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If you are worried about how someone you know behaves around children or what they do online, we encourage you to get support by working through these sections and contacting our anonymous helpline.Read more
The sudden realisation that a loved one has been leading a double-life, particularly involving children, can be extremely devastating for partners and family members. Often, these individuals may appear to be leading normal lives to those close to them, making the discovery even more shocking.
Unfortunately, finding support, advice, and information to cope with this situation can be challenging for those affected. To address this need, we have shared personal accounts from individuals who have faced similar situations, aiming to provide guidance and comfort to others going through the same experience.
These stories may be difficult to read, but we hope they offer valuable insights and support to those who find themselves suddenly confronted with such distressing circumstances, with little information on how to proceed and what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.
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.
Liz and Tom are parents to two children. Tom was charged with downloading indecent images of children. The case was reported in the media. Tom is continuing to access support.
To me, and to everyone else, we were the perfect couple. A successful, hard-working, fun-loving couple with a lovely home and two teenage children. I met Paul when he was 22 and I was 21, both doing doctorates at university. We instantly fell for each other and I never wanted anyone else. He was my third boyfriend, I his second girlfriend. We used to joke that we’d had just enough experience with other partners that we knew how lucky we were to have each other.
We went out, we took each other home to meet the parents. Four years after we met, we got married, and a few years later we had our two children. 28 years after we met, he was arrested for going to meet a 13-year-old girl for sex. Thankfully it was not a 13-year-old, but a police officer. I felt as if the world had ended.
He had always been a wonderful husband and father. As a scientist he would say that he had little skill with flowery words, but wanted to show me by his actions how much he loved me. So each day at 5 am when I had to get up for work, he would get up just before and make me a cup of tea to help wake up. After his doctorate he became a schoolteacher, so he could have slept another hour or so. But he never did. I would come home to a beautiful dinner – every night. Sometimes he had cooked one dinner for the children and another for us. Going out to parties, he always offered to drive so I could have a drink. Every time for 28 years. I loved him very much. When the children were babies, he never tired of carrying them, burping them, changing them. When they were bigger, he taught them to ride their bikes. He took our daughter skating. He took our son sailing. He adored them.
I was at work when I started to realise something was wrong. It was one of the nights I worked late in London – I tended to leave work at about 7 pm to get back at nearly 9. My son and my daughter both called me at about 5. ‘Where is Dad?’ they asked. They’d been at friends and he was going to collect them. But he hadn’t turned up and wasn’t answering his phone. I called our neighbour to see if Paul was in the house and had forgotten for some reason. My neighbour went to check, and came back sounding very worried. ‘Eileen, there are lots of police at your house. I’ve given them your number.’
I managed, from work, talking quietly to try and avoid the attention of my team, to talk to the police. They informed me that they needed to enter our home to take our computers because of strong evidence of a crime. I was frantic. My children were trying to get home, and my son is autistic and passionately attached to his computer. We have a dog, who is friendly but enormous. I had visions of my son trying to fight anyone who took his machine, or my dog being destroyed if he was determined to be a danger. I called my children, telling them to be calm and polite with the police, and took off home as fast as I could. I can’t remember much of the journey, but I had forgotten to renew my monthly ticket and for the first time in my life I tailgated on to the platform.
When I got back, the children had let the police into the house and were behaving superbly. There were five police searching our home. They took my husband’s computer, but fortunately not my son’s. The big stupid dog was still alive, and the police were very kind, as much as they could be. They told me that my husband had been arrested for a sexual offence with a 13-year-old girl. I let them tell the children (17 and 16) the same thing, as I was convinced it was a mistake. They said that they would call me if he would be released that night from the police station.
The children couldn’t sleep and I had no intention of trying. About one or two in the morning the police called. I’m not a confident driver and I didn’t know the way. Somehow, I found the station and saw a lost looking figure outlined in the light from the door.
Paul got into the car and I wondered if I had picked up the man I loved or a stranger that I didn’t really know. I kept thinking that it looked like him. He explained that he needed me to drive to a car park on the edge of town to pick up my own little car. Apparently, he had left it there. I asked him what was happening but he kept saying he would explain at home. We got home in the dark, with both the cars, to find the desperately worried children waiting. ‘Dad, what’s happened?’ they asked. They were utterly confident, as was I, that it was all a mistake.
Paul hadn’t even thought they would be awake. He was white and shaky. He told us that he thought he had gone a bit mad, he’d had some online interaction with a young girl, but she had turned out to be a police officer. He kept telling us he was stressed and thought he was having some kind of breakdown. I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. Somehow, we persuaded the children to try and get some sleep and went to our bedroom.
The thing was, this wasn’t in fact the first time we’d had some trouble with the internet. For a few years we had not been quite the perfect couple that everyone thought we were. Three years ago, when our daughter Alice was 13, she had found a set of explicit sexual messages on his phone, indicating pretty clearly that he had been meeting strangers – men, women, and cross-dressers – for sex. I had been away that week and she had taken videos of the messages, which were quite long, on her own phone, and showed her brother James. James, though usually a bit too autistic to be a good friend to her, was very much there for her and they waited out the week until I returned. When I was back, they came up to us. ‘Mum, I need to show you something. Dad’s been cheating on you,’ said my lovely daughter. She showed us both the phone videos.
