Stepbrother Was Accused of Rape: Who Comes to the Wedding?


She's the one making the ultimatum

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman standing next to ocean

Q: Last night, my future sister-in-law gave my fiancé an ultimatum: either we remove someone from our guest list, or she doesn’t come to the wedding. This person is my fiancé’s stepbrother, someone he has always felt close to and who he really wants to be there. This is also someone my sister-in-law says she cannot be in the same room with.

The main controversy here is an event that isn’t agreed upon by the entire family. About ten years ago, while my sister-in-law and fiancé were in high school, one of her friends stayed the night in the family home. During the night, she decided to go to the stepbrother’s room for a hookup. When the friend got caught, her story changed from consensual interaction to sexual assault. Let me just say that I am the biggest advocate of victims speaking out, eliminating rape culture, and assailants being punished for their crimes. What I don’t advocate for is legitimate instances of false accusations. My future mother-in-law, fiancé, and his other siblings all see the situation as a consensual act of teen rebellion and have no problem with the stepbrother attending the wedding. My sister-in-law maintains that it was sexual assault, and views his invitation as us “defending a sexual predator.” No charges were ever filed.

I fully expect for this to be a widely controversial question, but what do we do? I feel like it is wrong of my sister-in-law to put my fiancé in a situation where he is forced to choose between two very important people in his life, but it’s also not necessarily fair to expect my sister-in-law to attend an event with someone she views as a predator. Since she is the one who gave the ultimatum, I am leaning toward letting her not attend the wedding, as is my fiancé. But that means spending his life knowing his sister wasn’t a part of the most special day of his life. Thank you in advance for any advice!

—Mrs Ralph Waldo

A: Dear MRW,

There’s no way to know if something happened that night ten years ago. You weren’t there. You’re only hearing your partner’s sister’s friend’s account of it through the grapevine. And I’m even further removed from the situation than you are, so how am I to know? But I feel I need to say: It may have started as consensual, and still have turned into assault. Stepbrother may be beloved and important to your partner, and he still might have done it. I know. False accusations happen. But I want to be really, really careful about treading into this “Meh, she just has regrets about being found out,” territory. Especially because your sister-in-law, as the one closest to this friend, would presumably be the first to know if she’s lying.

Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to determine what happened all those years ago. Does what happened factor into a wedding invitation? Mmmm… some would say yes. I’m not sure it’s clear-cut. It can be hard to figure out how to treat someone after they do one terrible thing or another. It’s clear you guys and your sister-in-law disagree about whether or not he’s innocent. But even if he did it, does that automatically mean you stop speaking to him, you cut him off, you don’t invite him to family events? Is a wedding invitation the same as condoning (or as she put it, defending) his actions? I mean, maybe. But not necessarily.

I think I’d start by asking yourself, “Would we invite him if these accusations are true?” and that might mean entertaining the idea that, yeah, these accusations might be true. Would that have any impact on your wedding? If not, it might be worth saying so to your sister-in-law.

Another way to think of it is to put yourself in sister’s shoes. Unfortunately, loads of women are assaulted. And many more than that know men who make them uncomfortable, men they’d prefer not to be around. How would you want this situation handled if you were in her position?

You could work out some logistical resolution if she’s super opposed to seeing him—like one could attend the ceremony and the other the reception—or maybe you can find a way to seat them really far apart. But it sounds like your sister-in-law’s problem isn’t the actual issue of seeing his face and making polite chitchat, but instead what inviting stepbrother means and represents. And maybe it doesn’t mean or represent anything about who he is or what he’s done. You just care about him.

It’s possible you’ll still be faced with this ultimatum, no matter how you try to talk your way out of it. Then it’s a question of who matters most. Who is your partner closest to? Which relationship is most likely to bounce back? And probably myriad other factors I couldn’t even guess at. It sucks. I’m sorry.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • idkmybffjill

    Gosh darn do I have it easy when it comes to family drama at my wedding. Making a mental note to thank my lucky stars.

    I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this! I can’t imagine it is even remotely easy for anyone involved. I hope everything works out so that you and your fiance can be at peace with your decision.

  • Amy March

    I don’t think there’s really a question here. Your fiance knows about the situation, and he and his entire family have made their choice- they do not believe the allegations and are behaving accordingly. So, yes, sucks that means it sounds like his sister won’t be attending the wedding but I don’t see it as a dilemma, its just a consequence of that decision. It’s not a matter of “letting” her not attend the wedding- she doesn’t need your permission to say no, which it sounds like she is pretty clear about doing.

    Unless your fiance is interested in uninviting his step-brother, and that seems not to be the case, I think you just respond to SIL with as much compassion as you can, given your stance. Which to me would look like a) offering other ways to mitigate the damage, like promising her a far away table and that you’ll ask step-brother not to approach her, b) saying that you understand her decision and will miss her on the day, c) not holding a grudge against her for taking this action.

    • Meg Keene

      It just strikes me how much women are having to take the fall here. Woman (probably, potentially) gets assaulted. Sister has to make the stand with the family for a decade. Now woman marrying into the family has to try to manage the sister’s feelings, sort through her own feelings about being collateral damage to a decade old (probable/ possible) assault.

