Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 24 hours (and if you have been, can I join you please?) you’ve likely heard that married former congressman and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has been caught sexting for a third time. Subsequently his wife, Clinton advisor Huma Abedin, has announced she has separated from her husband. This most recent incident is more inflammatory as Mr. Weiner allegedly sent revealing photos while his son was in the room and was partially visible in the photos.

Due to the involvement of the couple’s son in the photograph, many are up in arms, not necessarily at the person who took the photo, but at the boy’s mother. Several articles have suggested that by staying with Weiner, Huma was negligent and put her son directly at risk for this very thing. We’re not going to link to the stories that make these allegations against the boy’s mother because we think they use some pretty unscientific reasoning to get to this point. The logic of the arguments break down into two segments: 1. Huma is responsible because if she left Weiner after the first sexting incident four years ago, her son wouldn’t have been around his father and been placed in this situation; 2. Huma is responsible because she is currently campaigning with Hillary Clinton and left her son in his father’s care.

Alleging that a parent put their child directly in harm’s way by staying with a spouse is a serious allegation, so I turned to a child welfare advocate to find out more. The child welfare advocate we spoke with asked to remain anonymous and is not involved with the Weiner case and doesn’t have any more information about the scandals than the rest of us do. They also do not practice in New York, where Huma and Weiner reside.

What I’m going to ask here is that everyone put politics aside when reading the remainder of this article. No political party has a monopoly on, or is immune to, sexual scandals. We’re also not going to republish the photo in question here for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the image includes the face of the couple’s sleeping son.

Additionally we’re not going to try to discern Mr. Weiner’s motives or pathology, or speculate about their marriage or Huma’s reasons for staying or leaving. That’s between them (and really none of anyone’s business) and not really relevant to the matter of whether or not by staying in the marriage Huma was responsible for putting her son at risk.

If Huma left Weiner years ago would her husband’s public infidelity have kept their son away from him?
Judges rarely look at infidelity when making child custody and visitation decisions, even if the infidelity is made known to the community or public. Infidelity doesn’t have anything to do with the parent’s ability to care for or bond with a child. If the infidelity is repeated and introduces the child to a revolving door of partners entering and exiting the child life then a judge may be willing to entertain it. They may also be willing to entertain it if the infidelity goes to a sex addiction that the child might be exposed to. But generally speaking a parent’s infidelity alone isn’t reason enough to prevent the child from having contact with them.

In the most recent photo, Weiner is in his underwear on his bed with his son sleeping next to him. There’s no real nudity but it’s suggestive. Would this photo suggest that Weiner is an unfit parent?
In terms of whether or not this photo alone shows that he’s an unfit parent, the messy answer is that it depends on a number of factors. Is the parent spending all their time sexting and neglecting the needs of the child? Is the parent sexting while the child is watching? Is the parent’s phone visible to the child? Has the child found the sexting? Essentially, if the parent has had a number of affairs or sexual partners, but the child is completely unaware, then that wouldn’t be something a judge would consider. So the answer is maybe this photo would show that Weiner is an unfit parent, but maybe not. It does show really, really poor judgment.

Would a photo like this prompt an investigation from child protective services?
Child protective services has to investigate anything that is reported to them. So if someone reports it, then it would prompt an investigation. Whether that investigation leads to the child being removed from the home is a different story.

Does Weiner’s son’s involvement in the photo constitute child abuse or child sexual abuse?
This photo is in very bad taste and a judge would hate this photo, but for the same reasons you and I do. The photo alone does not show child sexual abuse, but it shows really bad judgment. There’s no indication that the boy is participating in the photo, nothing is being done to him and he isn’t aware of the circumstances around him. It is something that could indicate an abusive situation in the home, but this photo alone doesn’t constitute child sexual abuse. Without knowing more about what’s going on in the house no one can say whether this photo is part of a larger pattern of abuse or just a larger pattern of a father with really bad decision making skills.

If Huma knew that something like this had happened before did she have a responsibility to keep her son away from Weiner?
If we’re talking about taking photos of himself in his underwear while their son was in the room, then no she didn’t. That isn’t a crime, but it is really bad judgment. If there was an abusive situation in the home that she was aware of, then yes, she had a responsibility to keep her child protected from that. But right now we’re not aware of any other larger abuse, just a father with terrible judgment.

Who is ultimately responsible for their son’s inclusion in the photo?
Traditionally mothers have been the primary caregivers, so when anything happens to a child when the mother is there, or even when she’s not we try to find a reason to blame her. No reasonable parent would expect that their partner would take suggestive photos with their child in the room. Infidelity, sexting or watching pornography in itself doesn’t imply the parent will necessarily involve the child in those activities or put the child at risk. Unless Huma had caught him doing this with their son close by before, or had other suspicions, Anthony Weiner is ultimately solely responsible for including their son in this photo.


*Disclosure: The author is neither a registered republican or democrat, although Anthony Weiner did cut her off in traffic in DC once.

Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health