Dear Savvy Auntie,

My family is in turmoil. Right now, my brother is serving a jail sentence for abusing an 11 year old boy who was in his care. My mother is a mess and sees herself as a victim in all this and refuses to go for counseling. I live 500 miles away and see a psychiatrist for my own issues and to help with this.

My concern is my sister's two kids, aged 2 and nearly 7. The younger one doesn't really know her uncle but my nephew really misses him. They did a lot of stuff together when my brother was living with my parents while on bail, though supervised. This was when we believed the lie that my brother was innocent.

Now my nephew asks for his uncle and we tell him 'he's gone away'. He's a smart kid and knows something's wrong. He feels hurt that his uncle went away without saying goodbye.

My brother will be released just before Christmas 2010 and my mom can't wait to be able to 'shove it all under the carpet'. At the moment, she and my dad do a lot of babysitting for my niece and nephew. My sister and her husband are adamant that my brother will not see the children; the risk seems just too great. If my brother has abused a child once he could do it again.

I'm hopeful that there may be a place in a treatment program for offenders that will ultimately help him, but we have to keep the children safe. Even if my brother and nephew are supervised there is always a chance that one day something could happen. It breaks my heart that the more my nephew likes and trusts his beloved uncle, the more danger he may be in. My brother will live with my parents when he is released and my nephew may well find out about that. So, how do we tell a 7 year old that there are no more nights at grandma’s and that he can't see his uncle?

I'm all for telling children the truth, in most situations. But we have a duty of care to protect my nephew from things he can't understand. Nor have we any right to expect him to keep it secret. Plus we can't answer his questions about 'why' his uncle hurt a boy. So what do we tell him? Should he be allowed one time to say goodbye to his uncle? How do we keep our own anger and feelings of betrayal out of our interaction with my nephew? Should we? It doesn't seem fair that he should have to carry that. Is there a positive, cheerful way to say 'sorry kid, you can't see your uncle, he's a child molester'? or just to say 'you can't see your uncle' and what do we reply to 'why?'? This seems like the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with and I want my nephew to be safe, protected and as unscarred as possible.

Any advice?


Dear Shattered,

My heart goes out to you and your entire family, including “the rug sweepers” and especially your brother. I believe that he is damaged, disabled, and ill. When you think about his actions in this light it is a little easier to find workable solutions.

I propose that you, your sister and brother-in-law consult with a local professional whose expertise is pedophilia and listen to his or her advice on how to proceed. In the meantime, can your brother send a card or note to his nephew saying he will be away for a while and misses him? Of course, it should be opened by his mom or dad. Your nephew could then send him a note, again this should be screened. It is very disturbing to a child to be “in the dark” about someone they love; and their fantasy may even be worse than the reality, therefore, some limited supervised contact is preferable. I would hope that your brother will be rehabilitated; that as your nephew grows up, more could be explained and supervised visits could take place. In the meantime, your nephew should be educated (as all children should be) about privacy, safe touching, and grownups who don’t know how to respect kids.

It is difficult for you to be so far away, and sad for your family. However, you are far from shattered! You are a dear and very Savvy Auntie!

My best wishes,
Natalie Robinson Garfield


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