      I don’t have a solution or a perfect course of action, it just reflects life as I know it, and it pisses me off.

      • sofar

        And just the assumption that the bride is responsible for “handling it” and is often the default “handler of wedding things.”

        Stepbrother is the groom’s relative. This is something HE and his family need to deal with.

        It sucks for the sister to not be able attend on principle (and I applaud her for having such principles). But having principles has consequences, and she needs to just say, “I’m not coming.” Ideally, the stepbrother would find out and then bow out instead.

        If sister tries to rope the bride into this, the bride needs to say, “I have given your brother and his parents full responsibility over his side’s guest list. I have agreed not to interfere, even if I don’t agree. I am sorry.”

      • TheOtherLiz

        Well, that’s my thought to, but what if the fiance is doing just as much emotional labor on this, and he’s just not reading APW? When a sticky situation pops up related to weddings or marriage I love coming to APW for advice, but it seems mostly women are reading this blog (apologies for generalizations – I know I read a post about two men’s wedding just the other day, there are gender nonconforming folks on here, and not all women are in hetero relationships). But I read less into this that the fiance is asking her to figure it out.

        • Alex Eichler

          Did I miss something or is there an APW for men? The fact that this blog exists and it’s largely run by and read by women is proof of the fact that women do most of the emotional labor when it comes to weddings, generally. The OP’s fiance may be the exception, but right now men being equally or more involved in planning weddings IS the exception, and generally women DO do more emotional labor.

          • TheOtherLiz

            I’m not trying to say women DON’T tend to do most of the emotional labor because HI, I’m a woman who planned a wedding and lives in reality and I know this to be true myself. What I am saying is, we don’t know that in this case her fiance is leaving it to her to figure out. Why? Because she didn’t say that he did. And her writing to APW for advice doesn’t prove it’s been left to her to worry about because, as I said, this is a mostly-women space. HE wouldn’t be likely to turn to this community but it doesn’t rule out him doing some work on it. Let’s not beat up on him without knowing what he’s up to.

    • I really like this response. And echoing what someone else said above, it would seem that the family has probably already made the decision several times to believe the stepbrother (with holidays and other family gatherings and such). I also really don’t think it’s the bride’s job to try to manage all of this; it’s the fiance’s. In any case, if he (and the family and the friend) have made the choice that the accuser was lying, I’m not totally sure why it’s a question.

      • Danielle

        It’s a question because OP is entering into a family that has already made a decision, but she feels conflicted/morally compromised because it’s not the decision she might have made.

        • But the letter writer doesn’t seem conflicted over whether or not the accusations are true or false. She wrote: “What I don’t advocate for is legitimate instances of false accusations. My future mother-in-law, fiancé, and his other siblings all see the situation as a consensual act of teen rebellion and have no problem with the stepbrother attending the wedding. My sister-in-law maintains that it was sexual assault, and views his invitation as us ‘defending a sexual predator.’ No charges were ever filed.” I didn’t get the impression that she actually was conflicted over how the family handled it at the time, or that she thinks there might be truth to the accusations. I read the question as, “I think the sister’s perception of the situation is wrong, but I feel compassion for her, and she’s his sister and I want her to be there.” Am I missing something?

          cc @practicalliz:disqus since I’m basically responding to her comment too!

          • Danielle

            Maybe I was reading too much into it. But because the LW said she is a big advocate of survivors speaking out and eliminating rape culture, I took that to mean she is aware of and cares about issues like this, and feels at least a little bit conflicted.

      • Liz

        “In any case, if he (and the family and the friend) have made the choice that the accuser was lying, I’m not totally sure why it’s a question.”

        For many folks, “she’s lying” is the first response to a rape accusation- especially one levied at people they know and care about. I think it would be irresponsible to hear the phrase, “false accusation” and just take it as truth.

        Unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying here?

  • CatHerder

    I was sexually assaulted in college (in an encounter that started off consensually going to a friend’s room then fighting him off and then not leaving for 30 minutes because life is complicated and I was trying to make him feel better about it) and my normal rule is I will not attend an event that he also attends. He will, more than likely, be at a wedding I want to attend next year so this rule is going to be tested. My friends know that he assaulted me, but it didn’t happen to them and I can’t hold them to my preferences, even in something that hurt me so much. This is just to frame my response as someone who has been in these situations often.

    Your future sister-in-law has made her choice. She believes that the stepbrother is a rapist and attending an event where he attends will be either endorsing his actions or extremely upsetting to her. Now you have to make your choice and respect hers. Is his being there more important than her being there? You can’t know what happened in that room so this is the real question you have to answer for yourself.

    • H

      I am so sorry that happened to you. You sound like a really strong person – sending good thoughts your way.

    • Lifeiscomplicated

      Just here to say thanks for sharing, and yeah, life is complicated and you’re not alone. I was assaulted in college while I was so drunk I couldn’t stand up and then I went back and had consensual (miserable painful terrible) sex with him a couple more times in the following weeks. Because…I convinced myself that if he wanted to have sex with me again then the first time wasn’t rape.(?!) It was a puzzle my 20 year-old brain twisted itself into in order to be ok. I suspect situations like mine and yours are more common that we think.

      • Liz

        So common. So common.

