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Research suggests that the partners of individuals who have been arrested on suspicion of viewing sexual images of children find disclosure of this information to those close to them very difficult. There is a tendency to put off disclosure.
Common anxieties which prevent disclosure are fear of rejection, being negatively judged, stigmatisation, and employment problems, as well as concerns for the impact upon others. However, not disclosing this information can have its own costs.
Partners may feel stressed by keeping such a secret and feel guilty that they are unable to tell those important to them. This can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as loss of sleep and appetite, anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, and taking time off work, which in turn creates other stresses.
For partners whose circumstances mean that others are informed of the arrest, these stressors can reduce more quickly, enabling them to have discussions with, and receive support from, trusted others. Research suggests this is key to facilitate coping. So, if possible, don’t ‘struggle in silence’.
How do I tell someone?
The first step is deciding who you might tell. This can be a difficult decision and often people are fearful of the reactions they might have. Try thinking about people in your life, if something difficult happened to them would you judge them or would you want to help and support them?
If you can think of your friends and family and how you have listened and supported them over the years, even when you have not agreed with decisions they have made I’m sure you can think of people who would do the same for you regardless of the situation.
Talking about what has happened can be very difficult, so take it slow and read through the steps below first.
- It is best to choose a location that feels most comfortable for both of you. Some people like to choose a neutral location as it can reduce the pressure.
- Wherever you chose to discuss it, make sure you have time and space, alone to talk so there are no distractions and you can talk openly.
- It can be helpful to have ‘set’ their expectations first so when you arranged to speak to them let them know you have something important and difficult to talk to them about.
- If you are in a neutral area, think about where and how you sit. Try not to be in a location that has children as that may add to the pressure on both of you. Place your chair so that you are facing away from anyone else in the room – that way you are likely to feel more comfortable about being open and discussing the issue.
- Make it clear that you are struggling with dealing with the situation and you needed to talk to somebody who you value and who is an important part of your life. Say that you need someone to listen to and explain to them how they can give you support.
- Ask them to keep what you tell them private; not to talk openly about it or to disclose it to other people without your consent. Be respectful to the fact that some people may need to speak to someone close to them for added support (for example a friend may wish to disclose to their partner if they are finding it difficult to deal with).
- Don’t be too forceful when asking for support – be aware that different people will react differently to what you tell them and some may not feel able to give you the support you need. Hopefully they will be supportive, but if they respond negatively you need to respect that too.
- Try to judge how much you tell people, based on your knowledge of them. There is already a lot for them to deal with – they do not necessarily need to know everything at the first meeting.
- Be aware that some people may have experienced sexual abuse as a child, and not told you about it. This does not necessarily mean they won’t support you, but it may affect how they react and feel about the situation.
- Some people may have very strong opinions about how you should deal with the situation. For example, if the offender is your partner, they might encourage you to leave them even if you don’t want to. Be respectful, acknowledge their opinions and discuss how they can support you despite having different views.
- Try not to speak too fast. Try to speak in a structured way which enables the person to sit back and listen. Be prepared to take breaks – it is a lot for both of you to deal with and take in.
- Allow the person time to reflect on what you have told them. It may be that you need to give them space and agree to contact them at a later date.
You can find out more information about disclosure here.
Do I need professional help?
Sometimes just talking to someone close to you about how you are feeling will be sufficient. However, any of the following may be indicators that you would benefit from talking to a professional:
- Persistently (i.e. for weeks/months, rather than days) having difficulties with eating and/or sleeping
- Drinking more alcohol than usual or drinking alcohol more frequently
- Frequently crying
- Low mood that affects your ability to go about daily activities
- Persistently unable to go to work due to how you are feeling
- Becoming socially isolated (avoiding family and friends)
- Difficulties with separating thoughts and reality
- Loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy
- Persistent feelings of fear or anxiety
The above is not an exhaustive list. Any persistent changes in your mood, thinking or behaviour that do not subside after a few weeks are worth checking out with your GP.
Alternatively, you may wish to talk these issues through in the first instance with a confidential helpline such as that offered by the Samaritans. www.samaritans.org or the Stop It Now! Helpline that has specialist knowledge of the issues related to internet offending.