I seemed to divide into two people. One calmly looked at the phone, laughed a bit and said I thought it must be some kind of hack. Paul swiftly followed my lead, and we convinced the children that some unpleasant person had hacked into his phone. We thought we’d done a good job but it turned out later that they had always had their doubts.
The other person was breathing like she had run a marathon and her heart was racing. When I was alone with Paul, I confronted him. ‘What do you need to tell me?’ I asked. At first, he denied everything and said he didn’t know how the messages got there. We got ready for bed, with me asking questions and him returning increasingly impossible answers. Finally, I took his hand. ‘Oh Paul,’ I said, ‘I think it is all true’. He broke down and admitted it. Not only that, but it had been going on for years.
My reaction was physical – I couldn’t easily breathe – I felt as if a horse had kicked me in the gut. Floods of tears, questions about what was wrong with me, what was wrong with us. We spoke all night and slowly began to put together a picture of what had been happening. At the time I thought I understood things, and so did he.
We thought that we had been too busy, forgotten each other, neglected our relationship. I made myself consider whether we should separate. I weighed everything up and tried to be very logical. He was absolutely sorry, insisted it was his fault not mine, and wanted to make things right. I realised that I loved him and wanted to give it another go. We threw ourselves into repair. We had a fabulous weekend in Venice, made love in new and exciting ways. I got some sexy underwear and we could hardly keep our hands off each other. It was a lovely, lovely year.
The next two years things slowly faded, and life became pretty stressful. Paul was moved to a new position at his school, which was absolutely unsuited for him – all to do with reaching out to other schools and charities, when what he loved was the challenge of teaching intelligent kids. He grew more and more unhappy but told no-one. He had a bad accident on his motorbike, which he used for his commute. Several operations later, he was physically recovered but afraid of getting on to it again – but told no-one. And our wonderful clever but autistic son began to fail at school – cutting classes, getting into real trouble, refusing to do any work at home. Paul, the teacher parent, felt he was failing to help him. Finally, in his first year of A levels, James stopped going into school and started to sleep in the day and drift round the house like a ghost at night. We were both tired and frantically worried but it was hitting Paul much harder than I realised. He presented the same competent face to everyone but he was getting snappy and distant. Our sex life became infrequent and routine. I tried to talk to him but he blanked me about it.
I still clung to the hope that things were ok, but they weren’t. He had started the online sex chat again, after about a two-year break, but this time, as he later told me, it became very extreme very quickly. We now know that it was the chat, the risk of the chat, and the risky excitement of meeting people that he was addicted to. I hadn’t realised that this chat was his escape into other worlds, his relief from stress, his drug of choice. He was determined never to meet anyone for sex again after the effect it had had on me, but his old patterns of chat were not satisfying or risky enough. Finally, about three months before he was arrested, he clicked on a profile on a local social website. It said something like ‘Hello, I’m Mandy, 13, wanna chat?’
He knew he shouldn’t but it was exactly the risky thing which he could not resist. Over the next three months he had various conversations with this persona, which was operated by an experienced police officer. It started with cheeky chat. Twice he told the persona that he didn’t want to do it anymore, and broke off the chat for several weeks. Both times the policeman restarted the chat. Finally, in half term his control broke and for a day he engaged in highly sexualised conversations, once mentioning penetrative sex. They arranged to meet on February 14th – irony. He didn’t go to the meeting. The next day the persona angrily asked him where he had been, and asked to re-arrange. He went to meet ‘her’ on the afternoon of February 15th. First, he cooked a lovely spaghetti bolognese. Then he got in the car. He was met in the car park on the outskirts of town by the police officers. When the police finally left our home, I discovered the bolognese in the oven. It was as good as his cooking always was.
The day after his arrest I was supposed to be working at home. We had a small laptop which belonged to my son which I managed to load with the correct software to at least read emails and respond. I don’t even remember what we said. Paul had been given a card by the police which was from The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. He went onto their website and over the next days and weeks, as we waited to hear what would happen next, we worked through their material. It was a revelation. We realised that his chat addiction, more properly a sex addiction, had been eating at him for years and taking the joy out of life. Many times, he had deleted everything and tried not to go back to it. The crazy thing was that meeting strangers for sex had been unsatisfying and sometimes not even worked. But he kept doing it again for the thrill of the chase, the need to take risk.
The timescales involved in a case like this are always huge unknowns. The police said 4-6 weeks many times. It turned out to be seven months from his arrest to his sentence, which is quite short; some folk we came across had it take two years. During that time, I never knew if I wanted to go forward or stay in limbo; at least with limbo, he wasn’t in prison.