      • Liz

        <3

      • MTM

        I work on these types of cases with college students — very common.

      • MM

        @lifeiscomplicated Just piping in to say…me too.

      • Eenie

        Had a similar experience as well, solidarity.

        • Gaby

          Ditto.

      • CatHerder

        As far as I know, very common. *hug* I went through a lot of mental gymnastics about how “this just happens.” That ended with me breaking down and sobbing in a grocery store as people browsed canned vegetables and avoided looking at the man crying clutching a box of Grape Nuts. As awful as it was, the memory of that moment makes me laugh as it was ridiculous and was the beginning of realizing it didn’t happen, he did it.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          <3

      • AP

        *raises hand* Yes, very common. Internet hugs.

      • Lisa

        Just wanted to say thank you to you and the other commenters who shared your stories today. You all deserve so many hugs for the awful situations you’ve endured.

  • Sara

    It sounds like your SIL has heard a version of this story that she believes in that has the Stepbrother assaulting her friend. And whether you believe in that version or not, treat it with respect when you/your finance tell her (as it sounds like you want to do) that you will not respond to her ultimatum. While she has every right to be upset on behalf of her friend, it does not mean she gets to dictate the terms of her attendance to your wedding. It sucks but its her own choice ultimately. Your fiance hasn’t done anything wrong, at least that I can see.

    • Well, except, she *does* get to dictate the terms of her attendance to the wedding. If her terms are not met, she will not attend, and that’s totally permissible and allowed.

      Maybe you meant that she does not get to force people to meet her terms? But SIL is not saying “if you invite him, I’ll burn your wedding down”…so there’s no actual forcing going on either.

      • Amy March

        Yeah I read that as she doesn’t get to dictate the terms of attending- she can accept the invitation or decline it, but its not up for negotiation.

      • Sara

        I suppose I misspoke. I mean that she doesn’t get to dictate the guest list. Its up to her to decide what she wants to do. But in this case she’s putting the onus on the couple, not on herself, to make the decision. Its fine to say “I’m not coming because I’m still uncomfortable being in the same room as stepbrother” and letting the couple decide if that’s something they want to course correct. But I think its a completely different thing to say “I’m uncomfortable, YOU do something about it.”

  • ThisOne

    I think the question of what would you do if you knew he was guilty is a good one. Statistically, it is very unlikely that she is lying, and very likely that he is. And her not pressing charges does not change that. However, we can still invite loved ones to our wedding that have done terrible things.

    • Eenie

      I had a comment written out but you said it better. Ten years is a long time. People can make stupid choices in a moment and you don’t need to hold those choices over them for forever. But SIL has the very same right to fall on the opposite side.

      • TheOtherLiz

        Just a friendly caution, because this whole conversation is fraught, to reconsider phrases like “stupid choices” or to think that time and growth make a difference where assault is concerned; and to talk about someone changing their mind being “confusing” to a teenage boy – sorry I know that was Virginia’s comment, not yours – that’s part of rape culture right there.

        • Eenie

          My comment was intended to be taken more generally. I personally believe that everyone can change (not that everyone will), and that is my world view. Time very much does matter, because it’s with time that people can make changes in their life – for better and worse.
          I’m not quite sure how using the phrase “stupid choices” is part of rape culture in the way I used it.

          • TheOtherLiz

            The rape culture comment was about Virginia’s words, not yours – sorry that I lumped them together. But “stupid choices” is fine if the sex was consensual, but not if it wasn’t – assaulting someone is more than a stupid choice. Since we don’t know what happened, I don’t think we can fairly call it that.

          • Amy March

            Because your comment isn’t about jay walking or stealing gum or cheating on a test, it’s about a situtation where a man has been accused of sexual assault. Calling that “stupid choices” makes it sound like the problem is, well, stupidity, instead of sexual aggression.

          • Eenie

            I consider stupid choices something that you regret in hindsight. I wasn’t JUST referring to rape specifically, I was referring to drunk driving, plagiarism, lying, being a shitty friend, etc. All of those and more I lump in as stupid choices.

          • Amy March

            I mean, that’s fine, I’m just saying since this post is about sexual assault, it might be good to be careful about word choices that minimize it. Cause none of us reading it know what stupid choices you are talking about, if not the ones that happened here.

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    • Virginia

      Honestly, after reading the letter, it would be a leap for me to think the stepbrother did a “terrible” thing because statistics.

      It sounds like he was minding his own business and his stepsister’s friend decided to come to his room to put the moves on him. Even if she changed her mind halfway through, I could see how confusing it would be for a teenage boy. And we don’t even know that she changed her mind; we only know they were caught.

      • Amy March

        I’m not sure second guessing her story is really a useful exercise. None of us actually have any more information or insight than any of the people involved.

  • Loran

    How does this family handle Thanksgiving or other family events? Does the sister attend one holiday and the step-brother attend another? Does the family have two celebrations at a time? Do the two siblings (step-siblings) ever have contact? What is that contact like? 10 years is a long time, especially if they were teenagers when this event (whatever it was) occurred. That’s a lot of growing that happens in that time! And a lot of opportunity for family interaction, so I assume there might be some precedent of decorum for how family events go?

