“Dear Ignacio, I am the older brother of two other brothers: a 25-year-old and an 11-year-old. A few years ago, I became suspicious that the 25yo was touching our youngest brother in his private parts. Since then my suspicions have grown as my little brother has been acting weird and obedient towards the 25yo brother. I don’t live near them anymore, and our parents are clueless and too closed-up to ever bring this up. How can I help my brother?”
It is jarring to become suspicious of a family member and having to decide what to do about it. I’m glad you are reaching out to take steps in helping your brother.
To help your little brother, there are some options and some limitations. Let’s establish that your brother is priority number one here. Whether you choose to involve the state, or you decide to use alternative ways to help your brother, his #safety and well-being must take precedent.
If you are able to get him out of the home, even for a night, a weekend, or on a temporary basis, you may be able to help him feel safe enough to talk. Having some time with him outside of the place where abuse may be occurring can be an opening.
Talking to him and building #trust is important. When talking to someone you suspect is being abused, especially a child, please keep in mind to proceed slowly. Perhaps, mention you want to talk with him because you like hanging out with him, and that you want him to know that you are there to help him, love him, and support him no matter what.
I suggest that you approach him without making assumptions about how he feels, or what he should do. Let him tell you what he is comfortable sharing. Watch his body language.
If you can think of a story about when you were a kid or teenager and you protected yourself against someone who was harming you, share it with him. Or maybe you didn’t protect yourself in a way that you think you should have. Being vulnerable with your brother in an age-appropriate way can give him some courage and build trust between you two.
You can also use some of the following questions to build trust with him:
- Tell me what’s going on with you these days?
- Do you have a best friend? Who is it? What do you like to do or talk about?
- Do you like your room? What would you change about it?
- How do you feel being the youngest person in the house?
- Do you get along good with mom and dad? How about your uncle/aunt/cousins?
- Do you like living at home?
- If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
Be prepared that despite your best efforts he may not tell you if something happened. In fact, he may not be able to directly tell you if something happened for a long time.
Once you sense that trust is established, you can start asking non-intrusive questions to get more information. Never ask leading questions like, “did he touch your privates?” Use your little brother's language to describe the events. For example, a possible question can be, “is there any kid or adult that is making you feel afraid?”
Also, allow him to ask you questions. Make it a game. The point is to make him feel comfortable, so allow him to feel seen and heard. Be open to wherever these conversations may lead you. It is this time and conversation with your little brother that guides what you do next.
If at any point your suspicions become stronger, or lead to certainty, here are some options:
- Find out what actions to take to stop your 25yo brother. Talk to your parents to come up with a safety and care plan for your little brother. This care plan may include stopping unsupervised contact between your brothers, seeking family therapy and coaching, going to the hospital, calling a hotline, calling the police, or getting help from a transformative justice group.
- For hotlines, please reach out to an organization like RAINN or Stop It Now! to get more tips on navigating the situation. Links included at the end.
- If you choose to report to the police, here are some things to consider: your little brother could be removed from his home and made to go through months and years of separation from his family, your 25yo brother may be put in jail or prison and his name added to the sex offender registry for the rest of his life, and your family can experience a lot of added trauma.
- If police intervention is not what you want at this time or ever, then I suggest contacting BATJC for a Transformative Justice (TJ) approach. This model customizes accountability and protection for survivors to the specific circumstances of families. Link is provided in resources.
- Please be aware that doctors, therapists, and teachers are mandated reporters so they are obligated to report anything indicating harm to oneself or others to the police. This can happen even without explicitly telling them what is going on. For example, your little brother’s teachers may at some point suspect abuse the same way you have, and get the police involved.
I know this is a lot to take in, so take some deep breaths and continue being brave. Your brother needs a trusted adult on his side. He needs to feel cared for, seen and heard. Be patient and good luck.
#heal2end #CSAinfamily #preventCSA #transformativejustice @BATJC @stopitnow @RAINN