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First off, I apologise for the length of this letter. I have tried to keep it as concise as possible.

In February 2005 my mother died after a long illness. She is sorely missed by all her family but I am glad she died as I would never been able to hide from her what I am about to reveal in this letter. Three weeks after her death my youngest daughter Jane aged, eighteen, disclosed to me that her brother John, who is two and a half years older, had sexually abused her from an unknown time (they cannot recall when it began) until she was twelve when she told him and I quote her words "we have to stop this." When John returned from his university at Easter I confronted him, he immediately confessed everything. Both have separately told me that there was no intercourse but that heavy petting took place. He performed oral sex on her, she did not orally touch him. There seems to have been no physical force or mental threat and we are at a loss why she is afraid of him as she says she is. She has said she wanted to be like her big brother and so went along with his actions.

We also have an older daughter, two and half years older than John, who was devastated on hearing her sisters disclosure, but on talking with the three of them we have discovered that as children, along with other neighbourhood kids, they played a game called Statues which involved running about then adopting a pose whenever someone called "STATUE." This somehow became naked statues and some sexual exploration took place between all the children involved.

Why John's behaviour escalated and why he picked on Jane no one seems to have an answer. He did have a sexual education teacher from the age of eleven who later was convicted as a pedophile. John insists he never touched him but I know now that among his many offences this man talked to his young pupils of all manner of sexual practices including bestiality and was most demeaning in the way he spoke about women.

Our family who we considered to be a loving, caring unit has been crushed. Friends had openly told me they were envious of the relationship we had with our children and of our candidness discussing all manner of things with them including sexual matters. It has eaten away at us that we may inadvertently encouraged John's behaviour but we also taught them that respect for themselves and their future partners were paramount. We had always told them that they could always depend on each other no matter what but now Jane wants no contact with her brother. They are both away at different universities and although we have managed to keep them apart this is proving to be more difficult as time progresses. We are worn down with the lies we have had to tell grandparents and other family members as to why John is not coming home.

Christmas was dreadful, made especially awful by the fact that John was hospitalised over the Xmas period with a continuing illness. To have our son sick in a different country and not be able to visit him was a living hell.

All the family have attended counselling although Jane went for only a few sessions and then refused to have anything more to do with it. John continues with his counselling and seems to have benefited from it although we have had many tearful telephone conversations. On advice he wrote to his sister, but although we hand delivered the letter we do not know whether she read it or what she thought of it. We are terrified to speak to her about the situation for fear we make it worse. My husband and I have stopped visiting counselors. They continually tell us that brother and sister should talk but how can they talk if she doesn't want to see him.

I love all my children so much and am sick with worry about them all and how this is affecting their lives. Jane had said she felt suicidal before the disclosure. She appears happy and settled at her university but I worry that it is a fragile state and that if we push her to make contact we will lose her forever. I know that John has had thoughts of ending his life although I have begged them both to promise me that they will not.

My eldest daughter is planning to marry and her dearest wish is to have both of her siblings at her wedding. I now dread what should be a happy family day. My darling husband is a shadow of his former self and has begun to drink every night, something which he never did. We seem to only talk about this awful thing and their is no joy in our lives anymore.

At times I feel that my whole family died that day over a year ago and that I am merely marking time until I depart this earth. Jane said that what she was about to tell me would break my heart. It shattered into a million pieces. I feel I haven't been able to mourn my beloved mum who always used to tell me what a wonderful mother I was and how proud she was of me. In June I lost a dear friend to cancer. I was with his wife when he passed away but I can barely remember that night or the subsequent funeral. I am angry, I am bitter, I ache.

Please help me.


The kind of sexual experimentation you describe in your letter is fairly common. The developing sexuality of children continually demands expression, and is curious about others' bodies. This is not something wicked or perverse. It is a genetically coded set of behaviors which have persisted in the human genome because they lead to adult sexuality which ensures the continuance of the race. This need for development and assertion of a powerful, innate sexual drive, coupled with the constant opportunities for being sexual occasioned by living in the same house together, often eventuate in sexual contact between siblings or close childhood friends. The inappropriate sex "education" your son received may also, as you suspect, have added fuel to the fire.

You do not know how old they were when the sexual acting out began, but your son was only 14 and your daughter only 12 when it ended, so obviously they were both young and innocent when it began. In other words, this was not adult sexuality being acted out, but the experimentation of children, or, if your daughter really was completely unwilling (and that is in doubt, I think), the experimentation of a child, your son, being carried out on his unwilling sister. Children do all kinds of things as they are growing up, and we must try to understand as adults that the play and experimentation of children is not the ethical equivalent of the very same behaviors when carried out by an adult. For example, if an adult spent the afternoon pulling the wings off of flies, we might wish to consider him a sadist, and perhaps to wonder about mental illness, but when a boy of seven or eight does the same thing, we may see it as a stage of childhood development, and withhold blame. The same is true of childhood sexuality: children go through many stages of development, and are not really fully accountable for their attitudes and actions during those passages. Wiith this in mind, I would not say that your son "abused" your daughter, as you put it. Although the sexual contact between them was inappropriate, it was not, in my view, abuse.

Sexuality is particularly difficult for children because their drives, mediated by powerful hormones, are so physically compelling, and their (childish) curiosity about things kept hidden naturally so strong, while meantime, the roles modeled by the adults around them may appear less than reassuring, often, in fact, may appear to be the behaviors of people who are confused, obsessed, fearful, and guilt-ridden.

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This does not mean that sexual acting out between children, and particularly between siblings, should be condoned, allowed, or encouraged, but only that it needs to be seen as a kind of developmental play, very different indeed from actual adult intra-familial sex, which often would be not so much about sexual experimentation--for this is usually, for an adult, more or less readily available outside of the family circle if desired--but about incest, and all its many associations. I doubt that the sex between your son and daughter had much, if anything, to do with incest; it was, I imagine, about trying something out to see what it was like.

I do understand that visualizing oral sex between your son and daughter would be upsetting and painful to you, but now it is time to put this behind you and get on with your life. The sex between them no longer continues. In fact, it stopped happening long ago. All that is water over the dam now, and you must find a way to let it go. You must not worry about your husband or your children until you have found a way to put this behind you personally. If you can first help yourself to let the past go, then I imagine that you also will be able to help your husband and your children to do the same. If you cannot, with your own resources, find a way to put this behind you, please find a good psychotherapist (not simply a counselor, but an experienced psychologist) who can help you to understand and let go.

Be well.

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