    • MrsRalphWaldo

      The marriage has since ended, so technically he’s an ex-step-brother, which makes typical holidays a bit easier. We typically only see the step brother in social situations and his biological family on holidays. But we also typically have 4-5 Christmases and rotate Thanksgivings.

      • Meg Keene

        In that case, it feels really painful to me that he’s included and sister is left out. Not because he’s an ex step brother, because family is family. But because clearly he’s less close (you see him less, etc.) I’d be DEVASTATED if I was the sister feeling like I had to make the stand again, all these years later, knowing in my heart of hearts this guy assaulted my friend. But also knowing my brother was going to pick the ex step brother he saw socially over me. I mean aside from whatever happened (which having been a friend in assault situations seems reasonably clear to me. Any case I was questionable about, I wouldn’t be carrying the cross for a decade later.) knowing that my brother picked someone else over my very real feelings? It would be awful. And him doing so at his wedding would probably be really damaging to our ongoing relationship.

        • MrsRalphWaldo

          I completely agree. She also knew that FH is close with the stepbrother and never once brought up this issue during wedding planning. I was completely oblivious until a week ago. If we had known 8 months ago that she felt so strongly, the step brother may have not been invited (maybe), but this is less than a month (now less than two weeks) before our wedding and she has been unsupportive throughout my FH’s life, even though she’s his sister. Step brother has always been more supportive.

          • Meg Keene

            I will say that happens though. For whatever reason, it seems to come up last minute when there are assault accusations. (This exact thing happened in a wedding I was in, and the assault was 40 years prior or something.)

            It’s up to you guys to weigh the relationships. I also know a thing or two about imperfect family relationships. But if you’re going to maintain a relationship with his sister, this will probably forever cloud it.

          • Eh

            It really sucks that all of this is being dropped on you at the last minute, especially since it happened so long ago.

            Five years before my wedding one of my cousins accused another cousin’s husband of inappropriate behavior with minor (the first cousin’s daughter). The police and CAS were involved but my cousin’s husband was never charge. The cousins, their siblings and their parents (e.g., my aunts/uncles) do not talk (but there have been public screaming matches when they run into each other while shopping). My wedding was the first time they were all invited to something together. When I first got engaged they all said they were going to come. It was really hard for us to wrap our head around not inviting my cousin’s husband since he was never charge and my family has maintain relationships with both sides (and not inviting him would be seen as taking a side). Then life happens and the mother of the girl involved and her family were unable to come, and the man that was accused and his family couldn’t come. Both sets of Aunts and Uncles came. There was a very rude request that they sit far apart (which I had already planned). I had also suggested that they stay in different hotels but they insisted staying in the same one and ended up with neighboring rooms. It was annoying for me that I had to split my time but I was glad they could come. Apparently this was a stressful event for one of my Aunts, and the next year when my sister got married my aunt said she would only come if my other aunt and uncle and cousins were not going (she said she could not be in the same room as the people who accused her son-in-law and ruined his reputation). (The man how was accused was unable to come due to work, and my cousin would only come if her parents were going to help with her three children.) My sister did not know if the other family was going but had heard that they were planning to attend. My aunt kept calling my sister every couple weeks and asking her for updates. The cousins RSVP’d right at the deadline that they were coming, so the next time my sister talked to the other aunt she told her so the aunt said her family would not be attending.

            Dealing with this situation was a huge amount of stress while planning our weddings (especially for my sister) so I can only imagine that your situation is more stressful since it involves your SIL.

  • MC

    Liz, your response to this question is perfect. I work with survivors of sexual assault and have too many friends that have been raped, and there are so many instances where the assailant to this day would claim that the encounter was consensual. Even though I wasn’t present for these assaults, I saw the reactions and emotional turmoil that my friends went through and feel 100% confident that they aren’t lying. If someone told me or them that they didn’t have any proof or thought that they made false accusations, I would be incredibly upset, because too many people accuse people of lying about assaults and that is a facet of rape culture.

    Again, I don’t know if your SIL’s friend’s story is true, but I agree that you should consider the possibility that it is. How would you feel if your step-brother assaulted your friend and your whole family took his side? I would feel very protective of my friend and quite betrayed by my family. If, after 10 years, no one has empathized with her, told her that they believed her & her friend? That’s could be a hard wound to heal.

    • MTM

      So many of these situations are around enthusiastic, participatory consent. One party thinks it was consensual because the person didn’t say no or resist ( the classic “no means no”), and the other person thinks it was non-consensual because consent was not freely given and did not participate actively. I’m glad we’re talking more about the absence of a no =/= yes.

    • Meg Keene

      Yes.

      I mean, look, false accusations happen sometimes. (Less often than we think, but they do happen). I’ve seen them happen. When I was the friend I knew when it was a false accusation, because… it’s pretty obvious from the friend position. I’ve also had friends that were assaulted, and as a friend I was 110% clear they were telling the truth. So while I’m comfortable saying false accusations happen every so often, I’m also saying friends pretty much always know what the truth is.

      • BSM

        Perhaps, but I think it also should be made clear that just because we’re friends with a (potential) victim, we’re still not the arbiters of what happened. No matter how well we know the friend.

