Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Best Friend’s Fiancé Has Been Accused of Child Abuse”

One of my oldest friends, let’s call her Linda, is in a difficult situation, and has asked for my help. Linda’s fiance has a daughter from a previous marriage, and Linda loves this girl as if she were her own daughter. Fiance’s ex-wife took their daughter to another country, but Linda+Fiance have been working to bring her back, and to contest allegations that he hasn’t been paying child support (which he has as he and Linda have worked together to do so).

They flew over there for a court date, and, when Fiance met with Ex-Wife, a social worker, and their daughter, the daughter wouldn’t look at him, said she couldn’t speak English, threw stuff at him, etc., until they removed her from the room. They were then told that Ex-wife had taken Daughter to the police station to file a criminal complaint against Fiance, alleging that, in America, he molested her and took photos, and that Linda helped him.

Linda has told me this is all untrue, and, in fact, over the past few months, she has told me many times that she and Fiance have been worried that Daughter was being abused in some way by Ex-Wife, because she would often complain about not being fed and had expressed to them her discomfort with an older family member in the other country.

Fiance can’t leave the other country until it’s over because he’s still under investigation. Since Daughter is a US citizen, they’re getting the embassy and the FBI involved; on top of that, Linda and fiance want to make their story public, and file counter-suits against the Ex-wife for the false accusations, which are a criminal offense in that country.

So why am I involved? Well, Linda contacted me to ask for help since we’ve been friends since we were teens. She wants me to help her with social media, spreading the word, getting their story out there. This is where I don’t know how to act, because I’m not entirely sure it’s a good idea.

I worry that the publicity they are seeking to put pressure on the courts could backfire on them, that their message could come across as “Don’t believe our daughter’s allegations, her mom made her say those things.” How on earth do you grab the right kind of media attention with that message? And, frankly, although I love and trust Linda wholeheartedly, I am also reluctant to discount Daughter’s allegations. I know Ex-Wife might be abusing her, mentally or otherwise, and making her say those things, sure. But what if she’s telling the truth, even if only about Fiance? I’ve had both scenarios happen in my own family, to different family members, so I know all too well that either situation is possible. And regardless of which is true, either way, Daughter NEEDS to be helped.

Though I know I sound ambivalent, I DO want to help Linda. I want their daughter to be safe, and I want Linda and her fiance to have their family back together again. I’m already on board to help them raise funds for legal fees, and to donate what I can. But I don’t know what I can do to help in the way she has asked me to help, beyond being a good ear for listening and a good shoulder to cry on when things get tough. The last thing I want to do is help them to get themselves doxxed, or set upon by internet trolls, or become the Poster Child Textbook Example for MRA extremists who will point to them and say “Look, false sexual abuse allegations! Look, an unfit mother! This is the rule and not the exception!” But maybe I’m overthinking it and the attention is worth it if it means Daughter comes home safely?

At the end of the day, how can I ACTUALLY help? — Don’t Wanna Be A Fair-Weather Friend

You’re a very good friend to be so thoughtful about this terrible situation and to consider the different scenarios and how they might affect your friend (and her fiancé and his daughter), both privately and publicly. And, of course, being the thoughtful person you are, you also know there’s a very real possibility that if you don’t do exactly what Linda is asking of you, she, in her heightened emotional state, may take offense and see you as being unsupportive. I’m afraid that’s a risk you’ll have take. If you don’t feel comfortable doing what Linda has asked of you, you have to say no.

It’s a complicated situation, but your question is actually very simple and one that almost everyone can relate to: “How can I say no with the most minimal negative impact?” Over the weekend, I read this article about the three secrets of people who know how to say “no,” and I think it could be helpful for you as well as anyone else who struggles with saying no. First, you need not offer any excuses (though you can offer your reason, especially if you think it will soften the blow). In your case, Linda may not want to hear your reason or she may think it’s simply an excuse because you feel uncomfortable or don’t want to support her. None of that is your problem. You can’t control her reaction. You can only control your own behavior. And if Linda doesn’t appreciate your motives now, at least by sharing them with her there’s a chance she will appreciate them later, after the dust settles.

