk being cut out of her life! It’s more IMPORTANT to me to protect my kids than to worry about my sister’s shitty relationship with some creep.
    .
    /angry woman rant
    .
    FTR, there was a whole lot of neck rolling & hand motions as I wrote that. 🙂

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  • avatar

    Katmich15 October 6, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Jeez Wendy, you must have a high opinion of teachers, what a bunch of stooges! And that idiot teacher at the hotel should have called the police, that’s called assault! It’s so sad that so many teenage girls go through that shit, it’s bad enough just the way creepy middle aged men look at you, I remember that well. And now my daughter is 14 and starting to develop and I worry about that kind of stuff.

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  • FireStar

    Firestar October 6, 2015, 2:27 pm

    What kind of favourite Aunt would walk away from her nieces because she didn’t get her own way? The kind that sucks. Fuck sleepovers – shit can happen in broad daylight. You go with your kids if they visit that house or auntie plans a day out for the girls. She can’t be trusted to look out for your kids around him. So supervised visits or excursions without the leech. Those are her options in life. Those are your only options in life. Kids’ safety trumps sister’s feelings. Ever. Damn. Time. Sister’s feelings, mother’s feelings, father’s feelings, the dog ‘s feelings – whatever.

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  • findingtheearth

    findingtheearth October 6, 2015, 2:42 pm

    I had an uncle who molested me and a family friend who tried to kiss me when he was taking me home from babysitting. I told my parents and they brushed it off. I spent most of my teenage and adult years feeling horrible. Even now I have comfort issues and don’t like being hugged by men.
    .
    LW, you need to protect your kids. They are more important than your sister and her husband. All of the suggestions above, such as making excuses or inviting her over for a “girls’ night” are better than worrying your children will be harmed or them actually being harmed.

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  • avatar

    Taylor October 6, 2015, 9:01 pm

    Wow, what is with people and their perceived entitlement to other people’s bodies. There’s a whole lot of ick in these, and Wendy, your elevator experience made me want to punch somebody. I remember being 12 years old, and hunched over all the time bc when I stood up straight more men would shout things like “nice tits”. WTF, adults of the world. Keep your mouths shut and your hands off of minors, relatives, and minor relatives. It’s not that hard.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros October 7, 2015, 6:03 pm

    I’m not sure I’d spend that much energy trying to save my sisterly bond. She’s not much of a sister. And I don’t think that the culture that makes behavior like that OK is going to be helped by choosing to be nice instead of being honest about someone being inappropriate.

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