        ETA: My post could be confusing. I mean, if you are a woman who says you were assaulted, I believe you – friend or not.

        • Meg Keene

          Sure, but who is? I mean, in the end, nobody is when a court case isn’t filed. And a court case is almost never filed, and even more rarely won.

          So I will say that I do stand behind my friends that were assaulted, because if their friends don’t, who will? And god knows PLENTY of people always stand behind the person doing the assaulting.

          But at the end of the day, this isn’t really about what happened, it’s about how you’re going to choose to treat the sister and the step brother.

          • BSM

            I totally believe in standing behind all women and men who come forward, including and especially my friends and loved ones.

            I’m pushing back against your statement that you knew an accusation was false because you were a friend. I don’t know what you’re referring to, but I don’t think that’s a line of reasoning that helps victims.

          • Meg Keene

            Oh I knew the accusations were false because the friends later said they were false. That’s a whole other story, but it’s cut and dry. Someone got fired on false accusations (he was a true asshole, but that’s not the point). It was pretty clear at the time they were false, the accusers later said flat out they were false and they wanted to get the person fired. It’s a diversion to the topic at hand. I’m not at all implying most accusations are false. They’re not. But they do happen, and my point is, having lived that, it’s usually CLEAR AS DAY.

          • MrsRalphWaldo

            It’s just really difficult to know when the SIL and her friend haven’t spoken pretty much since the situation happened, and I don’t know why. I only have my FH’s family’s story and my gut reaction based on my relationship with Step Brother to tell me what happened.

          • idkmybffjill

            This also strikes me as ultimately your fiance’s call… they’re primarily his relationships. I would not put the weight of the decision on yourself too much!

          • MrsRalphWaldo

            His family=my family though. Or at least it will be.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes, of course, I wasn’t trying to imply they weren’t/won’t be.

            This is obviously a case by case basis – My fiance and I have a pretty strong rule that when it comes to family issues… we’re each the spokespeople to our family of origin. So we get to be the primary deciders of conflict issues, so to speak. Not everyone operates that way, so I totally get it if that’s not your situation.

            So many good vibes to you, this isn’t easy at all! I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with it.

          • spinning2heads

            True, but I think it’s great practice (and something my spouse and I do) to make sure each spouse handles the drama of their respective families of origin. You help each other behind the scenes, and it’s not like anyone is forbidden from talking to in-laws, but it’s so much more effective for parents to hear things from their children rather than from they children’s spouses. And then no one is angry that “you spoke to my mother that way.” It has really helped us to keep those jobs delineated, in my relationship. That’s only one model, of course, but it’s worth thinking about what models you are setting up as you set up as a new nuclear family of two.

          • Amy March

            But when it comes to chosing who in his family his is closer to and who in his family matters more to him on this day, his family = his family, because he is the one with the most at stake personally.

          • Yes, his family is your family, but I think it’s important to make sure you don’t make this your problem if your fiancé isn’t making it his problem first. I get that this involves you and so you feel involved, but I think the point a lot of people are making is that this should fall on him to manage first and foremost. You don’t personally need to say something to SIL or apologize for the decision to invite the stepbrother; you can support fiancé in doing that and present a united front, but the emotional labor of communicating the decision and managing the fallout should absolutely fall primarily to him.

          • TheOtherLiz

            His family is your family, but ultimately he is the arbiter of those relationships. This actually shields you – I have complicated family drama on my side that my husband is aware of but blissfully uninvolved in, so he is free to have friendly conversation with people who I and my parents find things strained with. And if I chose to uninvite someone from our wedding, it would have bearings on ME, not my husband. Leaving this decision in your fiance’s court, with your support, protects you from starting your marriage with your new SIL AND stepbrother resenting you. You don’t want anyone saying “well his new wife didn’t want so and so at the wedding.”

          • Meg Keene

            Well, I mean (man I sound too versed in being the friend of assault victims here, but I think lots of women are), that also happened. A friend of mine got raped by someone she knew through me, and we never talked again. It still sucks. She wasn’t at fault, I wasn’t at fault, some guy was at fault, but our relationship paid the price. Not uncommon, I’m sure.

          • MC

            I remember when Larry Wilmore said something on his show about Bill Cosby to the effect of, “I’m not a judge, there’s no court case, so I don’t need to wait for all the facts or evidence before I say that I think he did it.” I cheered. So many folks act like they’ve gotta wait until a verdict is handed down through the courts but that so rarely happens with sexual assault cases, and it’s so important that survivors hear that people believe them.

          • BSM

            That’s exactly what I’m saying. Thank you. Guess the first day back from vacation = brain no work-y.

      • MrsRalphWaldo

        I think that what leads me to believe so strongly that it’s not true is that a family member has a PhD in psychology and spoke to SIL at the time. She also thinks it’s a false accusation, and that SIL is using this situation as her excuse not to go to a wedding she doesn’t want to go oto for other reasons (i.e. she’s not used to not being the center of attention) These are her words, not mine. I’m just kind of stuck in the middle.

        • Meg Keene

          I actually have some familiarity with that family dynamic, and need to point out that it’s unethical for a family member to get involved here in any sort of professional capacity, including just pointing out she has a PhD in this. So to me, that’s pretty disqualifying.

