Dear Prudence

I Found Child Porn on My Fiancé’s Computer, but I’m Afraid to Report Him

Prudie’s column for May 11.

Photo illustration of a woman on a laptop.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash.

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Dear Prudence,

For the past five years I have been in a relationship with a man I currently live with. We’ve had some issues with infidelity in the past, and I, for right or wrong, went through his computer and phone to see what he had been doing while out of town on business. From what I can see, my fiancé has been chatting with boys from the ages of 14 to 17 on an app mostly teens use. He poses as a 16-year-old with photos that are obviously not his. They talk about explicit sex, and he asks them for nude photo and videos, some of which he has saved on his computer. I doubt he would ever meet these boys or try to have sex with them, but I concede very few people would share that opinion if they saw the same evidence. So I have decided to leave him.

I also feel I need to report his behavior to the authorities, but I live in a state where the laws for child exploitation (which this would fall under) are extremely broad. I am worried that, based on sharing a computer, I could also be held responsible should I make a report. I am also somewhat financially dependent on my fiancé. I worry that, in the few months it will take me to move out, my responsibility will grow. I don’t want to ruin his life, but it seems that every choice I have (report or don’t report, report now or later) is morally dubious or ensnares me in the issue. I need a set of outside eyes.

—The Adult in the Room

Your state’s laws put you in a difficult place, so you should consult a lawyer before you report your soon-to-be-ex to the police. I know you say that you’re financially dependent on him, but many lawyers will offer a free or low-cost initial consultation, so you should find one who can give you a better sense of your risks, obligations, and options as soon as possible. Beyond that, I’m glad to hear that you have a plan for getting out and that you’re ready to leave him. I hope when the time comes you’re able to get all the financial and emotional support you need from friends and family. You deserve it.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 30-year-old woman engaged to another woman. My fiancée, “Nicole,” and her mom, “Mary,” are very close because Mary forces herself into Nicole’s life. She calls six to eight times per day and follows up each missed call with a text in all caps. I get along fine with Mary. Nicole’s father died two years ago, and I’ve accepted that my fiancée and her younger brother are my mother-in-law’s life and that she will always be this involved.

The issue is that Mary often has to borrow money from my fiancée (our finances aren’t combined yet) to cover basic expenses. Nicole tells me when and how much her mother borrows, as well as when her mom pays her back, but her mom actively asks her not to tell me about the money she’s borrowing. Nicole tells her mom she won’t, but she tells me anyway. I think her mom needs to knock it off, and I think Nicole needs to stop pretending that she’s not telling me these things. Is it out of line for me to talk to my future MIL directly about this? Or should Nicole handle it since it’s her mother? The way I see it, her mom has two options: Get her finances together and budget properly so that she doesn’t have to borrow money (she still works and earns a good living, so there should be no reason she can’t support herself), or deal with the embarrassment she feels knowing that I know when she’s borrowed money. But she can’t keep trying to bully or guilt my fiancée into keeping this information from me, especially since it directly affects the goals that we’re building toward together, such as planning our wedding, buying a house, and starting a family. Nicole has agreed to speak with her mom about this, but she wants to do it privately. I want to be part of the conversation. What do you think is the right approach?

—All Hands on Deck, All the Time

I’m less concerned with whether it’s “out of line” for you to bring it up with Nicole’s mom so much as whether it’s likely to be effective. My guess is that if you had this conversation with Mary on Nicole’s behalf, Mary would yell at you then text you in all caps afterward. I’m curious to what extent Mary’s borrowing habits might actually affect your plans to pay for a wedding. It sounds like she asks for smaller loans that she pays back, and you don’t say that Nicole has trouble paying her own bills as a result. That’s not to say you and Nicole shouldn’t have a serious conversation about what to prioritize as a married couple if you decide to pool your finances, but I don’t think this is a habit you need to rush Nicole into breaking just for the sake of breaking it. If and when she’s ever going to be able to set some limits with her mother, she’s going to have to be the one to do it (and, frankly, the one who wants to do it more than she wants her mother to be happy with her). I don’t think it’s something you can do for her, although you can and should offer her support from the sidelines.

Mary sounds frustrating, so I don’t want to encourage you to let it all go. But I imagine she feels a little embarrassed about having to borrow money from her daughter so often, and if Mary’s otherwise warm toward you, I don’t think I’d make too much out of her request for Nicole to keep it just between the two of them, especially since Nicole keeps you in the loop anyway. You say she tries to “bully or guilt” Nicole into not mentioning it to you, but based on your letter, it sounds like she’s just asked her not to tell you. (Although I suppose she might have sent an all-caps follow-up text.) There will be plenty of other struggles to come as you and Nicole figure out how to face each other’s families as a married team, so I think you can conserve some of your energy on this one. Be as open-minded as possible, work with Nicole to set limits when necessary, keep your long-term goals in mind, and don’t rush to get in the middle of their mother-daughter relationship unless Nicole asks you to.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More advice from How to Do It

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