I have personal experience with nearly the same situation: family members who protect and prioritize a criminal rather than children. The difference between yours and my situation is that the creep is my relative, not an in-law, and he’s my uncle, not my children’s. Nonetheless, my husband and I faced the same challenges: my mother and her sisters all thought that being “family” gave him a free pass to access our kids. That somehow it would shield them from his disgusting fetishes, when, in fact, he had abused his own son so it was clear that he knew no limits.
The other major difference between our situations is that my husband and I were untitled in our efforts to prevent uncle from having access to our kids. The way we treated my family members was different however, and was a huge source of friction in our marriage. By that I mean, my husband felt as though I should tell them all to f— off and never speak to them again after all that had happened and since they “must be lowlife good for nothing scumbags if they choose to associate with a pedophile!” I didn’t agree. I was disappointed, confused, angry, anxious, and ashamed that someone like this existed in my family, that my relatives were behaving this way, that they were willing to risk my children’s safety, and, that my mother had in the past put ME in harms way (since he had a history of abuse going back decades!! all the way back to when I was a child!) Anyway, I felt that those were feelings I had to deal with, not run from.
Anyway, here is what happened and what we did, which worked, mostly (he did see my children more than I anticipated or wanted) until he finally went to prison, and then after once he was released.
My mother has 4 siblings. 3 sisters and a brother. My mother was never very close to her brother. So, when his wife divorced him (very shocking, seemingly out of the blue) and my mom let him move in with her I was surprised. She claimed “no one knew” why they had split up, and she also claimed that he had to live with her because he was “old fashioned” and couldn’t live in his own. He needed a woman to cook for him and do his laundry. My mom said it was grandma’s “dying wish” that she take care of her brother. My mom is divorced also, and lived alone at the time, mainly because she is a feminist and a loner. I thought it was strange and illogical.
This arrangement went on for a while and my mom would come by my apartment with him and take my then 4yo son with them shopping, or bring him to her house. She would offer my uncle’s help when I needed something heavy moved, handyman work, or someone to be at my apartment while I was out to let repairmen in. He had been a volunteer firefighter, but since he got divorced wasn’t doing anything at all. He was in his 60’s so I thought nothing of it.
About a year into this situation, my mom started complaining about not having any money bc she was spending it all in my uncle’s legal fees. I asked her why on earth she was paying for his divorce and she said that my (former) aunt took all his money. I also started hearing stories about how he was estranged from his son and grandchildren. “It was [Aunt]’s fault. She’s turning everyone against him.” That really didn’t seem right to me. I didn’t know her well, but this kind of behavior was very out of character. I started asking more questions because I had become suspicious of the circumstances of his divorce, etc.
My mom became very defensive, and her stories got weirder and weirder and more incongruent and unrealistic. I knew she was lying about something but obviously had no proof. Then, one day I came home from work and my husband was enraged. He would barely speak to me. I finally got it out of him: he had gotten a call from his father because he read in the paper that my uncle was facing charges of molesting his son (my cousin) and attempting to solicit young girls online.
My father in law (who is a toxic, mean, manipulative person by the way, who had just been released from prison) convinced my husband that I must’ve known and was keeping it a secret. It took me days to convince him I didn’t know. Meanwhile I asked my mom one more time why uncle had gotten kicked out of his home, marriage, family, and job (this time knowing why) and she continued the lie. I was deeply deeply hurt and felt totally alone. I couldn’t turn to my husband for comfort, my mom was a liar, and the rest of my family (aunts etc) were all accomplices as well.
I finally confronted my mom with the truth, and with the knowledge of her lies. She made a million excuses, brought up the promise to grandma, and never expressed any remorse at all for lying to me, lying to grandma (who died never knowing why her son was in trouble to begin with), and most concerning, for putting my children at risk. I had unknowingly left my kids (I had had another child since this all began) with a pedophile. I felt incredible guilt, and anger, and sadness that this this has eroded my husband’s trust in me, despite my constant reassurance I had NO idea. I also worked with my mom, and had to face her everyday at work, and remain professional. It was agony.