I know that in many cases like this, the partner of the offender hasn’t been able to stay in the relationship. In many cases the practical pressures are too great. If the offender isn’t allowed to stay in the same home as his children then a period of separation is unavoidable. Sometimes the job of the partner means they can’t stay, or they’ll be unemployed. I had none of these issues; it was much easier for me to stay than for many other people. A social worker came to our home a few days after Paul’s arrest and judged I was a ‘protective parent’ and so Paul was allowed to be in the house. It helped that our children are articulate and older teens. Nevertheless, the social worker would clearly have preferred it if I’d thrown Paul out. She dropped dark hints about what he had done but refused to enlarge upon them. I was in a kind of shock, acting very calmly and conversing with her very reasonably. I emphasised my commitment to the safety of my children and asked her advice about how to handle the situation. She wrote a positive report and at least that situation was dealt with.
The children were horrified at their father. James, who is autistic, went into a sort of frozen state, and dropped out of school. Alice, who was fortunately at boarding school, wouldn’t speak to her father or stay in the same room as him. She became very protective of me and absolutely enraged with him. She’s still the same; she stays with my sister when there are long school holidays. She and I have evenings together in London and look after each other, and we love each other dearly, but there are things we just can’t talk about. I had very little sleep in that period and I still sleep very poorly. James also has always had trouble sleeping and we used to find each other wandering round the house or garden at 2am, and sit and talk, and comfort each other.
Why did I stay with Paul? The short answer is that I love him and I think he’s worth it. But I don’t think it would have been possible without a number of things. There is a really excellent book by Paula Hall, specifically for the partners of men with sex addictions, which has a list of ‘reasons to stay’:.
- You understand what recovery means
- You are willing to accept your partner’s recovery needs
- You both still love each other
- Your partner has acknowledged responsibility and wants to change
- You’re still able to talk to each other and enjoy each other’s company
- You continue to share many happy memories
- You both share the same goals for the future
- You would lose something really special if you weren’t together
There are very few helpful books out there, so it was very good to have things like this list, which was compiled by a therapist with experience of hundreds of sex addicts and their partners. Paul and I ticked off every one of these ‘reasons to stay’ list items, and none of the ‘reasons to leave’ list, which is also in the book. I started to understand that I could make my own decisions. I had felt that I must be weird, some kind of pervert, to want to stay with him. Reading the books, and talking to the wonderful counsellor at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, made me realise that this was not the case.
Paul completely threw himself into treatment and recovery. He started going to Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and found a therapist who specialised in his area. He joined the local Ground Force volunteers. After a while he discovered SMART Recovery, a group which treats different types of addictions. He and I talked and talked of many things, of how things had gradually turned bad for him as his addiction began to take him over. We said, and still say, that we are grateful that he was caught. I can’t bear the thought that he might still be spiralling down the black hole he was in.
We had to realise that he had been normalising worse and worse behaviour, and that it was incredibly fortunate that he was stopped when he was. I had several evenings when after a glass too many of wine I became tearful and furious. His steady repentance never wavered though; he was, and is, determined to recover and be the husband I love.
We had plenty to worry about. In law if one can prove ‘intent’ then the person who had the ‘intent’ can be charged and sentenced as if they have committed the crime. So, he was looking at a sentence for sex with a 13-year-old after online interaction. That’s 5-14 years in prison.
We tried to face up to it. We had an excellent lawyer who told us to get plenty of letters of character reference from friends and family. We told each other over and over that we would be ok. I felt that I was going to lose him just after I had got the real him back.
Finally, the date approached when he would be charged in the magistrates’ court. A couple of days before, I came downstairs to find him as white as a ghost, but very determined. ‘Eileen,’ he said, ‘The police are going to issue a press statement. It will go out in two hours.’ We had two hours to write to all the family and friends who didn’t know – which was most of them – and explain what had been happening, before they read it in the papers or on the web.
Paul wrote email after email, all incredibly honest and pretty hard on himself. I realised that I was seeing him return to something like the bold decisive person he used to be. We received response after response – and almost all were astonishing. The kindness and understanding, the lack of judgment, on the part of our dear friends and family were overwhelming. Almost all were generous, offering help and companionship. The many genuine offers of help meant that we felt able to ask for more letters of reference for the court – which are hugely important in this kind of case. I think now that there are some silver linings to this cloud – how many people get to realise how much their friends and family really love them? We know now.
The school wasn’t among those who showed compassion. Paul had given nearly 20 years of his life to them, and there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing connected with his work. I suppose they felt they had to protect themselves. They emailed every past and present student family with the grim details of the charges, and spoke of how Paul had ‘betrayed their trust’. It was very hard to read. It was picked up by all the major broadsheets and some of the tabloids. One published an awful photo of Paul together with our home address. The news was really out there.
In a funny way it was a relief. Now all of our good friends knew and still loved us. The strain of not telling was removed. Two of our friends immediately came to stay for the weekend, and the affection and humour we had from them will never be forgotten. One of them doesn’t like Apple products and I showed him the lovely new computer I’d replaced the one which was doing time down at the police station with. ‘Huh,’ he said, ‘you’re the real pervert in this house.’
