A Cousin May Have Molested My Sister Decades Ago. Should I Let It Go?

I am 25 years old. My 26-year-old sister has struggled with severe depression and drug abuse since she was an early teen. Yesterday, my mother revealed to me that when my sister was 3 years old, she began to cry out in pain when she peed. My mother took her to the doctor, who said she was being molested. When they asked my young sister who was touching her, she identified my 12-year-old cousin, who would regularly babysit us. I have two older brothers. Around the same time, my oldest brother, who was about 7 at the time, revealed that the same cousin tried to make him perform oral sex on him. My other older brother and I showed no signs of abuse. My sister has been drug-free for two years but still struggles with depression. She doesn't remember the incident. Could telling her be beneficial or do more harm? I hope it may give her some clarity. Also, my oldest brother couldn't be more normal; should I bring this up to him or could it be damaging? My other brother definitely has some social issues; should I ask him? Try to hold a family meeting? Also, my cousin was never properly treated or disciplined. He's now successful in real estate with a wife and two children. Could he be harming his children? He's the last person anyone would expect to be a molester. I don't want to destroy his life if he's moved on, but he's also a high school football coach, and this scares me. Please give me some insight, especially concerning my sister. Thank you for your time. —Unsettled
Dear Unsettled,

Thank you for writing in. This sounds like a very complicated situation fraught with the potential for significant consequences for many people, some of whom you love dearly. I’m curious why your mother chose to share this tragic portion of your family history with you now, after all these years. Is she proposing to do something about it? Is she trying to unburden herself after carrying this disturbing knowledge alone for so many years? Does she have reason to believe that your cousin is abusing his children and/or members of the football team? Is there some other motivation for the disclosure? If you haven’t already done so, it might useful to talk to your mom about why she shared this with you at this time. It is possible that her answers might help you decide what you will do with this information. For example, if your mother thinks that someone is presently in danger, then there would be ample reason to take this information to the police immediately.

If you do decide to go to the police and open an investigation, they would probably want to speak to your family, especially your sister and brother who were victimized by your cousin. If this is the course of action you choose, it would be best for your siblings to hear this from you and your mother, and possibly also a therapist in a safe, therapeutic setting. It would be unfortunate for your siblings to first learn about this from police investigators.

I would also suggest that you schedule a consultation with a therapist who has a strong specialization in work with childhood sexual abuse. Someone with an extensive background in this area would be very well equipped to meet with you and your mother, listen to the history you present, ask additional questions, and ultimately make some recommendations for developing an action plan that will serve everyone as best as possible. Consulting with a therapist in this capacity might also prove to be quite therapeutic for you. In reading your question, I can almost feel the anxiety you are likely experiencing. You might find it quite helpful to have the support of a therapist during this time.


Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • colette

    March 8th, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    This is such a tricky situation and I know that you have to be worried about other young kids that this person could have harmed or may still be hurting. You have to know that this is going to cause some understandable ugliness within the family. I too think that you need to have someone strong like a therapist by your side to help guide you through this because no matter what you do it is not going to be easy.

  • Karen

    March 9th, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    Have you or your sister or mom ever been in therapy? Because it sounds like that could help all of you. It might, when your siste feels strong enough to handle it, help her come to some conclusion about what the truth in her life really is. It is something to at least think about.

  • Jessie

    March 10th, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    I have to say that I really struggled with this when I first read it because I was thinking that of course you have to tell her! But really, is this going to help anyone? Your sister very obviously has issues and this isn’t going to do anything but add to that. It is almost like you telling her would maybe make you feel better but it does nothing to help her, so I think that until you honestly feel like it is the right time, and that could be today or that could be never, I say you keep your suspicions to yourself.

  • les d

    March 11th, 2013 at 2:43 AM

    There are also some legal ramifications that should be explored here.
    Have you thought about talking to a lawyer before making a decision?
    He or she may have some thoughts about this based on the legal side and not necessarily all of the emotional issues that you could be struggling with.
    I don’t know that I would use this as my decision maker but it would at least let you know what your options would be if indeed this ended up being true.

  • Ceressa

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Oh, my goodness, that is a lot of pressure on you! Yes, I agree with the therapist that you need to find out why in the world your mother chose to burden you with this information. I can’t even begin to give you advice on this one. Professionals certainly need to be involved here. Best of luck to you and your family.

