My niece (let's call her Emma) texted me this morning (pic related).
Emma is 10.
Her mother is my sister (let's call her Jane), and is engaged to someone (let's call him Jed) whom I personally don't trust;
>Jed's father was abusive
>Jed is in AA (has been sober for 7 years)
>Jed and Jane had a child together a couple of years ago
>>said child is a violent little two year old boy
>Jane and I don't talk much at all about their relationship
A couple of years ago, during the holidays, Emma and Jed were rough-housing (play-fighting) on the porch. Emma said, "Ow, that hurt," to one of Jed's blows. Jed said, "That didn't hurt, comon," and kept going. Emma said, "Yes it did," turned to me and continued, "he hits me Auntie ______." I looked at Jed, and said, "oh, you hit her?" He denied it. It was weird. He's been on my radar since.
Then this happens.
I already called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, to ask how to approach this further and they didn't have shit for advice. Which brings me to you.
I asked Emma for a picture, to 'see if I can't advise how to help the bruising go down.' She said she attempted to send a pic, but her phone was being slow.
I don't like this roundabout bullshit, and I want to ask her straight-up if there's anything going on. Considering bringing up the conversation from the porch (mentioned above) but don't want to scare her off.
I wouldn't try to have this conversation over the phone. When's the next time you're going to see her?
Basically, you need to find a way to bring up the "general" topic that it's never okay for adults to hit children, no matter what they say. And let her know that she can always tell you the truth, and it won't get her in trouble.
If there is abuse happening, the abuser usually tries to "Stockholm" the victim and make them feel like they'd just be causing trouble by bringing it up. You need to find a way to make her feel safe talking to you.
This is part of the issue. We live quite a ways away.
Things have been messy with my family...for reasons I will not get into. tl;dr I separated myself from them this past year, as it was difficult to be around them (in short, they don't love life).
My niece is like a daughter to me (I helped raise her in her first few years), and we talk regularly...just not in person.
So, bringing this up over the phone is a bad idea entirely?
This is a pretty serious issue, OP. Depending on how you go about it, it could end horribly.
As far as I see it, you have two options.
Either you abandon the problems of this family, as much as it may pain you, and spare Emma a whole lot of trouble, or...
Or you involve yourself into something that could potentially lead to a broken family, and a sister that may come to loathe your existence.
Before you make any 'rash' decisions, I'd advise you to make sure you have some alone time with Emma, and then sit down and have a talk with her. You need to explain to her that violence from a parent is a big no-no, and that you can definitely keep a secret. The goal is to probe her for a clear indication whether or not she is a victim of child abuse. Take what you hear with a grain of salt. Children do exaggerate.
If you have reasonable suspicion to believe she is being abused, you should contact CPS and conduct a proper co-operation with them. Just know that, once they are involved, it will be very obvious who alerted them. This is probably the point where you will be alienated from your sister's side, and where things could turn real nasty.
But, as I said before, under no circumstance should you contact CPS unless you are absolutely certain she is a victim of child abuse. Even if you are wrong, and she's not a victim, the accusation will ruin your relationship with your sister. These are serious allegations.
No, not if it's your best option. The thing is though, if your suspicions are true, it's best not to force a confrontation with Jed or Jane until you can get Emma somewhere safe and kind of remove her from the situation a bit.
Are there any family members who live closer to them that you trust? Anyone you could discuss your suspicions with, who might be able to take care of Emma for a few days if necessary?
Potentially, I could talk with another sister of ours.
As has been pointed out a couple of times in this thread, I just want to do so carefully. Thanks for the advice (and advisory warnings).
I don't want to do anything dramatic, and won't.
I had been in a similar situation to Emma in my childhood. The way my mother had confronted me about the abuse I was enduring was...not great. She was overly emotional, and I (being 3 at the time) though I would be in trouble if I admitted what was happening, was happening.
So, yeah. Not sure what to do, other than tell Emma, "I'm here for you," as her texts this morning seemed nothing short of a cry for help.
Does the other sister see Jed/Jane/Emma more frequently than you do? The best thing at this point would be to talk to her, and ask if she's noticed anything weird going on.
I don't really know what the best-case scenario is, though, if it turns out to be true. You might be able to get Jed to leave the picture if things get too heated and he's afraid he'll get in trouble. But if Jane is allowing her daughter to be abused, she's going to get all bitter if her boyfriend leaves "because of her daughter," and that really isn't going to be a great situation for Emma either. It's a tough one.
The important thing at this point, though, is to find out the truth. Make sure it's not just in your head. Talking to another adult is a good place to start, so either this sister, or any other mutual friends/family between you and Jane's family