The next stage in the legal process was the magistrate’s court. We were advised to plead guilty but at the last moment another charge was added to the first, and a stringent set of bail conditions. Our solicitor was amazing, got the conditions amended, and tried to ask about the new charge, but the prosecution wasn’t talking. ‘I want to plead guilty,’ said Paul, ‘I don’t want to mess around. I did what I did.’ We knew also that an early guilty plea is looked on favourably and usually results in a lower sentence. So, I watched Paul stand up in the dock and plead guilty to both charges. He was pale but spoke very resolutely.
The whole thing moved a little faster after that. We collected wonderful references from our friends and met with our solicitors, who found a good barrister. The psychologist that Paul had been seeing wrote a detailed report, saying that he was a very low risk for further offences, and that he might well have simply frozen and run away if the person had been a real young girl. The solicitors kept telling me that my support was critical, and I suppose it was. I had immediately set up monitoring software on his computer, so that he couldn’t go on chat sites and so that I could see screenshots of his activity, and this was a big factor in keeping him safe. So, apparently, was my attendance at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s five part Inform course, which was an excellent set of meetings for women in similar situations to mine. Paul had a meeting with a probation officer who prepared a pre-sentencing report. She recommended that he be given a community sentence but said that the judge had noted that a custodial sentence was very likely.
Our final meeting with the solicitor and barrister was sombre. We all realised that it was likely that Paul would go to prison. A five-year sentence would turn out more like two in terms of time served, with a reduction for his guilty plea and release on license. But that’s two years in prison. We read up on life in prison, how to prepare, what to pack. We told each other that we would be fine, but I think we knew we wouldn’t. The night before the sentencing hearing we slept very little, both waking and holding hands in the dark. I was planning frantically how I might manage without him. How would I look after James? How would I do the cooking when I needed to work? How – oh god – how would I go to sleep on my own, get up on my own?
We went on the train to the crown court and hopefully bought two return tickets. The actual hearing was a rollercoaster. The nature of his offence, with the critical ‘intent’, meant that its severity was not clearly determined, and our barrister was keen to persuade his opposite number that we were in a lower category. Just as this seemed to be happening, the policeman who had been in charge of the case stood up – as far as I know it was not his place to do so – and tried to say that Paul had pleaded guilty to a more severe charge. Thank goodness the judge corrected him – I suppose he wanted his high-profile case to end with a heavy sentence. Our barrister was popping in and out of the court – it was confusing and at one point had to be adjourned for the judge to hear a jury decision. I was distressed because from where I was sitting I couldn’t see Paul in the dock. I knew if he was sent to prison that I wouldn’t see him again and that it can take weeks to arrange a visit.
Finally, the prosecutor and our barrister agreed on a lesser charge, and the sentencing began in proper. Our barrister had been very pleased to see that the judge was reading all the references carefully. When she spoke, she was magnificent. She had read every reference, she had read the transcript of the chat, the psychologists’ reports, the pre-sentence report, and she remembered every word. She had also that morning done her own research discovering a recent precedent case in the Court of Appeal which ruled that when, as in this case, there was no victim involved, the sentence should be greatly reduced. All Paul’s efforts to get better, all my efforts to support him, were part of her decision. She said – and oh, how I needed to hear this! – that she had never come across a wife who had done what I had done. She specifically mentioned The Lucy Faithfull Foundation course. Part of the way through her summary I realised that he would get a suspended sentence.
I was sitting at the back of the public gallery. As I realised what would happen, I got an attack of the shakes like I have never had before and couldn’t have stood up. The judge delivered her final statement with a thorough telling off, which Paul couldn’t have agreed more with. He said later that as she was telling him that he had behaved disgracefully, he was nodding from the dock. We left the court I didn’t want to make a scene but I had to hug him, and the barrister too. As we finally left the court, Paul skipped down the steps in front of me. We joyfully used our return train tickets and spent the journey calling our friends and family. I still haven’t lost that feeling – that happiness just to have him safe and home. I hope I never lose it.
It’s not that things are easy or straightforward now. Paul has a community service sentence, a six-month rehabilitation course, and he will be closely monitored for the next two years with regular probation meetings. For 10 years he will have to notify the police for many different things like attending a concert where young girl’s may be. We can’t have an under 18 girls stay the night in our house, apart from our daughter, which means her life with friends is difficult. She still hasn’t forgiven him and hardly speaks to him. Her counsellor says it will take time and we need to give her space. We are not sure what kind of work he can get in the future – perhaps marking or examining. It will all take time. Though I have a good job, we have to get used to less money. I have some lingering problems with nerves and panic attacks – my counsellor says it is basically a type of PTSD. I don’t sleep well and I flip back to my state of worry if I think something may have gone wrong.
But he’s home, and he’s getting better. We have, and are building all the time, the relationship we have always wanted and needed. There’s so much love in our lives. We’re concentrating on doing good things, with each other, with our children, with our family and friends, to whom we owe so much. Keeping him out of prison took everything – a good solicitor, barrister, friends, family, psychologists, and critically, his own efforts to get better and face up to what he had done. And we had a good judge. It was enough.
