Charley Project readers, something happened which I would like your viewpoints on. A lot of you are quite familiar with child abuse and sexual abuse, and I’m sure some are victims of the same, and perhaps some are law enforcement who deal with sexual abuse and rape cases. I don’t know most of my readers but I’m making a few assumptions based on the topic of my blog.
Let me emphasize that this is not a hypothetical situation. It actually happened to a family I know. I have, however, changed the names to protect everyone’s privacy. I’ll try to tell it as briefly as possible. (Not that I’m very good at that. Y’all know how I ramble on.)
- In the 1970s there was a working-class family, the Carlins, a young married couple with a few children. The mother’s name was Rachel; her oldest, a boy, was named Alan.
- In the same neighborhood lived the Davises, a family with fifteen children in all. Rachel was good friends with the mother, Eileen, and had known her for most of her life. She was about fifteen or twenty years younger than Eileen, and about ten or twelve years older than the oldest of her children. She looked on Eileen as kind of a mentor. Rachel and her husband worked long hours and depended on Eileen and Eileen’s then-teenage children to babysit her own kids. This they did on a regular basis for about nine years altogether, as long as the Carlins lived in that neighborhood.
- When Alan was of toddler/preschool age, one of Eileen’s sons, Stan, who was a regular babysitter, sexually abused him for an indeterminate period of time. Stan did not, apparently, target any of Alan’s younger siblings, and I am pretty sure that never in his life has he been accused of abusing any other kids.
- Alan told no one about what was going on and it was not discovered, but he was deeply traumatized by what had happened to him and haunted by his memories long into adulthood.
- Eventually Rachel got a divorce and she took her kids and moved out of town and remarried. The Carlins and the Davises all remained within driving distance of one another, in the same part of the state, even after the families’ respective children grew up and moved out of their parents’ homes. Rachel continued to have a close friendship with Eileen and regular contact with the rest of the Davis family.
- Over the decades, some of the Davis children drifted away from the Carlins, but others remained in regular contact and Rachel remained particularly close to Eileen, whom she thought of as her best friend. I’m not sure whether Stan was one of those who remained in touch with Rachel, but some of the Davises were invited to Carlin family social events, such as barbecues, etc.
- 35 to 40 years or so after he was abused, Alan finally told his mother about the molestation and how Stan was the perpetrator. All of the Davises except the father were still alive at that point, although Eileen had gotten pretty old by then. I’m assuming there would have been no possibility of prosecuting Stan, given the passage of time and the statute of limitations and so on.
- Rachel did not question the credibility of Alan’s statements, but she did not act on them either. She did not tell anyone within their family, not even Alan’s biological father or her own second husband, about the abuse. She did not tell Eileen about it either. She did not confront Stan or tell any of his siblings what he had done. She continued to associate with Eileen and her grown-up children.
- A few years after that, Eileen died. Rachel was grief-stricken and spent even more time with the Davis children; a couple of them came over to her house several times a week for months to keep her company. Basically, Rachel acted as if nothing had happened at all, that she had never learned about how Alan had been molested by Stan all those years ago.
My question is this: given the facts I have presented here, do you think “Rachel” behaved appropriately or not when she learned about how Stan had abused her son all those years ago?
You could make the argument that at this point, there would have been nothing she could have done about it anyway, since so much time had passed and Alan was now an adult, and telling the Davis family about it would just upset them and they would probably not have believed her.
On the other hand, it also seems selfish to me. It seems like Rachel put her own interests (her need to maintain this long-time relationship with the family, which meant a lot to her) ahead of her son’s (his need to have his mother validate his feelings by taking some kind of action, instead of acting as if she had never learned his secret).
Given that Alan was middle-aged by the time he told his mother about what happened, did Rachel have any “duty of care”, so to speak, towards him at all? Or did she no longer have an obligation to act, even by just ending her relationship with the Davises, since Alan was a grown man and could take care of himself?
It must really suck when parents find out that someone they trusted, especially someone else in the family, abused their children. That kind of thing can and does tear friendships and families apart.
Anyway I’d love to hear your input on this situation, as to whether the mother was right or wrong, and if she was wrong, what she should have done instead.