Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Nude: I live in a one-bedroom cottage surrounded by large hedgerows with my sister. Both of us are retired and adore puttering around our garden—sometimes in the nude. We grew up in a nudist colony and have come back to our roots, so to speak.
We had lived here three years without any conflict with our neighbors, until a new family moved in a few houses down with a pack of nasty little boys. They trespass everywhere, throw rocks at dogs, and spend most of their time screaming obscenities at the tops of their lungs. My sister has caught them several times using our backyard as a shortcut. They have trampled our flowers and broken our birdhouse. And I have seen them staring into our windows. My tranquility has been stolen—I am terrified that my sister and I will be spied on and possibly photographed.
The parents are never at home; we tried going over there several times with no luck. My sister once caught the mother getting her mail and was brutally cut off when we tried to complain about her boys trespassing. Her children had a “right to run around outside,” and “boys act out.” We live on a fixed income and cannot afford the cheapest fence to enclose our property (I called around). My sister is furious and wants to call the police and child protective services on these neighbors. I am worried about escalating the dispute. What can we do? I feel trapped in my own home.
A: I can understand your frustration and distress, but I think the most important thing to consider when calling child protective services—a fraught choice under any circumstances—is whether you genuinely believe that children are being profoundly neglected, or abused, and could be helped by state intervention. You say the boys’ parents aren’t often around, but not that you’ve seen any signs they’re going without food or care, so I don’t think you have sufficient justification to make that call. In your case, calling CPS would have more to do with attempting to control the boys’ behavior after their parents have declined to do so than trying to prevent abuse, and that’s not the answer here.
Of course your concern about being spied on, having your garden trampled, or worrying about other mischief these boys could get up to in your yard is real and distressing. I don’t mean to suggest that you’re not quite right to feel deeply anxious. You’re not attempting to keep the boys from running around or even “being boys,” you want them to stay out of your private residences and to stop harassing your pets. It may help to speak to some of your other neighbors, if they’re experiencing the same problems, about approaching the boys’ parents as a group with their concerns. You could also tell the boys’ parents that you will file a report of trespassing with the police if the boys can’t leave your property alone. If you can’t afford a fence, you may wish to post a No Trespassing sign, if only so you can demonstrate that you’ve made a good-faith effort to limit your liability if and when you do file such a report.