Once the truth was revealed, we made it immediately known that he was to have NO CONTACT with our children. None. We didn’t even want him to look at them (lest he get ideas in his head.) My mom felt this was unfair bc “innocent until proven guilty,” and he hasn’t been convicted yet. However, I dug into the details to find out for myself how much of a threat he really was. I was appalled at what I found out.
He had begun his predatory behavior when his son was a young teen (age 11, actually.) He had “taught” him to masturbate, exposed him to pornography, and even went so far as to do this to a friend of my cousin. I found out that this continued through his teen years, and it eventually involved my cousin’s girlfriends. He liked to watch teens having sex. My cousin finally reported him to the police, as did one of his friends and my family swept it under the rug. He was a firefighter and had some influence in town and the police believed that it was just a teenager being angry and trying to cause trouble.
Years later, my cousin, with the support of his wife, got therapy and again reported his crimes. This time, he laid out all the disgusting behavior, and was able to convince the police to look into it. Since the dawn of the internet, my uncle had access to all kinds of lewd, illegal content and my cousin knew it. He knew it had only made him into a more dangerous person. He didn’t want his kids anywhere near his father as they approached the age his abuse began. The cops believed him, got a warrant, and found he was telling the truth. His hard drive and internet history was damning. My aunt, now convinced and sickened as well, kicked him out, and that’s when he moved in with my mom.
During his time awaiting trial, he was caught AGAIN attempting to solicit underage girls. He was at a public library, on camera, using a computer while he was not supposed to be doing that at all, and then, the “girl” he was talking to happened to be an under cover cop. It was coincidental, but it blew the defense the attorney my mom hired for him (she cashed out a retirement fund for this) had prepared, which was that his computer had been “hacked” and all those files were not his. Well, now he was caught red handed. That’s how he ended up in the paper. His attorney at that point told him to either plead guilty or she was out.
Meanwhile, despite the very clear rule (no contact) my mom continued to expose the kids to him by bringing them to her house when they were supposedly out shopping or at a restaurant. So, we restricted her access/visitation to our house only. She’d show up at my house with him. She’d show up at other relative’s house with him while my kids were visiting. She’d act like it was no big deal. She’d accuse me of just “following my husband’s orders” which made him suspicious of me. She’d also tell my husband that I had said this or that (involving the uncle) was ok, when I had not. She’d purposely leave out details so I would say Ok to something.
No matter how specific and clear we thought we made it, she’d try to manipulate the situation or find a loophole. Eventually, we had to resort to an ultimatum. “If you cannot agree to respect OUR decision as parents to prevent any access by uncle whatsoever to our kids, regardless of your personal feelings of how right or wrong it is, then you cannot see them AT ALL. You must choose which relationship is more important. Either your dysfunctional, codependent relationship with your brother or the relationship with your grandkids and daughter.” I told her that she owed me an apology for the lies. Even if she couldn’t do that, and was willing to give up on repairing things with me, I’d still be willing to work out some way to see the kids if she could PROMISE to keep him the hell away from the kids and could on some level see why we weren’t willing to risk their safety. She said she wouldn’t apologize, and she refused to follow our “rules”. She said that if we didn’t trust her completely then this was “our problem, not hers.”
I walked away from my own mother at that point. We became completely estranged. I had to continue to work with her, and while I swallowed all my pain and anger and behaved as if she was no different than any other coworker, she told everyone about how I wouldn’t let her see her grandkids “and didn’t know why.” I got cornered in elevators and bathrooms by strangers and friends alike to be berated about how awful I was. Some people were outright angry. People who didn’t even know the circumstances, because I wasnt the only one she was lying to. I NEVER engaged. I just kept repeating that our personal and family affairs was none of their business and that I refused to discuss the details but rest assured, you don’t know the whole story.