What could we learn from this? There are so many things. On The Lucy Faithfull Foundation course we learned that there are 400 arrests a month for internet offences. There must be at least this number again of families devastated by internet sex addictions which are legal but still end in misery and separation. What follows are only my personal thoughts but perhaps they will resonate with some folk who have also been through this kind of experience.
- Society’s obsession with the nature of sex is fuelling these disorders. Folk feel they have to keep things secret, then they can develop this awful addiction to the covert thrilling nature of internet sexual activity. The internet is like having free drugs or alcohol lying around, without any of the warnings. My husband and I knew not to smoke, we knew to be careful with drinking. This crept up upon him, until he was hooked. If sex was natural and fun and part of life, I am sure that the majority of these offences would just not occur.
- Justice is helped on its way with money. We were lucky to be able to afford a good solicitor, barrister, therapist, psychologist. Without all of this we would not have known to gather references, to get reports, even what to say to the probation officer. It is not ok that only folk with a good income can access this.
- Paul and I are educated and confident. He was able to do the considerable research – which took weeks and months – to access services like SMART recovery and find a good therapist. If we had been less fluent with the internet, less assertive, it might have made all the difference and he would not be at home today. This is also not ok. This help should be available to all those who commit offences and their families. The period after someone is arrested for this type of offence is when they are most likely to want to change – and this is when they are left very much alone. Many programmes don’t start until the offender is convicted.
In a situation where there are children, social services will become involved. It’s important to understand that their entire focus will be on potential risks to the children. They need to hear that parents will concentrate on looking after children and keeping them safe. This contact with social services will come very soon after any arrest, just when it is very hard for any partners to understand what is going on. It’s incredibly important to reassure social services that the safety of the children is paramount in your mind. That’s all they are worried about and if they don’t feel reassured then they may feel you are not a protective parent.
Eileen met Paul when they were in their early 20s, studying at university. 28 years later, Paul was arrested for going to meet a 13 year old girl for sex (who turned out to be a police officer).
On the evening of Thursday 16th June 2016, a week before the Brexit vote, I pressed ‘confirm’ on my computer keyboard and sent an essay off for assessment to the Open University (I’m a part-time student studying for a Master’s Degree). It was not due in for a further five days, and I don’t know what foresight compelled me to submit it early. The following morning, at 7.20 am, our house was raided by the police: my computer was taken away and retained for three months as part of an investigation into my husband’s internet crimes.
My husband (let’s call him Michael) and I had been married for nearly 25 years – happily, or so I believed. We both worked as teachers but in different schools. I had recently reduced my hours to accommodate my studies. Our two daughters are at university, and we were in the process of moving house so we could also run a small holiday letting business in a pretty riverside village. When six police officers burst through my front door on Friday 17th, those hopes for the future were snatched away. My initial feelings were of incomprehension: why were there police officers searching my home? Illogically, when the doorbell first rang, I assumed it was someone canvassing about the Brexit vote – at 7.20 in the morning!! Michael, who had answered the door, told me in a quiet voice that the police had arrived with a warrant to search the house and intended to arrest him on the charge of viewing indecent images of children on the internet. I looked into Michael’s eyes and asked him if he had done so. He kept repeating over and over again, ‘I am not a paedophile,’ and sat in an armchair shaking uncontrollably. The police officers would not let us speak privately, and I was desperately trying to seek some kind of reassurance from Michael’s body language.
My conviction at this point was that there had to have been some mistake: maybe a malicious individual had made a false allegation against him. The attitude of the police was brutal: later, the investigating officer referred to me as ‘collateral damage’. I was not treated as a person with feelings who – whilst not a victim in legal terms – was certainly the victim of horrendous circumstances that had suddenly been imposed upon me. Nobody showed any concern for my welfare. I also found out afterwards that, had Michael not confessed to his crimes later the same day when he was interviewed at the local police station, I would also have been arrested and questioned as a potential suspect! At the time, the investigating officer sat on a sofa in our living room and told me that this is the kind of crime that ‘breaks up families’. All our electronic devices were sealed into plastic evidence bags, then they and Michael were taken away in two police cars. The situation felt surreal. I was left on my own, with no written information and no advice about what to do next. The only thing I could think to do was phone my mother-in-law who reassured me that it must all be some horrendous mistake. Alone in the house, I sat and waited for Michael to ring and tell me when he was coming home – an innocent man.
The hours went by, and there was no communication. I phoned the police station for information, but it was very difficult to find out what was going on. Eventually, I was told that I could collect Michael from the police station at 8 pm that evening. I asked if he had been charged with anything and was informed that he hadn’t been. Driving to the police station, I was convinced that the mistake had been discovered, and my anger was directed at the ‘malicious person’ who had wanted to cause both of us such heartbreak. However, when I arrived at the police station, I was taken to a sparsely furnished room containing a table and two plastic chairs with bare concrete walls. Michael was sitting inside and he looked exhausted. He had just been examined by a doctor, the main reason being – so Michael told me later – to assess whether or not he was a suicide risk! One of the police officers said, ‘Michael wants to tell you something,’ and he left us alone together for the first time since the raid. I will never forget Michael’s words to me: ‘I have been addicted to pornography for ten years, and I have been viewing illegal images for about two years.’ He was to be released on bail, and the only reason he hadn’t been charged there and then was because his electronic devices were going to be sent off for a ‘deep scan’ in a lab. My computer, iPad and camera were also retained by the police because he had had access to them. The investigation would take most of the summer, and he would return to the police station at the beginning of September to be formally charged.
