My friend was abused by his brother when he was a child.


Dear Stop It Now!,

I have a friend who confessed he was brutally sexually abused by his brother for many years, 25 to 30 years ago. The brother is in our circle of friends and has a lot of access to children. I do not know whether he is an abuser now, and my friend wants to maintain his confidentiality. I am wondering if you can lead me in any direction regarding how I am obligated to handle this situation.

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Dear Concerned Friend,

We understand how disturbing it can be to hear about a friend’s history of sexual abuse, and to also know the person who hurt him can only compound the confusion and mixed emotions.

There are two issues of concern here – what does your friend need and want,  and are their children now who need protection?

Warning Signs
Let’s start by looking at safety concerns.  Since the brother who was abusive is in your friend’s circle, have you ever observed any Behaviors to Watch for When Adults Are With Children or Signs That an Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child? Likewise, if he is around children frequently that you also know, have you ever observed any Warning Signs in these Children and/or Adolescents of Possible Child Sexual Abuse?

Some other information that would be important as this older brother's risk status was assesed would be information on how  the abuse of his younger brother stopped. Were there any adults who intervened and did the abuser, when he was a child, ever get any treatment? How was this handled, if at all, when they were children?

If you have seen warning signs, then there are some steps to consider to help protect any vulnerable children. I do want to point out that one or two signs may not necessarily mean anything, but if you are seeing patterns or repeating signs, then indeed, it’s important to pay attention and hopefully speak out.

I understand your friend’s desire for confidentiality. (Please read our online Advice Column entry: How come an adult won’t report that she was sexually abused as a child?). However, if there are strong warning signs that children are being abused, it’s important to consider reporting this to the local child protection authorities. In fact, if the signs are strong enough, the report can focus only on the observations and disclosures in the present. It may not be necessary or even advisable to share your friend’s story of what happened to him.

If you do not feel like you have information that is reportable, you can certainly tell your friend that while you want to support him and respect his privacy, you hope that if he is aware of any children at risk, he will make a report to the local authorities.  Our resource page on Reporting Child Sexual Abuse can help both of you know whether you should report, and the resources available to do so.

In terms of having to report abuse disclosed to you by an adult that happened 30 years ago, while we are not legal consultants, I do not believe you are required to report this, and do not believe the authorities would take this report.

Survivor Resources
I hope your friend who shared this with you has had access to professional supports. It sounds like he lived through a very traumatic time. I hope you will consider sharing with him our resource page on Adult Survivor Resources and Support.

I hope this is helpful, and certainly wish you the best with this tough situation. Please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: November 9th, 2018