He ended up getting convicted. Eventually others in my family distanced themselves from him and my mother because of her behavior towards me, but others tormented me with angry phone calls and slander on social media. He continued to attempt to solicit minors right up to his trial. He was sent to prison. While in prison he wrote me a letter, but sent it to one of my aunts since he knew I’d just throw it out. My poor aunt (who was only one that was on my “side” from the start and wanted nothing to do with him) said she was nauseated by it and it brought her to tears. In it, he detailed how I was actually the “criminal” because of how I turned my back on my family and that his attraction to 14 yo girls was normal for thousands of years due to their “innocence, purity, and virility” and it was a matter of natural selection. Further, teaching children to have sex was “healthy” and “not shameful at all.” I turned that right over to the parole board. It prevented his release twice, but eventually he was released.
I have another post here from the time when he was due to be released. It was a very very tense time because as bad as things were in my marriage, and with my family, and at work, and, with my mother, it did get better once he was gone.
My mom did eventually see the error in her ways. She saw how he took advantage of her, financially. She saw how her older sister also manipulated her and was culpable for some of the strife between us. I’m still not speaking to that aunt bc she’s a miserable hypocrite. She arranged for my uncle to live in the house behind my mom, which displaced my brother (he was living there and she convinced the landlord to evict him) and placed him literally in her backyard. When I confronted her about how this arrangement would harm my mom, my brother, my kids (who had been able to return to her house), me, and the neighbors who all had children (there’s also a beach just yards away where dozens of kids swim) she preached “forgiveness.” I told her she should have him live with her then to which she replied “I couldn’t do that bc then my granddaughter wouldn’t be able to visit.” Classic hypocrisy and “Not in my back yard (NIMBY).” It mattered not. She set it up w/the parole board for him to live 100 ft from my mom. He still lives there now.
So, now that you know all the intimate details of my family and experience, which I don’t mind sharing so people know the full extent of the pain and suffering these people (pedophiles) have on society (not to diminish the victim’s experience, of course!) This quite literally ripped my family apart. Both my family of origin and my chosen family. It set my career back (since I refused to reveal the details of our issues, I still have coworkers that are suspicious of and have a rather unfavorable opinion of ME. She said some really awful things about me including telling folks I was bipolar.) It causes continuous strain in our relationship, my marriage, etc. My in laws think I must be “tainted” and have tried to get my husband to divorce me and take my kids away from me. I lost friends who upon discovering I am related to a pedophile just cut me off. Others stopped speaking to me bc I became estranged from my mom and couldn’t understand that decision (there must be something wrong with me: who could do that to their mother!?)
So, what do you do? You prepare yourself for the unfortunate fact that you may very well have to endure suffering, ridicule, isolation, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, judgment, and loss. Basically every bad thing we avoid as humans. You will have to decide if your children’s well-being and safety is worth stepping away from your marriage, your family, and anything else that sets them up for exposure to their uncle. YOU decide what is in their best interest and YOU stick to your principles. You will be forced to face your own values and priorities, perhaps turn your back on tradition and cultural norms. Does this sound harsh? It is. Believe me. This is so hard, and no one, no one except someone who has had to o it can understand how gut wrenching this predicament is. You need to find allies. People who understand and support you. You will need it. Even with them you may feel utterly alone at times.
You need to sit with your wife and set clear expectations of not only what can’t be allowed, by her, her relatives, or anyone else but also establish what the CONSEQUENCES will be. “You do this, that happens.” You need to establish boundaries, and stick to them. No excuses. No exception. Make a pact, together (for now). Write it down so there’s no going back on it, or “he said she said.”
As I mentioned, my husband and I had differing opinions on how to handle this. He had a knee-jerk reaction and wanted to just cut off all contact with my whole family. You may feel that way too, but while you “stick to your principles” balance it with your wife’s needs, feelings, and respect her decisions, even if that means you have to “let” her maintain relationships you don’t understand. You must start this out with her as your partner. Make sure she understands this. She is in an awful place to be: stuck between her two families. As someone else mentioned, she needs counseling. She does. I did too, although I didn’t get it I should have. As abusive and messed up her family is, remember it’s her “normal” and there are very strong cultural pressures to behave a certain way towards your family. She feels this pressure, coupled with her love for her mom, etc, AND her kids and you. She needs strength she probably doesn’t have (based on your description) to resist all that pressure and use her logical mind. Be her strength, as long as you can. If it has to be you that slams the door in uncle’s and mom’s face when they show up together, so be it. Just make sure your wife is aware this is what will happen, and everyone else. You said you have talked about what’s not allowed, but please please understand you need to follow that with explicit consequences.
