Family adopted sexually abused boy

At age 10, Peter* was forced to pleasure men for food. As a teenager he made his roommate give him blow jobs. American couple Melissa and Randy Grant adopted him from his prostitute mother. But was saving the boy worth the damage done to the family?

Melissa, herself an adopted child, and her husband had two teenagers from a previous marriage and a 7 year old girl of their own when they decided to adopt. They found three siblings from Guatemala and adopted them all. The oldest was Peter, a 10 year old boy from a troubled background. The events that followed may have helped save Peter, but the cost it came with for the family and biological children was severe.

Melissa Grant
Melissa Grant

Read an Interview: Under what circumstances was your son adopted? Tell me a bit about his background.

Melissa Grant: Peter had lived his whole life with his mother, but she was only 15 when he was born. We met her at the end of the adoption process and we’ve maintained contact all along. She’s a very nice person, but when she was young and raising children she was living a hard life, dancing as a stripper and sleeping with various men for small bits of money and, often, just for some alcohol or drugs.

Peter was moved to a foster home in preparation for adoption. She didn’t tell him that. He didn’t learn he was being adopted until he met us.

The foster home was abusive. Peter was forced to pleasure the men in the home if he wanted to eat, and his younger brother who was adopted with him was beaten regularly to keep him quiet. The beatings were, unfortunately, understandable. Foster families have been killed for their participation in what some Guatemalans see as the sale of children, and so the kids being kept in foster care are hidden, not allowed outside, and kept very quiet.

“Foster families have been killed for their participation in what some Guatemalans see as the sale of children.”

RAI: Adapting to a new way of life at the age of 10 must be hard…

MG: When Peter arrived he had only been to kindergarten, first grade and part of second grade, so he was gravely behind, and of course everything was in a new language. We were fortunate that our local public school did a fantastic job designing a curriculum for him, and he was soon doing very well in school.

In terms of family life, he had a typical “honeymoon” period for about six months. He acted politely, did whatever he was asked, was friendly and chatted a lot. But the excitement of being in a stable family wore off. His behavior became defiant and he was spending his time covertly stealing from the other kids, lying for his own benefit and just as often for no apparent benefit at all. Let’s just say he had developed some skills that served him when he was a half-homeless kid in Guatemala, but worked against him now.

RAI: Did it get better as he entered his teenage years?

MG: No. In time he began acting out in more negative ways. He was stealing from family members and secreting their property in the ceiling tiles, he was throwing violent tantrums as he got older and stronger.

He began acting out at school as well. He discovered he could get attention from girls if he used a screw to cut lines into his arm while they watched. They would become sympathetic to his self-harm, but you’ll note that while self-harm is something usually kept hidden, Peter did it for the effect.

“The police arrived. This was a powerful weapon. If the county even suspected something like that we would lose all four of our younger children.”

He began violating sexual boundaries with girls, for example by touching their thighs in class or on the bus after they demanded he stop.

When he was 12 and our daughter was in first grade, he began sexually molesting her, repeatedly, in her bedroom. I suspected nothing at all. They seemed to get along very well. We now know that to some extent he was working out his own sexuality. Having been forced to give blow jobs to adult men, and the fact that his body reacted positively when they touched him, he was afraid that he was homosexual, and he was exploring sex with a girl for the first time.

To some extent he was reenacting what he had seen with his mother, who pleasured men in the same room where they both slept. And to some extent, he was intentionally humiliating our daughter as a way to get back at my husband and I for such things as requiring chores to be done. He would get particularly incensed when expected to do a “girl’s” job, like drying the dishes. We learned of the abuse eventually, when our daughter came to us.

The Grant Family.
The Grant Family, 2006, from left: Johanna (biological daughter who was sexually molested by Peter), Samantha (oldest biological daughter), Max (biological son), Ben (adopted son, Peters’ younger brother), mother Melissa, Peter, Leah (adopted daughter) and father Randy.

RAI: What did you tell him?

MG: He was, of course, strictly informed that he had to keep his hands off Johanna and his other younger siblings, as well as off any other young children. He didn’t obey that rule with regard to other children, but he obeyed it with regard to his biological and adopted siblings.

We didn’t realize that what Peter had done to our daughter was a crime because of the age difference. We got him into therapy immediately but we also wound up with heavy supervision of our household from county officials, and a lot of rules to follow.

