I was married to my ex-husband for 22 years, and we had three children. When all the children were under the age of 4, my middle daughter, 2 at the time, would like to come to bed with me until my husband arrived, at which point he would move her into her own room. One night I woke up and found my husband standing over the two of us as we slept, and he was masturbating. Long story short, I did not leave the marriage. Likely the wrong decision, but if the marriage ended he would have unsupervised visitation, and I would not be able to protect my children. Instead, I never left my kids alone with their dad – ever.   I wasn’t sure if my ex was a pedophile or not… I did what I needed to do to protect my kids. It was exhausting, but I know that their father never had the opportunity to molest them. He was hands-off anyway in the parenting department. There were other sexually deviant times throughout our marriage. BTW – we never lived as a married couple after that episode… Fast forward.  I have remarried. Now two of the three are married, and grandbabies are on the way. His new girlfriend has grandbabies. Who will protect all of these children? What do I do with the information that I have? I have only shared this with my new husband – not another person knows. I feel a sense of responsibility to protect the next generation of children. Please help guide me. This is eating me up. Do I sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my children? All I have ever wanted was to protect them from harm and hurt – how do I continue to do so?

Contributed by Sam B

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

One response »

  1. John Hooker says:

    The issue is whether you should warn your grown children, and your ex-husband’s wife, that your ex-husband could be a pedophile. The ethical choice in this case depends primarily on the utilitarian principle, which says that your choice should result in as much benefit and as little harm for those concerned as possible.

    If you reveal your secret, then you could personally harm those involved (particularly if your fears are unfounded), while if you don’t, then any harm that results would be caused by your ex-husband, not you. However, the utilitarian principle says that you should judge the two options solely by the amount of harm that results, not by whether you are directly the cause of the harm.

    Revealing the secret will almost certainly have negative fallout, while everything may be fine if you keep quiet. You don’t actually know that your ex-husband is a pedophile. On the other hand, if your ex-husband does abuse the children involved, the consequences are very negative. So the main uncertainty is whether your ex-husband is a pedophile, and if so, whether he will act accordingly.

    When there is this kind of uncertainty, ethics doesn’t require us to predict the future. It only requires us to research the matter and take an action that we can reasonably believe will create as much net benefit as any other action. The amount of time we should invest in research depends on how much is at stake.

    Since there is a great deal at stake here, it is imperative to learn as much as possible about how to recognize pedophilia and what typical behavior patterns one can expect. This could have been done a long time ago, but it is not too late. Personally, I know absolutely nothing about this, but there are resources. It is worth spending many hours on the Web and in the library to try to ferret out some reliable information (often hard to find). You have already spent many hours worrying about this; it is more productive to spend time getting informed. Maybe a trusted friend or professional (such as someone in the clergy) can refer you to an expert who is familiar with these cases and knows how things tend to work out. Readers are invited to post suggestions on how to find reliable advice.

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