Liz’s personal story
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The day the police got involved
Like most women in my position, I had no idea that my husband was downloading illegal images – or even had a problem with pornography – until the morning the police arrived at our door.
The police were fantastic, under the circumstances: polite, friendly and calm. Tom instantly became a broken man in front of my eyes as he admitted guilt and gathered any incriminating evidence, including SD cards hidden away. The children seemed to take the invasion of four people going through all our belongings incredibly well (when I discussed it with them nearly a year later neither of them had realised the people were police!) I spent the time with my mind in a whirlwind, trying to process that this wasn’t a mistake or a misunderstanding, but my reality. The man I loved and trusted with my life, the man who I had two wonderful children with, had let me down in a way that seemed incomprehensible.
In any shocking situation I go into automatic pilot and this was no different. I called and cancelled work and walked the boys to school. Leaving Tom with The Lucy Faithfull Foundation leaflet and a whole heap of reality. We spent the first morning in a blur. As a supply teacher I had to contact my agencies who knew us both well. These became unexpected areas of support for me over the following couple of years, they both supported me and gave time to talk and listen as friends, and neither judged Tom, seeing his choices as those linked with mental health.
Children’s Services, school and the children
As my children attended a primary school which I had taught at myself for fifteen years, I felt that it was important for me to contact the head directly, rather than have her notified by social services. This became one of my worst decisions. Over the following two years the school, unfortunately, made some very poor decisions which were predominately about protecting themselves and their reputation. On the first day, the head sympathised that it must have been hard for me to keep this a secret for so long – nope, never knew! Then she decided to tell the school’s child protection governor, not an awful decision in principle, but as they were a neighbour and our children regularly played together in each other’s houses, I had hoped to explain the situation myself. From day one the focus was on the media and if the school needed to prepare themselves for some mass media coverage. Teachers I had been friends with for years were told not to visit me and to distance themselves. Thankfully, in time of need, true friendship will ignore such behaviour.
The next hurdles we faced were Tom leaving home and social services joining our world. For me, I think the hardest part at the beginning is how fast everything moves with little time to adjust. I had gone to sleep on the Wednesday night as a wife and mother with the same boring day-to-day worries as most people. I had just celebrated my 40th birthday and had a few celebrations ahead of me. Tom had always been a somewhat challenging person to live with and had his own demons which I could never quite get him to discuss, but I loved him despite this. However, by Thursday night I was facing a future as a single mother with a husband many would view as a paedophile. Although the police had indicated that Tom would be able to stay in the family home (this didn’t end up being the case), I knew I would not be able to teach and have him living with us. Also, I needed time to myself to begin to understand what the hell had happened to my little world. We agreed that he would stay with us until his birthday three days later, then visit his mother, before finding somewhere else to live.
As a teacher I had worked with social services on a few occasions, with mixed results, and my experience of them throughout this process was no different. During the first year, I was allocated a social worker who obviously hated Tom’s crime. She went from seeing me as a strong woman, to feeling frustrated that I allowed my children to have contact with Tom and then decided to work on my marriage. When Tom eventually began his prison sentence (five months) she even went out of her way to stop him being able to see his children by refusing to send relevant paperwork; it was only due to the intervention of the public protection officer at the prison that this was sorted out. On the other hand, the social worker we were allocated after Tom left prison was amazing. She took time to research the crime and relevant data, took time to listen to Tom and treat him as a human being, and supported us to become a family unit again.
Once I had begun to get my head around the crazy situation I was in, I then had to broach the idea of telling people. Who should I tell? When should I tell them? I imagine that it is only when you are faced with life-changing events do you truly reflect on your friendships. Once my best friend and my family were informed – who took the news with mixed response, I then chose a small number of local friends. One of Tom’s ongoing issues throughout our relationship, had been the belief that people preferred me to him and were only friends with him because of me. One of the things which shocked him the most was how many people stood by him. There were those who were shocked, cross and hurt, some who chose not to speak to him and haven’t understood, but there were others who sent support, took him in, gave him work and even wrote letters to the judge for him. For somebody who had struggled with their mental health for years, this was a real eye opener. As for me, I began to create a shield of love and support around me which kept me strong throughout the following two years. These were the people who were there when I needed to cry, and laughed with me, and my sometimes, dark humour. Even though I would never wish this on anyone, not all days were hard and sad, many days were filled with joy and laughter – as long as I looked hard enough.
Court and the media
After almost a year Tom finally went to court. We live in a quiet town with a low crime rate, so there was always the danger of the local press reporting on the case. Our solicitor advised me not to contact the paper requesting they didn’t run a story due to the children. He promised that they always contacted him first. Unluckily for us, this wasn’t the case on this occasion. The local paper chose this week to send a junior reporter to the court to write a live blog. The first I knew was when a friend, who hadn’t known what was happening, called me the next morning as I arrived at work to let me know that there was an article about Tom on the paper’s website. This on its own may have been fine, but due to some recent local activity, most of our village had joined the local paper and had therefore been sent the article as a point of interest. I instantly felt sick and for the first time in a year felt my world crash out of control again. Until this point we had been able to somewhat shelter the children. At eight and nine we had made the choice to keep the information age-appropriate. They knew their dad had been looking at things you are not allowed to and that he was in trouble with the police and couldn’t live with us as part of the consequence. The friend who had called looked after my children before school, I asked her to keep them, left work and went to my children. I now had to sit them down and explain that their father had gone to court and the newspaper had written an article, and that, at such a young age, they had to prepare themselves for people being unkind to us.
If things couldn’t have been worse there were also many issues with the article itself. Tom was charged with downloading the images, however only the technical vocabulary was used of ‘making’ images, the article also stated that one individual child was used (alongside the downloaded images) and gave my address and a photograph of my road. It took six different phone calls over a period of six days to get everything changed. They removed the ‘a child’, added ‘downloaded’ and removed my address and the picture of my road. However, this all came at a great cost. Much of the village knew now and the school run became like running an emotional gauntlet. A small group of parents began trying to stop him coming home (we had decided this wouldn’t happen) and after I spoke to one of them, she contacted social services to say I had gone mad and was not a fit parent! This small group also visited the school and spoke to the headteacher and assistant head. After this visit the headteacher chose to send out an email to all of the staff regarding the article – this meant anyone who worked at the school and hadn’t read the article, now did.
Facing the whispers, the looks of disgust and pity and the gossiping in the playground was something which hurt me tremendously, but was also something I expected. What shocked and surprised me more, were the people who stopped to show support, asked how Tom was and passed on kind words to him, or just gave me a gentle stroke on the arm as I passed by. These people gave me the strength to hold my head high and refuse to be brought down by hate and fear.
Just over two years on since the police arrived at our door and my world fell apart, it is now beginning to feel like it is rebuilding. Tom attends the Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) twice a week, has a new job he loves and is – in many ways – a happier person than he has ever been. With support from SAA, he is beginning to face his demons and become a better person. Our house is sold and we are waiting for a moving date to move into a new home and live together as a family for the first time in 27 months. In amongst all the craziness I chose to change career and retrained, I am now two months into a job I love and I have a set of friends around me who mean the world to me. Social services are no longer in our lives and Tom was only given restrictions linked to technology, so nothing to impact on our children.
I have no idea what our future holds or whether this will follow us. It has been two years of pain and heartache, but also, of hope and love. For the sake of my family, I pray that we manage to find a way of moving forward. The local newspaper has agreed to remove the article but it has been copied onto a vigilante site – although there is no picture its existence and the chance of our children finding it feels me with fear. For now, Tom and I live one day at a time and try to create as stable and happy a world as we can for our kids.