Second, offer an alternative. This is a big one. Maybe publicizing the situation for Linda isn’t how you want to support her right now, but I’m sure there are other ways of supporting her that feel better to you. Is Linda still in the other country? If so, you could offer to collect her mail for her, water her plants, return library books, help take care of any pets she left behind, etc. If she’s back in the states or returning soon without her fiancé, you could offer to pick her up or drop her off at the airport. And, as you mentioned, you could offer to help raise funds for legal fees, and simply be a listener and shoulder to cry on. If she’s back in the states, you could take her to the movies to help get her mind off things for a couple hours, and you could bring her food on occasion since she likely doesn’t have the energy and stamina to cook for herself right now. These are all loving and helpful alternative ways of showing support that don’t compromise your integrity or Linda’s overall well-being.

Finally, despite your long and close relationship with Linda, you can’t let her guilt or bully you into doing anything you don’t want to do. Even if it means pissing her off or potentially even hurting the friendship, you have to stick to your guns here. Ultimately, you want what’s best for Linda and you’re prepared to make some effort to support her; you just don’t want to do something that will potentially make the situation even worse for her. Explain that to her and, if she doesn’t get it, don’t let that affect your actions. You’re clearly a good and caring friend and Linda is lucky to have you in her corner… even if she isn’t able to articulate that during this stressful time.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

25 comments… add one
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 24, 2015, 9:00 am

    Thanks Wendy for sharing the how to say no link. I grew up in a house where we, the kids, weren’t allowed to say no. It took me a long time to learn how to stand up for myself and how to say no.

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      Eve August 25, 2015, 3:23 pm

      I am dying to learn how you did this Skyblossom.. I feel it would do wonders for me!

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    Moe P August 24, 2015, 9:03 am

    I think the LAST thing the situation needs is a for it to be thrown all over the internet. It is not good for anyone involved. I think most importantly, the angle I would take is to help her find a good therapist the friend AND when possible, for the girl, who must also be in a terrible place right now. I also think that it is true that since this is a legal issue, others should not get involved unless it is through legal aid.

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      Kate August 24, 2015, 10:44 am

      Totally agree. This does NOT belong on social media, and you should not feel obligated to help “get the word out” about this very personal family situation. And yeah, what if there is any truth to it? As much as Linda is a dear friend, you don’t know that her representation of this is reality. I think your support of her and your willingness to donate to legal funds is more than enough.

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    anonymousse August 24, 2015, 10:04 am

    I would do what Wendy has suggested, support your friend in routine day to day stuff and stay far away from this. You have no idea what happened, or how this will turn out. Prepare for the worst. It is (statistically speaking) probably more likely that some semblance of the truth is being told. You never know.

    Hopefully this all gets worked out and it’s untrue, but even so, this is the beginning of something that could have repercussions in Linda’s life for a long time. Help her with what you can, but don’t put yourself out there in a legal battle involving sexual incest allegations that you know nothing about. If she brings up social media, show her some examples of how this could blow up in her face if you must.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 24, 2015, 10:56 am

    I would sit tight. In fact — yeah, I would totally sit this one out for a while.
    .
    Look, there either are damning photos — or there are not. If the alleged photos exist… Yikes. Just yikes. If they are indeed fictitious, then I don’t see how the mother’s claims will be seen in the eyes of any court as having any merit or justification once she fails to produce them as evidence.
    .
    PS — Having the rough age of the child would have been helpful, too.

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    • mrmidtwenties

      mrmidtwenties August 24, 2015, 11:01 am

      I’m 100% with BGM on this one. I would stay far far away from this. You honestly don’t know if anything has happened, and you don’t want your name attached to this in anyway possible. Once those types of allegations are thrown out, especially on social media, it is difficult to distance yourself from, whether they are true or false.

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      Sunshine Brite August 24, 2015, 12:39 pm

      Agreed. Not many are going to help raise legal fees via the internet. Approach family, friends, a bank for a personal loan if that’s the reason for her social media stuff. It sounds more like a potential smear campaign. I highly doubt your friend’s lawyer would be pleased with her plan.

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    • Raccoon eyes

      Raccoon eyes August 24, 2015, 1:13 pm

      Im with BGM as well.
      *
      Too many things here seem conveniently left out- approximate age of the child, the country that they are dealing with, what (seemingly nothing) was done about child not being fed by the mother and discomfort with this other family member, why Linda is the “oldest” but not something like “oldest and dearest/closest/something friend,” why is it Linda + fiance paying child support (that reeks of back support or him not working), the reason why she is asking LW specifically to do this online stuff, etc., etc. Maybe all or some of these are easily explained, or simply left out as deemed unimportant by the LW, or Linda reached out in a panic with her knee-jerk reactions, or any other myriad of explanations. But this whole situation is just… well, icky. LW, if you are uncomfortable with what is being asked of you, there is nothing wrong with that. At all.
      *
      Bottom line- Wendy is right. The power of NO is yours to wield.

