A few years ago, my brother-in-law was arrested, cautioned and placed on the sex offender register (SOR) for two years, for downloading child abuse images. He denies it, saying it was an accidental click.
Our child is of primary-school age, and my only priority is to ensure his safety. I explained to my husband that our son and I would no longer be meeting my brother-in-law. (I have never liked the man; in the past, he has threatened violence against his own teenage children.)
My husband thinks I’m overreacting and that our child would be in no danger. My brother-in-law’s wife has also tried to persuade me to let our families meet. She hasn’t told her husband that we know about his arrest, and wants to avoid the awkward excuses about why we no longer attend family events if we know he is going to be there.
The difficulty is that my husband’s view differs from mine. I have said that he’s free to see our brother-in-law, but without me and our son. My husband feels he can’t do this; he says he can’t make excuses for our absence, because he can’t let on that we know about the arrest. It feels as if I’m the one being punished. My parents-in-law believe I should forgive and forget, as they have done. (My other brother-in-law shares my view and also doesn’t attend any family occasions if the offending man is there.)
I intend to explain to my son, when he reaches an appropriate age, why we haven’t seen his uncle over the years, so that we don’t keep this secret; I know my husband will be angry about that. I love my husband and he is a good man, but how do we resolve this?
Your longer letter painted a damning picture of your brother-in-law. I can see this is a very difficult situation for you, but, as you say, your priority is your son, and everything else has to follow from that. Your instincts seem strong in this, and I think they are worth listening to.
Why are your husband and sister-in-law so intent on protecting your brother-in-law’s feelings? He sounds very powerful. Is your other brother-in-law put under this pressure, or just you?
I consulted the NSPCC and a child psychotherapist. The NSPCC pointed out that when someone is placed on the SOR, there are often restrictions with regard to offenders having contact with children. But I appreciate this may be difficult for you to check.
Given what you’ve told me about the issues between you and your husband, you might want to consider a family mediator (see links below). Your husband perhaps needs a place to explore why he feels caught in the middle. I wondered if he’s actually a little afraid of your brother-in-law but feels too ashamed to say that? (Even more reason not to let your son see him.)
Although the issue you’ve written about centres on you and your husband, I would also like to flag up that because your brother-in-law has children to whom he has threatened violence, it would be within your right to talk to children’s services about this. There are other organisations you can contact if you wanted to talk through any concerns. I’ve put these at the bottom of this column.
Child psychotherapist Ryan Lowe wasn’t surprised you wanted to keep away. He said: “You can’t be sure you can protect your son if you don’t know all the facts, and you can’t have the facts if no one is prepared to talk about them.”
In terms of talking to your son about this, Lowe advised saying something along the lines of: his uncle was arrested for something, you’re not clear what, and as a result it feels safer not to be in touch with him. Lowe counselled against (at this stage) going into the actual charges. He added: “This can be done with quite a light touch. However, that’s only possible if you and your husband have resolved this between you, and you’re not full of anger and resentment.”
What you don’t want to happen is for you both to come at this with differing stories, or use the time spent explaining to your son as an opportunity to score points off each other. So it’s crucial you and your husband unite, and I think mediation will help that.
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Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, a new podcast series, is available here