Hello, world. My name’s Stephen LaConte, I’m a writer here at BuzzFeed, and sometimes I give our readers advice.
Today, we’ve got this woman, who has a very disturbing issue with her father-in-law. Here’s what she wrote to me via Instagram:
Let’s just name this behavior exactly what it is: Your father-in-law is sexually harassing you. It’s not a “joke,” and there’s no world in which his statements and actions would ever be acceptable. It’s abuse. It needs to stop right now.
So, what should you do about it? My honest answer is, whatever the fuck you want. You want to call him out publicly? Do so. Or, would you rather skip the confrontation and just cut off all contact with your in-laws moving forward? By all means, do so. Or, do you want your husband to deal with his family so you can focus on your own healing? That’s totally valid: Do so.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no “wrong” response to being harassed like this. Different people find strength and comfort in different ways. All I can do is encourage you to make the best choice for yourself, so I’ll give you three things to consider as you weigh your options.
First, your physical and emotional safety need to be at the forefront of whatever decision you make. If you want to confront him, do not do so alone. If you’re even slightly worried about the situation escalating to violence, do not have the conversation in person. And make sure you have trusted and loving support systems in place to help you navigate the difficult road ahead. Your physical and mental well-being comes first, always. That much is definitive.
Second, whatever you do should prioritize your comfort, not the comfort of your husband, your father-in-law, or anyone else in the picture. It’s likely that your in-laws will want to sweep this under the rug, to “move on,” so they don’t have to confront the reality of the fact that their husband and father is a predatory creep.
But their preferences do not matter here. Yours do. Be as loud as you want, cut them out of your life if you want, and, by all means, do not feel like you have to “keep the peace” to preserve this family’s comfort. Whatever fallout may come from this will be your father-in-law’s fault, not yours, and it is not your responsibility to protect him from the consequences of his own actions.
Third and last, I think whatever route you choose should be decided on with the help of a therapist. Being repeatedly harassed by a relative would be difficult enough to deal with, but you also say that his behavior is bringing back trauma from a past sexual assault. That is too much for anyone to tackle alone. And since you mention that you feel too embarrassed to bring this issue up with your loved ones, you might find that taking this to a professional third party is a safer place to start.
As long as you follow those three steps — taking safety precautions, putting your own needs first, and enlisting the help of a therapist — please deal with your father-in-law however the fuck you want. Do whatever will feel right to you.
And one last thing to consider before you go. I don’t know whether your husband is aware of your father-in-law’s constant harassment. But based on the sheer number of incidents you describe in your DM, it’s hard to imagine that he’s never witnessed anything. Part of me wonders why he hasn’t intervened. Part of me wonders why he’s even asking you to be in the same room as his father anymore. And part of me wonders why your letter doesn’t mention anything about the two of you figuring this out together.
Suffice it to say, the absence of your husband in all this concerns me. I wonder if perhaps your in-laws are not the only toxic people you’re dealing with. I know I don’t have the full picture here, so I’ll just leave it at this: If your husband is not 100% behind you right now, perhaps he should not be your husband anymore. And that might be another good thing to discuss with a therapist.
I am so, so sorry you are going through this. I’m wishing you strength, power, comfort, and healing, however those things look for you. Good luck.
That’s all the advice I’m giving today, folks, but if you’ve got any words of wisdom for our DMer, share them in the comments! I’ll be reading…
Want more advice and updates on previous DMers? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@StephenLC in both places). And if you want to submit a question to be featured in the column, DM me — just be sure to read the rules below first.
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