It’s terrible that you don’t trust your wife, but I do understand. This is very sad, and something hard to overcome in a marriage. Truthfully, it’s not entirely resolved in mine because my husband is still wary of how I will react/respond to my mom in certain situations. Now, it’s not because he thinks I’m an idiot who doesn’t see dysfunction as it was before. He gets that it’s due to the fact that I’m human and am attached to my mother despite everything that’s happened and it’s bewildering and frustrating for me too. However, its still exhausting to keep having to “prove” myself. I keep in mind it’s not easy for him either, and it’s not just about him it’s also about me: he fears my well being will be harmed by her antics, and he fears he would have to do the worst-leave me, take the kids-if “push came to shove.” This I understand too, bc I would absolutely do the same if my kids well-being were truly in danger because of his inability to prevent harm. This is our common ground in this matter and we use it to remain “team focused.” It’s about the kids and it gives us strength. It’s like those stories you hear of parents lifting cars and breaking down doors, running through fires and floods, to save their kids.
Now, if your wife can’t (and it may truly be a “can’t” not a “won’t”) get on the same page as you, you will, alone, have to enforce the boundaries you have set even against her. This should be a last resort. But, rest assured having limited contact with their mom, while traumatizing, is LESS traumatizing than rape or sexual assault. You will be teaching your children that their safety and health are top priority, not dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships. This is such an important lesson, especially in a family that has an abusive element. You are breaking the cycle of victimization. Try to do it with your wife (get her out of the cycle as well) but if you can’t, save your kids.
You mention a move. I’m never someone who “runs” from a problem, but, I think perhaps some distance between you and your wife’s family would be beneficial to your family. It would give your wife a break from the constant pressure and enmeshment with her mom and brother, etc, and give your family some peace and privacy. We also moved at one point to create some distance and get a “fresh start.” It helped a lot. It’s very stressful, sure, and can be expensive, but if it will relieve some of the strain and anxiety that proximity to these toxic people creates then you should pursue it. You have to choose between lesser evils at times.
WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T PHYSICALLY ATTACK THIS PERSON! unless you kill him, you will go to jail, and your kids will be alone with your wife and her family. Even if you DO kill him, you’ll still be gone and your wife and her family will raise your kids. None of this is a good solution!! I mean, if you catch him in the act of harming someone, use the appropriate amount of force to make it stop and subdue him until the police come but still, don’t do anything more than necessary for the reasons stated above! Perhaps this all seems obvious to those outside this situation but believe me, the thought seems rational when you are face to face with someone who might prey on your children.
Report the pervert to the police. No matter how ineffective you think it will be-do the right thing. Unless you are at real risk of being accused of slander, defamation or whatever (not a lawyer, and I have no idea where you are or what laws exist) you should do this to at least establish some record of his deviance. If at some later time there IS evidence (let’s hope not) or someone comes forward to make another accusation, it will show a pattern of behavior. This is what got my uncle into trouble-repeated violations that combined couldn’t be “explained away.” He’s also now classified as a level 3 (the worst of the worst, a probable reoffender) sex offender which has certain restrictions (not enough in my opinion) associated with it that other levels do not.
As another has stated, you need to teach your children how to specifically protect themselves from this type of harm, how to identify inappropriate behavior, and make it clear to them that no one-NO ONE should have access to their bodies that they don’t want, even family, and that’s final. I would be careful how much burden you place on your son however, because if something DOES happen, the guilt he’ll feel will be crushing and damaging. No child should have to bear that much responsibility. Teach him to wary, vigilant, and to speak up, but not that it’s HIS job to protect his sister. It’s too much to ask to pit him against a manipulative adult.
I may have missed some aspects of your question or not addressed some situations/concerns directly but I hope that my experience and insight can be of value. I intended to convey that you CAN do this. It will be hard but it will be worth it. See past all that stands between your family’s well-being and do what you must to get them there.