I want to report my brother for sexually abusing me—what should I do?

Dear Newsweek, I was sexually abused by one of my brothers when I was 7 years old. I didn’t tell anyone about it then because I didn’t understand what was going on. When I was an adult, I learned that there were lasting negative effects on the victims, but I sublimated the pain for the peace of the family.

A recent conflict with this brother (unrelated to abuse) has unsealed the buried pain that has made me so angry that I can no longer be with him. I also blame my other siblings for not saving me as a child, even though that seems unreasonable.

There’s a family reunion scheduled for Memorial Day weekend that I won’t be attending due to this recent emotional roller coaster. How do I tell everyone without upsetting the whole family by revealing my secret?

Joe, unknown

“What should I do?” from Newsweek offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

Image of a person looking out the window. How do I tell everyone without upsetting the whole family by revealing my secret?
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You don’t owe your family an explanation.

Jonathan Marko is Principal Attorney and Founder of Detroit-based Marko Law. He represented dozens of people who have said they were sexually abused by former sports physician Robert Anderson during his four decades at the University of Michigan.

Sexual abuse and trauma can have lifelong negative effects on the victim, and your story is like so many others I hear from my clients who struggle with the aftermath of sexual abuse. Victims often feel ashamed or feel they have done something wrong and have to carry the “secret” of the abuse with them throughout their lives. Feelings of resentment and betrayal towards the abuser and others are also common. Trauma can interfere with a victim’s relationships with others, especially family and those involved.

Your situation is especially difficult because the abuser is a family member you still need to see and interact with. Naturally, this creates a complicated family dynamic.

First, you need to make sure you have the right mental health support for what you’re going through. There are many mental health therapists and providers who specialize in helping victims of sexual trauma. I encourage you to find one to help you with these issues because you are still dealing with the pain of what happened. Treatment can help you understand, cope with, and try to heal from the trauma you have experienced. You shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.

When it comes to the family event on Memorial Day weekend, you don’t have to explain at length to your entire family why you can’t attend. Just communicate that you’d like to attend, but can’t at the moment and hope to see them soon at another event. Then you can work with a mental health professional to determine if you will disclose the abuse in the future, to whom you will disclose it and how.

Tell one person first, telling everyone at once can be overwhelming

Tia Kim, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist, lead spokesperson for the Hot Chocolate Talk child sexual abuse prevention campaign, and vice president of education, research, and impact at the Committee for Children, creators of the Second Step Child Protection Unit. .

What you have been through is incredibly difficult. I want you to know that I believe you and it’s not your fault. You should never have suffered child sexual abuse and carried that burden on your own. You’re right: child sexual abuse can contribute to mental health, behavioral and interpersonal problems in adulthood. So what you are feeling right now is a completely normal response to trauma.

If you are ready to talk to your family about the abuse, I recommend that you start with just one person. Telling everyone at once can be an overwhelming experience and cause additional trauma. Instead, find a family member you really trust and tell them why you won’t be attending the family reunion. When you tell this person about your childhood experiences and your recent conflict with your brother, it will be extremely important for this person to remain calm, to believe you, to support your decision not to attend the meeting and to support your healing journey. Before. Ask yourself if there are any confidants in your family who possess these qualities as well as strong social-emotional skills such as showing compassion, managing their emotions, and communicating with empathy. Then set aside time to have a one-on-one.

If you haven’t already, I also encourage you to seek out resources to help you heal. Contacting a mental health professional, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center can be a good place to start. If your family would like to learn more about how they can help prevent child sexual abuse in the future, free research-based resources are available at HotChocolateTalk.org.

Anyone seeking help should call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a free, confidential line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787 -3224. The Hotline also provides information on local resources. For more information, visit


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