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      Mister_Meseeks August 24, 2015, 3:18 pm

      LW here–and wow, I feel really dumb for not even thinking to ask her about the photos! (Like, “I mean, ‘Linda,’ do they actually have any photos to turn in as evidence, or are they just saying that?”) I guess I just took for granted that there were no photos. With luck the investigation will show that such photos have never existed on their phones, computers, etc.

      Their daughter is roughly 5-8, if that helps.

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        Anonymous August 25, 2015, 7:14 am

        I would assume that they don’t have photos, but that the accusation is that the daughter has told her mother that photos were taken. If the mother actually had photos and had evidence they were taken by either Linda or fiancé, there would already be criminal proceedings going on.

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        lindsaybob August 25, 2015, 7:16 am

        I would assume that the mother actually doesn’t have photos in her possession, but that the allegation is that the daughter has told her that photos were taken. I would think that if they actually had photos there would have been criminal proceedings already, not just family law proceedings.

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    keyblade August 24, 2015, 11:52 am

    What Wendy and everyone else said, what purpose does bringing social media into this bring? Is the friend trying to wage a media crusade? I wouldn’t do it.

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    Sue Jones August 24, 2015, 12:32 pm

    Sounds like a serious case of parental alienation.

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    Kate August 24, 2015, 12:40 pm

    The more I think about it, the more just extremely OFF it seems to me for Linda and her fiance to be wanting to put this all over the Internet to “clear their name” or whatever. What the hell, who does that? And why?? It’s bizarre and makes me think these people have poor judgment and that maybe there even is some truth to the accusations just because, again, wtf?

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      Kate August 24, 2015, 12:50 pm

      And, “getting the story out there” means putting their daughter all over the internet, which should never happen under these circumstances. Maybe if she had a rare form of cancer and needed to raise money for treatment, but in this context it’s so inappropriate. Even if they didn’t use her name, people would know who their daughter is, and it’s airing a minor’s dirty laundry in a creepy way for their own benefit. I know I’m not articulating this well, but it really bugs me. I HATE when I see people publicizing their kids in creepy ways online. A lot of parents go too far on Facebook and it just gives me the heebie-jeebies. But I’ve definitely never seen anything like what Linda is proposing.

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        anonymousse August 24, 2015, 4:24 pm

        Exactly. It’s actually really disgusting, at any angle, that they would want to publicize this and their 5-8 year old daughter’s allegations. If she’s being manipulated and made to lie, it’s horrible, and if it’s true, it’s absolutely devastating. What kind of parent would put this on social media? Someone who has no concept of right and wrong and feels okay with tarnishing the innocence of a child, forever on the Internet? What the f$&@! Sure, predators, here’s this weird story my five year old told… What the what?! Some parents….this gives me the creeps. And how is that going to help their case? Hey, I’m willing to expose my child in this manner, the Internet, without her mother’s permission or knowledge. Sure, sounds like a great guy.
        I am sorry, and I’m no expert but, given her reaction to her father and this great idea of theirs….I would back the f@&$ away from this….completely. Use your “helpfulness” helping to make sure the daughter is getting to some good therapy. Other than that, back away.

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    lee3 August 24, 2015, 12:53 pm

    I agree that Linda’s desire to smear this over the internet is somewhat misplaced and unlikely to influence the Court in a different country in any positive manner. The evidence that child support has been paid (and hopefully in a manner and amount set up by court order) will go a good way toward proving to a court which parent is telling the truth about that issue, and thus giving that parent more credibility. I do question why Linda has had to work so hard to help pay the child support. Or does she mean help make sure it gets properly credited? (pardon a personal anecdote: my nephew’s ex swore on the stand that he hadn’t given her any money after their separation. His lawyer produced all the bank deposit slips. The ex had “forgot” about those and “meant” he hadn’t put cash in her hands. Just in her bank account, duh.” Also, if the child spoke English before being taken to this other country and now claims she doesn’t–that’s another item of evidence to be emphasized as the mother negatively influencing the child.