This was the moment of collapse. I can remember screaming and howling like an animal, then the only thing I wanted to do was to get out of that brutal room and go home. In the car all I could manage to concentrate on was driving without causing an accident, so we sat in silence for the duration of the journey.
I don’t have a clear memory of how the conversation went once we got home. I know that eventually I got into bed and pulled the duvet up around me. At first, I didn’t want Michael anywhere near me, then I allowed him to sit at the end of the bed so we could talk. I told him to phone his mother and tell her what he had done: I knew he would find this distressing, and I think just wanted him to suffer a bit. I then spoke to my sister who lives in Greece. The time is two hours ahead there. She had just come in after a night out drinking with friends and struggled to comprehend what I was saying. Eventually, when I was completely exhausted, I told Michael to stay downstairs and tried to get some sleep, but of course that was impossible.
The next day
The next morning, my sister phoned and told me that, for the sake of my reputation, I needed to get out of the house. As a teacher, I should be very wary about having contact with someone who had been associated with such serious offences. I live at the end of a close, so everyone in the close would have had the opportunity to witness the arrival of the police cars the previous morning. My sister arranged for a friend of hers, Sarah, who lives locally, to come and pick me up and take me to her house. As a passenger in Sarah’s car, I remember driving past several of my neighbours who for some reason all seemed to be outside on their drives that particular Saturday morning, washing their cars or standing around in small clusters chatting. I felt an extreme sense of unreality as we travelled to Sarah’s house: everything looked the same but it felt as if I was experiencing the world through a thick, impenetrable layer of glass. I was completely numb and felt incapable of making any decisions independently.
I stayed with Sarah for about a week and she was very kind and understanding. Michael remained in our home, and my first concern was for his safety. I phoned him on the Sunday morning, and had to make him promise not to take his life! He sounded incredibly depressed. I tried to persuade his mother to come and stay with him, but she was reluctant to do so: this led to some tension in our relationship that has yet to be resolved. Other members of his family also behaved rather oddly. One of the in-laws even suggested that perhaps I was pleased this had happened because it gave me an excuse to end a marriage I wanted out of! Michael’s sister still won’t have anything to do with him at all, and his father has been very inconsistent in the nature of the support he has given – offering help one moment and withdrawing it the next. For these reasons, I have had to completely break contact with all of Michael’s family, at least for the time being. It is too difficult dealing with people who want to turn what happened into a crisis about themselves and their own feelings. I have learned the hard way that it is not necessary to feel responsibility for other people’s selfish attitudes. It is best to just remove them from your life for the time being.
The first week after the arrest was extremely busy, and I had to make some major decisions at a time when I was still reeling from shock. However, it did help psychologically to do some practical things, rather like arranging the funeral helps a grieving relative. My first tasks were acquiring a sick note from my doctor and informing my headteacher. I made an appointment to speak with the head after school on the following Wednesday afternoon, and took along a representative from my teaching union for a bit of moral support. The head tried to conceal his shock when I told him what had happened, and clearly struggled to decide what to do next: this was beyond his experience even though he has been a secondary head for many years. He told me that he would have to seek advice from the Local Authority and believed – correctly as it turned out – that I would myself be subject to a child protection conference before I could be cleared to return to teaching, not that I was emotionally fit to work at this point anyway. I subsequently learned that, had I been teaching children aged under eight and had decided to stick with my marriage, I would have been sacked from my job even though I had done nothing wrong! My head was also concerned to minimise the number of people ‘in the know’ in case the news leaked into the community before Michael’s trial. I told him that I wanted to tell one of my close friends at work and that I would be visiting her house that evening. He rather reluctantly agreed this. I also booked an appointment with a solicitor that week and initiated divorce proceedings. It felt incongruous to be discussing a permanent separation from my husband of nearly 25 years when only a week previously I had believed that we were happy and secure in our marriage. However, as the solicitor pointed out, it was better to ‘start the ball rolling’ because a stop could be put to the process at any point, whereas a delay in getting started would mean that I might have to wait longer than necessary for a divorce to be finalised in the future.