  • F Berrington

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    if you had just asked the one question id have said yes.
    but then with all that other stuff i dont even know where to start with the right answer who knows?
    it seems like there are so many things to think about do you even get to sleep at night? i wish maybe your mom had decided what she wanted to do before even telling you.
    you are young to have to figure all this out on your own.
    my heart goes out to you pray about your decision and i am sure it will be the right one.

  • Debbie Voletta

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    Thinking of “bringing down” your cousin is extremely scary. But, maybe it isn’t bringing him down so much as it is rescuing a bunch of kids that may be in danger. And, you never know what his wife is having to put up with. I’m not saying what action you should take, but I do think you should be able to do it with a clear conscious and not feel guilty about it. If that means therapy, by all means do it. But, you seem to be a healthy and mature person and I’d hate for your cousin to have yet another victim-YOU!! Make sure to take care of yourself and don’t let him win…again.

  • horrace

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    “Could he be harming his children?”

  • greg

    March 11th, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    i would also be concerned about your mom

    it doesn’t show very good judgement that she dumped this in your lap to deal with.

    Who does that?

  • Hilary

    March 11th, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    I am struck by the fact that you are the youngest in the family, but you take all the responsibility for dealing with this situation. Why did your Mom and the doctor not act on the information they had over 20 years ago? Your sister may need specialist therapy because she seems to be displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and maybe your brother too. Family therapy might help all of you to recognize what happened, and your Mom needs to take responsibility for not dealing with this at the time. Your cousin may not be a danger to anyone else now that he is an adult – his actions could have been adolescent experimentation, but nevertheless they seem to have had a profound effect on your sister and brother, and it would be good for them to gain the strength and confidence to protest against what he did to them when they were too young to resist – even if only in the therapeutic setting. In my opinion the well-being of your immediate family is very much more important than whether or not your cousin is prosecuted at this point in time.

  • timmy

    March 11th, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    sometimes not everything needs to be told or discussed. while it is important that you see how best you can help your sister, talking about this to everybody involved may just open a can of worms, something I’m sure you do not want at this point in time. see how best you can help her without actually giving publicity to this ,it may help her even more.

  • Jayne

    March 16th, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    An additional perspective is the abuser at the time was also a child. Public accusations to an adult about something that might have been addressed and treated may not be helpful. Furthermore he also may have been a victim and was acting out. If he is also a victim are there more victims like him within your family? These behaviours tend to run in cyles. Get more information. This is not at all to say that the behavior was justified but that these issues can be very complicated. Unless you have training in this sort of situation the best advice is definitely to seek professional assistance. From someone who has lived and seen the cycle there could be generations of victims. Step carefully as there are two different issues: 1)He could still be an abuser. Do you want to be another one who ignored sexual abuse? 2)He was young. He could have received treatment and assistance. Do you want to be the one who hurts his innocent children and family? Best of Luck. Take care of yourself as well. Also remember that abuse thrives in secrecy. Healing always happens in the light.

  • Destiny

    March 25th, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    How did you get you story published?? I just need the steps on how to do it because I’ve lived almost the same story as your sister but mines is just a little bit different! I need advice on what to do just like you because we’re around the same age.

  • admin2

    March 26th, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Hi Destiny,
    You may find more information on our Dear GoodTherapy.org feature and submit your query here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/dear-goodtherapy.html
    Hope this helps!
    GT Admin

  • lovebug

    May 22nd, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    The advice of consulting with a therapist is sound. Your sister may have doubts and has never had the courage to ask about it. This could be very helpful information for her (and your brother). My story is similar to your sister’s…I have this overwhelming feeling that I was abused, and so does my brother. I’ve asked my mother about it and she has no information. The people in my family who could have answers for me are all dead. So I just have to figure out how to live with the uncertainty. I’ve been in therapy off and on for years, and i’ve have been with the same therapist for the last 6 yrs. Just when I think I’ve moved on and accepted that I’ll never know, I have a dream or get this sick feeling in my body that brings me back to thinking that I’ve blocked something terrible out. As difficult as it would be to hear, I would love to know if something really did happen to my brother and I. At least I would have something concrete to work with.

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