          That said, I’d just keep in mind that whatever decision you make here is going to impact YOUR relationship with your sister in law long term, and those things matter.

        • Brie

          As someone with a PhD in psychology… I have a strong reaction to this. 1) the PhD does not qualify really anyone to determine what a true v. false accusation is (it just makes us experts in a very narrow domain of the study of human behavior), and 2) woof, an armchair diagnosis is SO tempting (even for me) but can be really damaging and not helpful. Also 3) having a PhD does not make anyone immune to family drama and politics, so I don’t know that this PhD in psych person is an impartial observer here. Just to throw that out there! It sounds like there are two things here – one is not believing the SIL and her friend about the situation and how uncomfortable it makes SIL, and one is what I am reading as family dynamics against SIL. Which part of those (or both) you and your beau want to deal with sounds like a good discussion to have between the two of you, and maybe with a non-partisan mediator present :)

          I’m sorry you’re stuck in the middle of this, unfortunately weddings have a tendency to bring out the crazy family dynamics in a major way.

          • Meg Keene

            Yes. And using your PhD in psychology in a family dynamic can be a real abuse of power. If you’re not that person’s therapist (and you ethically could not be), you can’t make these kinds of calls.

          • MrsRalphWaldo

            Definitely a perspective I hadn’t thought of. I guess I was just thinking that might give her opinion more weight.

          • Brie

            agreeing what Meg is saying — and I really empathize with where you’re coming from in this situation and weighing the opinion of PhD family member.

            there’s a running joke that all research in psychology is “me-search,” so just because someone is an academic expert in family dynamics, for example, does not make that person suddenly excellent at family communication and dynamics in real life. I just wanted to emphasize that PhDs in psych are people too and prone to being less than professional in family situations :P

          • Arie

            I’m going to chime in here as someone who’s had my own story invalidated by the uninformed, biased PhD in psychology in my family. He’s wrong, but people believe him. I see where you’re coming from in thinking it might give her opinion more weight, but no. Definitely no.

          • Yeah, you could be a PhD specializing in organizational psychology, looking specifically at the in-group out-group dynamics of 3-person teams in a larger institution. I mean, what insight would that give you into anything about anyone (besides the in/out group posturing of small groups in a larger unit), lol.

        • Alexandra

          Huh. So SIL kinda has issues, then? Sounds like lots of drama. I said this already, and Meg said it too, but, yikes, how come this is all on you? Seems like it’s a big bowl of tension that happened long before you showed up.

  • Alexandra

    This is awful. I once attended a wedding that had a male guest who had…done something extremely horrible to me? Don’t really want to go into it.

    I knew he would be there and it stressed me out a lot. But I didn’t want to miss the wedding because I loved the couple. I didn’t even tell them about the situation, just asked if there was anything I could do at the wedding to help. They did a self-catered wedding, so I was just on kitchen duty the whole time. Only had to see the bad man once. He smirked, I had the sickening feeling, and then that was it.

    I was much, much younger then. If I had been more mature I think I probably would have just skipped the wedding or told the couple about the situation and asked them not to invite the guy. And…I think if I saw the guy now (over ten years later) it would still give me the sickening feeling.

    Hard to know what to do, except be really sympathetic to SIL.

    • lamarsh

      I’m so sorry, I can only imagine how rough that must have felt.

      I was going to attend a wedding this fall where one of the guests, a person who was once my friend, definitely crossed a lot of lines with me the last time I saw him and made me lose all respect for him. While I would not call what occurred sexual assault, it did feel like it was heading in that direction. I started dreading attending the wedding and seeing him again as soon as I learned he was invited. And then, when I found out that the wedding had been called off last month, it was such a huge relief that I could totally avoid the situation. So yes, lots of sympathy is definitely in order here. Situations like that stay with you for a long time.

    • Liz

      Ugh, nauseated just imagining what that must’ve been like for you.

    • Alexandra

      I just re-read the letter, and realized it wasn’t SIL who was sexually assaulted, but allegedly her friend. Hm. Makes things more complicated. SIL isn’t going to have a big PTSD feeling by seeing the ex-step-brother, probably. It’s more a matter of principle? Still very important to straighten out. I sure don’t envy Mrs. RalphWaldo. Except…like Meg said below, maybe it shouldn’t be falling so much on the bride to be to mediate this conflict? Doesn’t seem fair. Seems like it should be on the fiance to work out with his sister/ex-step-brother.

  • Mrrpaderp

    In this case, I’m not sure how helpful it is to think about what you’d do if he’d done it. I agree that you can continue to love people who have done terrible things. But I think for most of us, continuing to have a murderer or rapist or whatever in your life would hinge on whether they’re sorry. Whether you think they’ll do it again. If you think your family member is an unrepentant rapist, then no, you shouldn’t invite him to an event that will provide him access to your unsuspecting, likely drunk, friends and family.

    That’s the issue here. He says he didn’t do it (which may be true!). If he did, the logic about keeping him in your life notwithstanding his denial starts to break down. Can you both deny having done something and be remorseful for it? Is a man who raped a woman, got away with it, and had his whole family take his side likely to learn the lesson that raping a woman is a horrible thing that you should never ever do? That’s where sister is coming from. This man isn’t sorry and he’s likely to reoffend. I don’t think telling her that you would invite him even if he did it is likely to be a relationship-preserving conversation.

