My husband is 33 and his sisters are 27 and 25. The have brought it to the familys attention that he sexual abused them when they were young. The one sister says he raped her when she was 3 and the other sister only remembers him teasing them and him threatening them I guess. In his mind big brother teasing. She said she had blocked it out until 3 years ago when she was in school learning about child abuse and started to have flash backs and night sweats. He is very concerned as he does not believe that could have happened. He would like to take a polygraph test, hypnosis or EMRD therapy to see if he could have done such a thing. She believes maybe he has blocked it out as well. We don’t know where to even start in dealing with this and want to know if this is possibly. She thinkgs maybe he was abused and thats why he might have done this but don’t know who would have abused him. I’m concerned to take this serious as she has done other mentally questionable things but nervous not to seek the help he wants or may need. Is there anything in the way of therapy or tests he or the both of them could take to determine if this is true. I am lost and confused and feeling my family fall apart and its a matter of her thoughts vs. his. Please help with any advice.

A: Thank you for writing. I’m sure this is a very painful situation for everyone. I’m very impressed that you and your husband are willing to try to find out if there is any truth to the assertion. That speaks to a level of integrity and care that many people would find very, very hard to bring to bear on the situation.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any tests to dig out the truth. Hypnosis is tricky. The mind hates a vacuum. When people feel vulnerable and can’t figure out what is going on, they will sometimes create a story that makes it all make sense. Although sometimes hypnosis can help people surface real memories, it can also make people absolutely believe a story they’ve only constructed.

Some sessions with an experienced and sensitive family therapist is probably your best bet for figuring out what did and didn’t happen and for helping the family through this difficult time. You can search the Internet for a family therapist through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy website.

Here are some of the questions that could be addressed in therapy:

  • You didn’t mention which sister is troubled. Your husband is 6 years older than one and 8 years older than the other. If the sister in question is the older one, he was only 9 when she was 3; with the younger one, he was 11 when she was 3. Although there are certainly instances of abuse of younger siblings by boys at those ages, it’s not very often that it could be termed rape. Although some boys can have sex at 9 – 11 years old, most aren’t developed enough yet.
  • I don’t completely reject the possibility that he hurt his sister in some way but I do have some reasonable doubt that it was sexual. If I were talking with her, I’d want to evaluate whether what she thinks happened is congruent with what we know about a 3 year old’s capacity for memory.
  • I would want to know more about what she means by the word. It’s possible that she is being literal. It’s also possible that she is terming sexual exploration (I’ll show you mine, you show me yours) as rape. It’s possible he frightened her (intentionally or not) but that she misinterpreted what was going on – either then or now.
  • You mentioned that the sister has done “other mentally questionable things.” If this young woman is troubled and if she is suggestible, she may have latched onto the possibility of childhood abuse as a way to make sense of what she is feeling. I would want to evaluate her general mental health to see if there are alternative explanations for what she thinks she remembers that is grounded in other distress.
  • At least equally important to what may have happened 25 or more years ago is what is happening now. Is the discussion of childhood abuse a way of talking about other tensions in the family that are unresolved?

Needless to say, I can’t outline all the possibilities here. But I hope this gives you some idea of the kinds of questions that might help you sort out what’s real and what’s not. My hope is that you can find a therapist who can help you all feel safe and supported. Yes, the sister who is in pain deserves some help. But so do her siblings and all the other members of the family who are distressed by her statements. Most people would find this much too difficult to handle without some professional assistance.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Could my husband have sexually abused his sister?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/11/could-my-husband-have-sexually-abused-his-sister/