Ending our marriage
Despite our long and seemingly contented marriage, the decision to divorce was a relatively easy one for me to make. It would have been hard to retrieve a relationship that for the last ten years had fundamentally been based on a lie. I have great sympathy for Michael and understand that his unhappiness and lack of self-esteem at work rather than problems in our relationship contributed to his desire to view indecent images. I don’t think he is a bad person, just a weak individual who made some very foolish choices and lacked the moral courage to put a stop to his disturbing behaviour. However, I was not prepared to sacrifice my career, reputation, home, friends and standing in the community for someone who had betrayed my trust so horrifically. In the early weeks after he was arrested, I actively sought information in an attempt to try to understand the reasons why someone would do what he did. I scoured the web looking for academic studies about the psychology of internet offending, including visiting the ‘Professionals’ section of the StopItNow! website. Essentially, I needed reassurance that the likelihood of him committing contact offences (i.e. approaching children in the local community) was extremely remote. Furthermore, I wanted to try and get my head around the ethical aspects of his offence: to what extent is it a crime and to what extent is it a mental illness? I still have no answers to those questions, and neither it seems has the law. Apparently, internet offenders are sometimes given extended prison sentences in order to allow sufficient time for their ‘treatment’ to take effect. To me this is contradictory – a confusion between punishment and therapy. As far as our marriage was concerned, it was now over because – even if Michael recovered from his addiction – we could never have an equal relationship in the future. Some people say it would have been easier for me if he had had an affair. I’m not sure that this is true: I did not receive a knock to my self-esteem that would have been the case if he had left me for a younger, more attractive, woman. Maybe people think it would have been easier because they have a better understanding of how to respond to women who have lost their partners in more conventional ways such as through death or infidelity. Many people simply don’t know what to do or say to me because I carry by association the taint of paedophilia.
Michael was generous with regard to the financial arrangements meaning that I have been able to keep the house, although obviously money is tighter now with only one income. The divorce was quick because it was uncontested, and from the end of October I was a single woman once again.
The weeks following Michael’s arrest were very strange. I decided that I couldn’t return to work for the rest of the term. I spent three weeks with my sister in Greece where I was still plainly in a state of denial because I spent most of my time swimming in the sea and throwing myself into the next unit of my Master’s Degree which proved to be a welcome distraction. I found I could make most of the practical arrangements in Greece as easily as at home, and it was certainly better to be away from the house. Michael, suspended from his teaching job, used the time I was abroad to pack up his things and move out for good. Returning to the UK was hard: I went into work on the last day of term because I felt it was important to be seen in school in case anyone in the future should question the appropriateness of me being with children. The kindness of the staff and pupils, who had obviously missed me, was very affecting. My intention was to go back to work in the autumn term for as long as possible, although Michael’s return to the police station to be charged in the middle of September was looming on the horizon. I dreaded the impending media furore!
At the beginning of the summer holiday, I visited both of my daughters in the Midlands. They had taken the news of their father’s offending in very different ways. My elder daughter wanted to discuss everything openly, including phoning her father and interrogating him about how he had accessed the images. My younger daughter hardly communicated with me for a couple of months, sought solace from her boyfriend and his family, and cut herself off from Michael completely. However, one positive to come out of the dreadful experience we have all gone through is that I now have a much closer relationship with both my daughters. We have experienced so much as a family that the girls have matured as a consequence. Now I depend on them for support as much as they depend on me, and we are much more willing to openly discuss our feelings, including our fears and weaknesses. They have both suffered in many ways over recent months and find it difficult to concentrate at university. I am concerned that Michael’s actions might have cost them good academic results. They are both in contact with him, and I think he is fortunate that they are generous enough to still want a relationship with him after what he has done.
Returning to an empty house after visiting my daughters was one of my lowest points. Not only was I coming to terms with the nature of Michael’s crime, but I was also (and still am) mourning the loss of 25 years of marriage. I feel a huge and persistent anger and resentment regarding the fact that I am now on my own: my marriage – one of the most precious things in my life – has been taken away from me. I will have to learn to accept that I am likely to be a single woman for the rest of my life. I hate the idea of having to accept a circumstance that I don’t want. The worst thing anyone can say to me is, ‘It will be alright’. I have been told this several times, and I know it is meant kindly, but from where I am right now, it is hard to believe that my life will ever be properly ‘alright’ ever again. Nothing can replace 25 years of intimacy and companionship. There will always be something fundamental missing from my existence from now on.
I spent two desperate weeks in the house on my own, at a bit of a loss as to what to do and crying most of the time. I gradually started telling people about my circumstances, and it was really difficult knowing what to say to whom. I even hid rather than answer the door when I couldn’t face a well-meaning friend who had come around to see if I was okay. I made excuses to avoid going out and visiting people, and spent a miserable birthday sitting in the back garden trying to distract myself from my negative thoughts by reading a novel that was supposed to be funny but only served to irritate me. A lovely friend who I had confided in early on took me out for a birthday meal in the evening, which to a certain extent made up for the depressing day. During this fortnight, I was apprehensive even about stepping outside into the close in case I was accosted by one of my neighbours, perhaps someone who had seen the police cars outside my front door back in June. I then spent a week staying with close friends in Devon who had to put up with me crying and complaining most of the time, but who took it all in good part as close friends do. Increasingly, I was developing a paranoid fear that, when the news finally got out, my house would be attacked by angry members of the community who would come down the close ‘looking for the paedophile’ even though he had moved out in the middle of July. I returned to my home a nervous wreck!