    • Liz

      I think this is a really interesting point. I also think it could be… more complicated than this? There could be processing and mourning and regret that isn’t public to the family. I’m not sure. But this is a really smart comment.

    • A single Sarah

      So much of this. It’s part of why I like the advice of considering what you would do if it was assault.

      I’m friends with victims. I am also friends with perpetrators. Being the rapist is a hell of a way to learn about consent.

      I think you need people who care about you to support you as you go through the process of acknowledging what happened, wrestle with guilt, and do better. Just because he didn’t expirence it as assault doesn’t mean it wasn’t.

    • toomanybooks

      I think you make a great point that he’s likely not going to learn from this.

      As for the decision of having a rapist or murderer in my life, I feel pretty confident in saying it’s a really easy decision for me not to have such a person in my life, and probably doesn’t hinge on whether they’re going to do it again.

  • Yikes.
    I would lean towards the idea of uninviting the step-brother or trying the manage the SIL’s exposure to him at the wedding if *she* had been the victim of the [alleged] rape, not her friend. I think if there’s a victim who wants to avoid contact with her rapist, you’d have a responsibility to address that.
    But since she’s not the direct victim here, it gets more complicated. I think your fiancé should talk with her about social interactions with the step-brother in general, not just about the wedding. (From the LW’s comments below [MrsRalphWaldo] it sounds like SIL and step-brother have been able to avoid each other in past years, because the parents are no longer a couple.) But there will be other family events that the LW/fiancé will host — birthday parties, maybe holidays down the road, etc. Is SIL asking brother to completely cut step-brother out of his life? To *always* choose between them at every event? Is it having an encounter with the step-brother that she objects to (in which case you could develop strategies for keeping them separate at the wedding/reception), or is it the symbolic gesture of him receiving an invitation?
    It just seems like this debate over the wedding guest list is actually the emergence of a potential long-term family estrangement, and I think talking that over with the SIL (and maybe the step-brother?) would help the LW and her fiancé decide how they want to handle the wedding itself. (Especially since, again from the comments below, it sounds like LW suspects this is the SIL’s way of creating drama around the wedding. I’m not trying to suggest that is or isn’t true, just saying that taking out the wedding as the flashpoint for the drama might help.)

    • Her Lindsayship

      +1 for “fiancé should talk with her” because like Meg said above, there is so much weight falling on the women in this situation. Not to suggest that fiancé isn’t already doing his fair share (we can’t know that from just a letter anyway), but I really like this suggestion in terms of letting fiancé know from the start that you don’t handle family drama on his behalf. It does involve you, of course, but it’s his family.

      LW, I hope this situation gets resolved in a peaceful and respectful way that helps you grow as a team!

      • idkmybffjill

        This is so important for our relationship! We are there for each other for support, but we each deal with our own respective drama. We have the broader context.

  • spinning2heads

    The elephant in the room here: The fiancé’s step-brother is also the step-brother of the sister, right? So, how do family Thanksgivings go? How long have these two been careful to never be in the same room? I’m guessing, given the timeline, that it’s longer than a year. So: Why does this come as a surprise to the bride? What other family drama is she not acquainted with? How does fiancé’s family generally deal with drama? What does fiancé think of his family’s strategies? To my mind, those are the important questions, and this particular kerfuffle is secondary.
    P.S. It does seem pretty likely he did it, given your story.

    • Lisa

      MrsRalphWaldo (the LW) mentions in her other comment that the parents have since divorced so he’s technically an ex-step-brother. It would be pretty easy for the sister and step-brother not to overlap at holidays.

      • spinning2heads

        Ah, that makes more sense. Still, surely there’s some precedent here? Is it good precedent? I think that’s worth exploring.

  • toomanybooks

    I’m pretty surprised the advice wasn’t just: please believe the sister in law, and between the two of them, don’t invite the stepbrother. Don’t punish the sister in law for something the stepbrother (allegedly) did. Trust and believe women when they come forward with something that’s really hard to say. (Is it really easier to tell people you were raped than that you got caught hooking up? I’m sorry, but being a rape victim is not easy.)

    The letter writer says she’s an advocate of victims speaking out, but not false accusations – does she understand that a big reason victims don’t speak out is people not believing them, not taking it seriously, saying the accusation is false? Of course the stepbrother is going to say he didn’t do anything wrong, and of course his family is going to believe him over her and cover it up. It’s clear that the LW is telling her story through the stepbrother’s point of view. But it really doesn’t sit well with me when the subject of rape comes up and the man is protected and the woman is called a liar.

    • Amy Martin

      Thank you.

  • Totch

    I don’t know that separating the severity of the accusation from the issue is wise or helpful, but I’m going to try: Being callous, one thing OP should consider is how the relationship between her fiance’s siblings will play out on their wedding day.

    My fiance has a relative who’s estranged, for reasons that were serious and damaging to the family. Since our engagement (but unrelated to it), they’ve made attempts at reconnecting. This was our decision about inviting them: they could come to the wedding if they first spoke with our aggrieved guests and made amends on their own time. We’re 99% sure they won’t.