After about 3 1/2 years at home he moved into a therapeutic group home to help manage the behaviors. It was supposed to last only six months but while there he manipulated two younger children, a boy and a girl, into giving him quick blow jobs while the staff were busy. From there he was moved to another residential treatment facility focused on sexual issues but there he refused to cooperate and after a year they discharged him as an unsuccessful placement.

At that point there was only one facility left in the state that would take him and he went there. Foster care was out of the question because of his history of sexual violence. He spent 18 months there, and then returned home.

RAI: By home you mean back to you?

MG: Yeah. We were glad to have him back. It seemed like the first chance we really had to recreate family life for him. Unfortunately, he’d lived those years without any parents, just staff members, and he completely resented our ability to say things like “do your homework”. So he simply didn’t do it.

He failed all his classes not because of language barrier or because they were too hard. He was repeatedly tested to see if he qualified for special education services and he never did. He really did have a great team of teachers, therapeutic staff, extended family plus our own family, but he simply didn’t want any of it.

After about six months living at home he threatened to have my husband and I reported for physically abusing him. The police arrived. This was a powerful weapon. If the county even suspected something like that we would lose all four of our younger children until we could clear our name. What he wanted was to be able to leave the house, so we let him. He moved into his older brother’s apartment, during his junior year of high school.

“The daughter who was molested has permanent scars up and down her arms.”

RAI: How’s he doing today?

MG: Well let’s fast forward three years. He found a place to live eventually. He graduated from high school and we attended, proudly. He found a girlfriend and after a long time of needing one, got himself a job.

He’s now 20 years old and a father. The baby was a girl and Peter is an adoring father. Baby and parents are now looking to buy a house. Peter enters the National Guard in January. Meanwhile he works construction and cuts counter tile.

We get along well, although because of distance we don’t see him much. He Facebooks all the time, so we can keep up on his daily events, which seem to be healthy and normal.

RAI: It sounds like he’s doing great. How are the rest of your kids doing? All this must have affected their childhood profoundly.

MG: Our house did become a dark place. The older children resented all the time devoted to keeping an eye on Peter, for example. I couldn’t run one kid to a friend’s house without bringing Peter along.

“Our became a dark place.”

There has been a lot of collateral damage. Due to his needs, my two oldest children got shunted to the side since they were 15 and 13 and didn’t need as much supervision. The oldest is now 24 and although she understands why what happened happened, she resents me for putting the family at risk. We were not close for a while. We are now though she harbors a lot of anger.

The next is 22 and he was a quiet kid, never asked for much attention. He’s now a quiet, polite heroin addict.

The daughter who was molested has permanent scars up and down her arms and legs from attempts to purge herself of her feelings she couldn’t deal with, despite intensive therapy. The youngest boy has PTSD from his year of living with abuse, and at age 11 is only beginning to trust us. It didn’t help, of course, that he grew up in a house where there was so much turbulence.

The youngest is doing quite well, safe and sane – the only one.

RAI: Do you regret the adoption?

MG: I believe every child needs a home and family, and Peter has done well in the end. But the cost to the rest of us has been tremendous and there are definitely times when I regret our decision. All would have been better if we’d had no other children in the house, for him and for us.

Father Randy with Ben, Johanna and Dennis in Antigua, Guatemala.
Father Randy with Ben, Johanna and Peter in Antigua, Guatemala.

RAI: Do you love your children?

MG: Yes, I love all of my children, including Peter. I have very mixed feelings about whether we should have adopted. Much damage was done to my three natural children.

On the other hand, all three adopted children are now doing well and obviously have opportunities here that would never have been available to them in their homeland. In particular, our daughter Leah, who is 9 years old and in school, is getting an education and will avoid the only career opportunity that was available to her mother: prostitution.

RAI: If you hadn’t adopted Peter, where do you think he’d be today?

MG: I’d love to believe that the fact that we stayed loyal to him made the difference. For a long time I saw our adoption of his as a terrible mistake, because it took so much out of our other children and out of us as well. You can guess how much stress there was on our marriage during those years as we second-guessed ourselves and each other.

But had he remained in Guatemala, he never would have gotten past second grade. That was all the education his mother ever intended him to have, and since he was twelve when he reentered school, we can be pretty confident that’s as far as he would have gotten.

He was adopted in 2005 and his life was finally straightened up in 2013.

*Peter is a fabricated name and photos of him as an adult have been removed on his request.

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