Disclosures of Abuse: How do I know for sure if my niece is being or was abused?

by Name Undisclosed
(Location Undisclosed)

For the longest time, my niece, at the age of 11 and younger, complained about the way her mother treated her, that she was abusive, left them alone at night, and that mom was using drugs in front of her and her brother. All this information was provided without us even asking. She and her brother would just begin to tell us, and others, in the midst of a conversation. They live in another state. When I questioned about it, their mom said she quit drugs, and that the children were just upset with her. My brother went to court, but had no hard evidence to prove anything, so she still has the children.

My niece, now 15, recently came for a visit. She now is saying that my brother brainwashed her, and that her mom has done nothing wrong, and that he's the one who actually abused her, and that she is no longer speaking with him.

I'm at a loss. I don't know what to believe. I have always believed that we need to listen when a child, any child, says they've been abused, in any form. But I am having a hard time with this. Not because it's my brother, but because it's such a drastic change. Why didn't she say anything at an early age? I know her mom would have called the police if he sneezed wrong (she hates my brother with a passion). My niece and nephew always loved being with him, they adored him (my nephew still does) and threw fits when they had to go back with their mom.

Their mom has always been all about how much money she can get, and tells the children that their dad never pays support, so they are poor (it's taken out of his paycheck). Whenever anything is given to the children she'll return it for the money, and keeps it for herself. She constantly says nasty things about their dad. I don't, and would never bad mouth their mom to the children, but I wonder who has been doing the brainwashing? Help!

I was also just informed by their mom, by accident, that my 15-year-old niece is now on Zoloft for depression (even though it is not FDA approved for that).

Reply from Darlene: I gather you are questioning the validity of your niece's most recent disclosure of abuse at the hands of your brother on the basis that she so readily (at a much younger age) disclosed abuse at the hands of her mother. Please understand that the two cannot be compared, as it all too often is. Many adults make the mistake of applying adult values to what children say and do at varying ages, but they either don't know about or forget about the stages of development of the brain and a child's cognitive abilities. I cannot stress strongly enough that there are maturity issues with regard to the brain, as well as experience/knowledge factors that must be considered here. Not to mention the way a child discloses.

The remainder of my answer to this Ask Darlene question "Disclosures of Abuse: How do I know for sure if my niece is being or was abused?" can be found at Comments below this submission. Depending on system activity, there are sometimes delays in comments going live on my site; but rest assured, they do eventually appear. So if you don't yet see them, I hope you will return later to read what I, and possibly others, have written. I thank you for your patience and understanding.

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