Things began to improve once I started telling more people about my circumstances. I didn’t give the same information to everyone: for a long while some of my friends only knew I was divorcing Michael but not the reason why. I spoke to many individuals directly but in some cases I asked friends to inform others on my behalf. I have been extremely lucky with the support I have received from friends and family. A fairly wide range of views has been expressed with regard to Michael and what he has done, but the vast majority of people have shown exceptional kindness, love and support towards me and my daughters. Once my neighbours knew I was able to go outside again with more confidence. Most have left me alone and some have shown genuine concern for my welfare, especially in helping to allay any concerns that my home might be attacked.
I have had to remain constantly vigilant regarding confidentiality. There were five or six occasions when various reliable people informed me that the ‘secret’ had come out – information about Michael’s crimes had leaked into the wider community. On each of these occasions, what my friends had picked up on turned out to be mere gossip and wild speculation: teachers don’t normally just ‘disappear’ midway through term. It is possible that someone witnessed the police removing Michael’s desktop computer from his classroom the day he was arrested and drew their own conclusions. Each ‘false alarm’ was devastating. I had to arrange for a network of trusted people to monitor social media and local gossip on my behalf: these friends promised to report back information about exactly what was being said about Michael in the community. His crimes did eventually hit the local press but not until the beginning of January, which was when he finally appeared in the Magistrate’s Court. Frustratingly, dates we were given for court appearances kept being changed. I had originally expected him to be taken to court in September, and the lack of resolution over such a long period of time, coupled with the rumours and gossip, has been extremely stressful. When I knew that the news was about to be made public, I asked my headteacher to inform all my colleagues. I felt that it was important that everyone should be given the same version of events and that it should be disseminated through official channels. Nevertheless, I believe that there are still large numbers of people who don’t know what occurred, including the pupils I teach. I am in a constant state of anxiety about what will happen when they find out. I find casual interactions with acquaintances very difficult to manage because I am always attempting to ascertain what these people do or do not know. There will be more publicity when Michael’s case reaches Crown Court in a couple of weeks’ time.
It is now February and I have not been working since the middle of November. I did go back for half a term and managed to cope reasonably well: I think I was still in a state of denial. One friend described my mood as ‘euphoric’. However, things rapidly took a turn for the worse when I suddenly found that I could not control my moods, and it is clearly better for me to be away from the workplace until Michael’s case is finally resolved. Fortunately, my headteacher has been extremely understanding and supportive in this respect. I still have very bad days when I feel completely hopeless and wonder what the point to life is. Sometimes it is impossible to stop crying. That ‘why me?’ voice constantly rings in my head. However, I do try to keep busy – both socially and performing practical tasks – and it is sometimes possible to forget about the misery for a few hours at least. I’m naturally an optimistic person, and I want to think that there will be something better at the end of all of this. However, I’m also conscious that it will be devastating to go through more heartache in the future because I set unrealistically high expectations now which then prove to be nothing more than a delusion. The stark reality is that I can never have back what has been taken from me. I still feel very angry about this. I am not only coping with the nature of Michael’s criminal activities, but also coming to terms with the loss of a marriage that lasted half my lifetime.
Fortunately, some things have been resolved: I complained about the way the police treated me and was given an unreserved apology with the assurance that changes would be made in the future. Since then, I have worked with the police to help put some of these changes into effect, including writing a set of notes for officers to read before they enter a private house with a warrant. I am painfully conscious that there is very little on the internet written directly from the point of view of a partner of an internet offender. That is why I have written this account. It would have been very comforting and informative to have read something similar when Michael was first arrested.
A brief update
Six months ago, I sat at my computer and wrote an account of my ex-husband’s arrest. My mood at the time was extremely negative: I really couldn’t see a bright future for myself and was living in a state of nervousness concerning the publicity that would surely follow Michael’s Crown Court appearance. However, things are very different now, and I have written this update just to show that there can be light at the end of the tunnel, however unwilling you are to believe it at the time.
In February, Michael was given a non-custodial sentence, and – owing to an administrative glitch – there was no further publicity. I do recognise that there was an element of luck on both counts. It could so easily have gone the other way. Nevertheless, I managed to get back to work in March and was met with only friendliness and understanding from my colleagues. It seems that the pupils and their parents still do not know the reason why I had been off work for such a long period of time, and I have been able to relax to a certain extent. I still have occasional awkward interactions with acquaintances who may or may not know the truth, but that is something I am just going to have to live with. I have very little contact with Michael now, although we did recently meet at a family celebration. And of course, my two daughters see him on a regular basis so I tend to hear second-hand how things are with him, which suits me.
I have also managed to move forward in my personal life. Completely against my expectations, I met someone who makes me very happy indeed. We found each other on an internet dating site (I decided to register with one just to see what was out there!), and within only a matter of weeks it was apparent to both of us that we had each found a soulmate. In the event, it was easy to tell my new partner about my past and, as I had anticipated, he has proved to be totally supportive. We spent a very enjoyable summer doing lots of fun things together and have many plans for the future. Occasionally I am reminded of what Michael put me through, but essentially, I am once again a happy and positive person. I hope my story will prove to you that, however hopeless you are feeling now, you can get your life back on track.
Janice and Michael had been married for 25 years when he was arrested for looking at online sexual images of children online. They have two daughters together; both of whom were away at university.