I recently learned that approximately 20 years ago, my daughter (about 8 at the time) was molested by my son (early teens at the time). He threatened to kill her if she ever told. Those threats continued for the next five to six years until he left home.

He had been engaged in various behaviors where he threatened her life if she ever divulged them to us. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. My son is unaware that we know all of these things. She is still concerned for her safety, even though I doubt he would inflict physical harm at this time since he’s married with children of his own.

My daughter can no longer be at family gatherings where my son is, as it’s too stressful. Additionally, her doctor recommended she avoid any contact with him.

I’d really love some direction on how to proceed to remedy the issue.


I can only imagine the shock you must feel upon learning of the terrible abuse inflicted on your daughter by your son throughout her childhood. Even though your children are all grown and out of your home, you aren’t powerless to influence and bless their lives in the aftermath of abuse.

If you haven’t already, let her know how courageous she is for breaking the silence about her abuse. Thank her for trusting you with her painful story and reassure her that you won’t say anything without her permission. She needs to know that you will protect her, as she likely doesn’t trust anyone.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition that must be handled with great care and concern for the one injured. It’s no surprise to me that your daughter is still afraid for her physical safety after enduring years of threats to her life if she spoke the truth about her situation. I’m sure you feel her fear and want to proceed carefully so you don’t cause her any unintentional harm.

While this puts you in a difficult position knowing this information about your children, your discomfort is secondary to making sure your daughter has a safe place to begin her healing. Your willingness to suffer with her and move at her pace will be a great source of strength to her. Attending family events may or may not be something she’ll do for a while. That’s not the priority right now.

Restoring her trust in family relationships and regaining her voice are much more significant needs. Victims of abuse, especially incest, have their voices taken away and learn that what they want doesn’t matter. You can show her that she has a voice and you will take her concerns and wishes seriously.

I recommend you do not plan or initiate any family gatherings until there has been adequate healing for your daughter and accountability for your son. One way you can protect your daughter is to not put her in situations where she feels pressure to be around her brother.

I encourage you to continue inviting her to talk with you about her experience. Most abuse survivors aren’t believed by those they tell. It’s human nature to deny things that are painful and shocking, so it’s critical that you give her the reassurance that you believe her and want to be there for her.

You might even ask her if you can join her in her counseling to better learn how you can support her. She had to endure this alone as a child due to the threats of physical harm, but she now has the opportunity to heal with the caring support of her mother.

Even though you will pace things to her level of safety, when the time is right, you might have opportunities to help her cast off the shackles of threat and fear she’s felt for the past two decades. In time, your daughter will hopefully learn that she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore.

With proper treatment for PTSD, she can learn that she has a voice and can protect herself. There are many empirically validated methods for treating PTSD, so offer to help her find treatment that will help her heal the impact to her body and emotions.

You may be wondering what to do with your son, especially since so much time has passed. First, your state law may require you to report your son for the abuse he inflicted on your daughter as well as the potential threat he is to his own children.

What your son did to his sister is criminal behavior and it’s important for his sister to know she has a voice and has options. Each state has different reporting laws, so it’s wise to consult with legal professionals to help you know your options. It’s also important that your daughter knows you are willing to face this without minimizing the seriousness of his actions in your home.

I hear the concern that your daughter doesn’t want him to know she’s opened up about the abuse. However, due to the seriousness of his past behaviors, threats to her life, and the fact that some of these behaviors likely continued after he was age 18, this is something that requires action.

This is your chance to protect her and give him a chance to heal from what he’s done. This family cannot continue to be held hostage by his threats. Again, work closely with a competent team of legal and counseling professionals to help you proceed with this very difficult and sensitive situation.

There are things you can do, and you don’t have to live with fear, despite the overwhelming distress you must be feeling for your children. 

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