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    SasLinna August 24, 2015, 1:32 pm

    This is going to sound a little cold, but you don’t actually have to help Linda with this issue. You can stay friends without getting involved – unless she decides to pressure you, which I have to say would be a red flag. If I were you I’d politely tell her you just can’t get involved, although you wish her the best. In fact I think you can’t in good conscience give them support when you have no idea if they’re really the wronged party here.

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    dinoceros August 24, 2015, 2:14 pm

    I like Wendy’s ideas on how to help. Practical ways to make things easier while so much of their time and energy is focused on the case. Creating a social media campaign is too much to ask. Even raising money might be problematic because if the allegations turn out to be true, then everyone involved will look bad. As Wendy said, offer to help how you can, and if she doesn’t like it, then she doesn’t like it.

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      dinoceros August 24, 2015, 2:15 pm

      Also, if the case turns out badly, having blown this up on the internet is going to more negatively impact the family because more people will be following the case.

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    lindsaybob August 24, 2015, 2:53 pm

    I don’t know what country these legal proceedings are taking place in, obviously, but I can say that as a (currently not practicing) family law solicitor in the UK, a British court would take an extremely negative view of any aspect of proceedings relating to a child being deliberately publicised on social media. A court order prohibiting further social media publicity would most likely be made as soon as the court became aware of it and, regardless of how much public support it actually engendered for Linda and her fiancé, it would only be likely to affect the court’s ruling negatively, if at all. Courts really don’t care about how much public support a parent has from strangers on social media, they care about child protection and applying the law. Linda’s plan is a really, really bad one.

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      Mister_Meseeks August 24, 2015, 3:11 pm

      LW here–that’s a great point! I will definitely bring that up with her. Thank you so much!

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    Mister_Meseeks August 24, 2015, 3:10 pm

    LW here! I want to thank Wendy and everyone else for all their advice on this, and extra thanks to Wendy for sharing the link–I do have a difficult time saying “no” to my friends when they’re in trouble, mainly because they are always there to support me on the occasions that I’ve needed help, but I also trust that they will tell me if I am asking for something bad or unreasonable, and I wanted to be sure that my gut feeling on this didn’t come from an exaggerated sense of worry/anxiety.

    I do think there is a time and a place for social media campaigns… but in this case, my gut says that a social media campaign would be an inappropriate course of action, for all the reasons we have all listed and many more. My guess is that her desire to pursue one comes from a place of desperation, for both her fiance and his daughter, to bring her home. Plus I’ve seen several people use social campaigning and online fundraising for all sorts of emergencies (medical bills, legal fees, escaping difficult home situations, etc) with varying degrees of success, so I’m not too surprised that her mind went there as a solution. Also they’ve both been stressed, financially and emotionally, from wedding planning (a wedding that is planned to take place in the coming year, for which I’m a wedding party member), so they’ve got quite a lot on their minds, though obviously Daughter is the #1 concern.

    Certain details (such as the country in question, the daughter’s age, the specifics of the child support situation) were left out to try to keep things as general and “anonymous” as possible (for her sake, for our friendships’ sake, for the sake of their ongoing case), but I don’t think it’s too bad to say that the daughter is in the age range of 5 to 8. Based on what I know, I do think there’s enough evidence to show that Ex-Wife is being seriously manipulative/shady, but I’m not a lawyer, I’m not in the court, and I’m certainly not privy to all the details, so it really doesn’t matter what I think in that regard.

    I do hope that I can write in with an update in the near future saying the whole thing’s been dealt with, and that the daughter is safe and happy, ideally with “Linda” and her fiance. In the meantime I am definitely going to caution her against a social media campaign, and ask if there’s anything else I can do to support her in this difficult time, maybe see if any of my other friends have had experience with social media campaigning so that they can caution her against it in a professional capacity.

    Perhaps it’s silly that in wanting to caution my friend against asking for help online, I… ended up coming here to ask for help online. But it’s given me the confidence to talk this through with her, and I really can’t thank you all enough.

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      Sunshine Brite August 24, 2015, 5:32 pm

      Sometimes you have to make hard choices about where your energy, time, and money goes. If the wedding’s that stressful, they may need to significantly scale back the wedding and put the cash towards the custody fight. It will suck and they may lose some deposits but they could throw and anniversary party when they’re in a better position if they want which is less stressful than a wedding anyway.

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