    We may regret not having them there, but our wedding isn’t going to be their day of reckoning or reconciliation. OP and her fiancé will have regrets regardless, whether it’s because someone wasn’t there or because someone wasn’t comfortable being there and compromised.

    But if it turns into a big scene or a story that’s told by family for years to come? That’s a more public set of regrets. I know that getting both siblings to come to the wedding seems like the best case scenario, but OP and her partner need to decide if their wedding is the right venue for the kind of conflict that might play out.

  • Cay

    I’m not a professional anything by any means, but I think the most diplomatic thing to do is to not invite either of them. We’re more inclined to believe the accuser with most crimes (hence investigations and things of that nature, law enforcement wouldn’t put forth the time and effort if there wasn’t a probable cause/proof/witnesses or anything that suggests that it actually happened), so rape shouldn’t be too different. Like it was mentioned before, it is possible that it started off as consent, but then turned into assault. Many people consent to kissing, clothing removal, etc, but do not consent to penetration or any other sort of contact, and most of us are taught what “no”, “stop”, and “don’t” mean when we reach school age, so a person can change their mind if they want. If the other person keeps going even though they were told to stop, that is assault, cut and clear. If you said that someone could take $10 out of your wallet, but they ended up taking $100 instead, or you changed your mind and they took the money anyways, you would call that stealing I’m sure. It’s the same concept.

    Honestly, from the letter alone we (and clearly Mrs Ralph Waldo), doesn’t know what actually happened, and when it comes to people that we know we want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Future SIL heard from her friend what happened, and the poster said that the “story changed from consensual intercourse to sexual assault,” which could mean a few things (at least to me). I say if you’re going to invite both the stepbrother and your future SIL, make it clear to her that invitation does not equal condoning, that you’re unclear of what happened and will address everything after the wedding and honeymoon are overwith (and make sure you actually follow through with it) and let the chips fall where they may, just know that this will more than likely put a strain on your future relationship with her. If you invite her but not him, then have the conversation with him that him being accused of rape make things a little more than just awkward, and eff what the family has to say. If you don’t invite either, then you will feel some kind of way on your wedding day, but that may be the best way to salvage both relationships until you have the time, emotional and mental capacity to hash everything out. I know we want the big huge wedding with no mishaps, but at the end of it all, life is about more than just one day or weekend. Based off off the letter alone, there isn’t a lot of evidence that makes clear what happened unless Mrs Ralph Waldo knows the affected friend personally and heard her story of the night, so to be fair and keep the peace of what is already a dramatic event, maybe don’t invite either of them.

  • anon

    I gotta say, if this happened to me I would think long and hard about my fiance and his family. There might be information that I don’t know, but if my fiance was *considering* choosing an alleged rapist over his sister, I would have to reconsider marrying him. That might sound harsh, but I have too many friends who have been assaulted. I have too many friends who have lost friends because friends chose their assailant over them. I don’t have a lot of respect for those former friends. I would have a hard time respecting someone who let their sister fall by the wayside to stand by a rapist.

  • BDubs

    So, to sum up: SIL has a family issue that remains unresolved and is now making demands of the guest list of the couple. Hmmm, haven’t we seen this before?

  • Amy Martin

    I invite you to think of the pain your future SIL must experience every time she encounters this man to take a such a strong position, and just to sit with it for a moment. What could she have to gain by opting out of her brother’s wedding if she had any doubt this man sexually assaulted her friend? What could that friend have to gain by claiming rape when (horribly) no one believes her? I think it’s awful that no one believes her. And now you’re one of those people. Major props to your future SIL for standing by her and defending her, even when faced with a personal loss like not attending her brother’s wedding as a result.

  • I feel many feelings about this so I can absolutely understand their confusion. At the end of the day- it’s their wedding and their choice and I can only hope that they’re respectful of his sister’s view and choice, whether they believe it to be true or not. She was the girl’s friend and she feels that it’s true.

    But 10 years is also a really long time. I’m surprised if another incident hasn’t come up thus far where the two of them would have potentially been in the same room — the fiance’s birthday? Engagement party? Was this fella at the bachelor party?

    My guess is that if his sister feels this way then she likely has all along. If his stepbrother WAS at several of these events, then I think it’s safe to assume that her feelings haven’t been taken into consideration until now because they have made their choice and moved past this.

    If the stepbrother has been an avid part of his life up until now and the fiance cannot imagine him not being there- I think what she said about splitting it up (one at the ceremony, one at the reception) might be the way to go.

    If she hasn’t given him the ultimatum about this previously and is only laying this on him now as the wedding looms- I think it’s their right to say that he’s been an important part of his life for the past ten years and that does not condone anything that he may or may not have done, but that they cannot imagine him not being there- or her. But they respect her choice and understand if she does not want to attend.

    I almost just feel like I need more info.

    If she has taken a firm stance against him for the past 10 years, then the ultimatum doesn’t surprise me and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If the stepbrother has been an active fixture in the fiance’s life over the past 10 years and has been a part of the pre-wedding festivities then it’s strange that the ultimatum would just pop up now for the actual wedding- know what I mean?

    I absolutely see both sides of this.