Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No Justice, No Peace

My grandfather died recently. He was not a nice person. He physically and sexually abused several of his children and grandchildren (including me.) Many years ago, my cousin wrote me a letter, describing some of his abusive behavior. I always intended to publish it after he died, and now here we are. There's nothing else I can do.

As you may know, it's very difficult to prosecute child abuse. You may not be aware that victims are often reluctant to press charges - this is common in all forms of domestic abuse. I wish my grandfather could have gone to jail, but the rest of his family didn't feel that way.

Based on my experiences, I've come to believe that child abuse is condoned in our society. You may find that unreasonable, but consider: a certain number of abusers exist. And if my family is a typical example, each abuser is surrounded by a number of enablers. Frequently they were also victims, but they make excuses for their abuser, cover up the abuse and even, I believe, are willing to lie for him or her. If people like that condone abuse in their own families, how can they oppose it elsewhere? How can they, for example, support legislation that extends the statue of limitations on abuse cases, or promote campaigns that encourage people to speak out against their abuse?

Anyway, here's the letter. I have changed all the names and removed certain identifying details. There is nothing graphic in it, but it does refer to abuse and enabling behavior. You have been warned.

Some background: my parents got divorced in 1980. My father moved back in with his parents, and after things settled down a little, my siblings and I came and visited him there for a couple summers. The second summer I was there, when I was eleven years old, my grandfather molested me. (As it turns out, after I left he moved on to my cousin, who was two years younger than me. But I didn't find out about that until many years later.) When I got home, I told my mother about it, and I never had to go back to my grandfather's house.

17 March 1997

Dear L.,

It's kind of hard to know where to begin. Maybe it's because the subject matter is difficult, but I think it has more to do with the fact that we haven't had any contact in about 15 years. However, it seems necessary that we have contact now. I'm the person you want to talk to about all this, and that will become self evident as this letter progresses. I'm going to give you the true story, the uncensored version, including all the history behind it which serves to explain, although of course it does not excuse.

Here's the stuff you are probably most interested in. You are not the only one who was abused by our grandfather. Both my mother and Aunt J. were as well. However, these events occurred when they were in their late 20's. They both describe what happened between them and Grandpa as "passes." Each of them refused Grandpa's overtures. He never did it again to either of them, and nothing happened as a result of these incidents (i.e. there was no sex or sexual contact between him and his daughters--he accepted their refusals).

My mother entered counseling as a result of this experience. (I'm not sure if Aunt J. did or not.) Her counselor suggested that Grandpa attend one of the sessions, which he did with our grandmother. In this session, my mother talked about what had happened to her. After she finished retelling the story, Grandpa acknowledged that the story was true and accurate.

A few years after this happened between my mother and Grandpa, the incident between you and he occurred. Around that time, he did the same thing to me. I did not tell anyone in the family until this past fall. So as you can see, he has some history and you are not alone.

Now that the full extent of his history is known by the family (and when I say that, I mean my mother, your father, our Aunt J.) you are believed. You have not been believed until this point, and I don't know if it's important for you to know why, but I have a feeling that it is, and therefore I'm going to tell you. . . .

Now, there were other contributing factors to the family's not believing you [the main reason was that my parents had a very ugly divorce, and when news came that I was making allegations of sexual abuse, my father and his family decided that this was a ploy to prevent him from seeing his children.] One was that, although he had made advances on his daughters. they were both full adults at the time. My mother, your father, and Aunt J. did not think that it was Grandpa's modus operandi to go after children. However, in the midst of the legal action that your mother was taking as far as custody goes, Uncle S. [my father] did talk to Grandma and Grandpa about it.

First, he talked to a lawyer to see what possible legal action could be taken against Grandpa. The lawyer advised Uncle S. that if Grandpa admitted that he had touched you to Uncle S., Grandma, or anyone, it would be that person's legal responsibility to report it to the authorities. Uncle S. told this to Grandma, and the two of them talked to Grandpa and told him what was going on. They also explicitly told him not to tell them that it was true, because if he did, they would have to report him. However, he could deny it if he chose to. Grandpa said nothing, and the conversation ended, never to be brought up again. And that was the end of it until this fall.

What prompted me to tell what happened to me is a little girl named A. She's seven. [Her mother is a good friend of Grandma's. . . .] Well, Grandma and Grandpa were adopted as A's second set of grandparents. For the past couple of years, I have been more and more uncomfortable seeing Grandpa around A. So this past fall, I asked my mother if anyone had told A's mother about Grandpa. She asked about what. I said, for instance, the accusations that you had made. My mother said that he was old now (80), and besides, no one really thought that was true. I said that I believed it was true because he had touched me inappropriately as well.

I have already dealt with a lot of these issues. I have a very good group of friends and a lot of support. I know that I haven't done anything wrong and that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I don't mind people knowing anymore. So I told my mother that she could talk to Uncle S. and Aunt J. about it, and whomever else she wanted. First she talked to Aunt J. They decided they would have to re-evaluate what they believed about your story. They decided that you deserved the benefit of the doubt, and they would talk to Uncle S. to show their support to him. Of everyone in the family (excluding me, of course, who knew the truth about Grandpa), he believed you the most. That is not to say completely. But the most. [Ironically, my father has never given me any indication that he believes me - quite the opposite, in fact.] When he heard about what had happened to me, he decided that he wanted to meet face to face to discuss this, so a meeting was arranged. At this gathering, I told my story. Following that was the discussion about what to do about you. Should we contact you and tell you we believed you?

There was a great deal of conversation about how you should be approached. A main concern was that you would file charges, either civil or criminal, against Grandpa. I, personally, don't really care what happens to him. But our parents do to some extent. They think he is too old to have to go to prison. And there's also a concern about what will happen to Grandma. That is a concern of mine. I love Grandma, with all my heart, even though she is flawed by her devotion to Grandpa, and devoted she is. Do not expect her to believe you or support you against him. She won't. After the counseling session with my mother and her and Grandpa, in which he admitted his actions towards my mother, Grandma wrote a letter to my mother saying that my mother was just trying to break up Grandma and Grandpa with her lies, but that she wouldn't succeed because Grandma saw her lies for what they were.

But anyway, what would happen to them if you brought charges was discussed. A decision was made that my mother and your father would go and talk to Grandpa alone, without Grandma, in two weeks time. I was asked if I wanted to be there for the talk. I said no. The purpose of this talk was to inform Grandpa about possible legal action and to let him know that the family was considering talking to you and telling you that they believed you. If you did take legal action at that time, they would have to testify against Grandpa. That was the consensus that was reached at the end of this gathering.

Now we come to another twist in the plot line, and that twist is H., Uncle S.'s new wife [my stepmother.] She was supposed to be present for the gathering, but she was very noticeably absent. Aunt J. and my mother both reported that she was saying strange things in the background when they were talking to Uncle S. on the phone. In the week following the gathering, when my mother and your father were talking on the phone about going to talk to Grandpa, my mother says that H. got on another phone while they were talking and interjected into the conversation, "Don't do it. Don't go down and talk to him about it. It'll cause more harm than good." Uncle S. got off the phone shortly thereafter. Apparently, H. has had some sort of bad experience and this is bringing it all back for her. So the talk was postponed. My understanding at this point is that Uncle S. does not wish to talk to Grandpa about it at all. Who knows what all the reasons influencing that decision are.

This whole situation has made people act in very strange ways. I don't know if you're going to try to talk to Aunt J. about this, but I want you to be prepared for your questions to get side-stepped. She goes back and forth between wanting to talk completely honestly with you and with wanting to protect her mother, and her father. Also, she and my mother might not appreciate me telling you about what happened to them, but I feel that it's information that you should know. It might help you get through. Silence can be a bad thing, and does nothing but protect the guilty.

As for your father ... I don't know what to tell you. The more I get to know him. the less I think of him. He can be very petty and very selfish. He's a little boy in a lot of ways, but sometimes a man. You're not going to get a father out of him consistently. He'll go back and forth between being a man and facing and dealing with things and being a little boy who wants to run away from something that he doesn't want to deal with or acknowledge. So I'd be careful of your feelings when. and if, you talk to him.

My mother will be honest with you. She's not particularly interested in protecting her father, although she would rather that you didn't take legal action. My mom's in counseling again, I guess dealing in part with my revelation. One time I was talking to her about nothing in particular, and I was pointing out how she had said something that she said she didn't say or that I didn't remember her saying something that she said she said. So she says to me, "You know, I told my counselor how you're always saying that I do that, and I asked her if I ever did that to her and she said, 'No, you've been very consistent. You hate your father. '"

And you can feel free to call me or write to me. I hope this letter helps in some way.

Your Cousin.


  1. Brave, brave post. Anyone picking up the sports page today would agree with you--there is a certain amount of acceptance for this behavior. The more the abused speak out though, the more it encourages the bravery of others. Way to be a part of the solution.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Given the way your family protected your grandfather, your point about our society condoning abuse really resonates.

    Also, and this probably goes without saying, I'm sorry this happened to you and I'm sorry you weren't believed. No one should have to experience that.

    1. Thank you. It's funny, I thought I would feel bad when my grandfather died but so far I haven't felt much of anything.