Freya’s Story

What was it like?

Finding out that the father of my children was under investigation for an Indecent Image Offence is hard to articulate. As it is such an unprecedented scenario, I would like to use an analogy: the perpetrator, Tim, is sick & no-one knew. It is like hearing…

POLICE = A&E

Efficient; practical; clinical; only involved with the family right at the start.

Tim is with us right now & we think he has a life altering psychological condition. You cannot see or speak to him yet however you will be able to once we have finished assessing him. He will not be coming back to the family home in the foreseeable future as he will be living elsewhere immediately. Visiting hours only for the next 3-18 months approximately. We need to urgently gather evidence now to work out the next steps: stand aside, let the professionals work. Due to legal confidentiality guidelines we are unable to give you any further information at this stage.

CHILDREN’S SERVICES = Consultant giving a diagnosis.

Brutally honest; as the relative you are someone who needs dealing with but are not the focus; powerful decision maker

Tim has been experiencing symptoms which you may not have recognised. He has likely hidden them from you for a very long time. Right now, we will be working to the worse-case scenario & we need to see that you fully accept this is the outcome we are expecting. This condition means that he will likely never be able to look after your children by himself again until they are adults. It is false hope that Tim will make a full recovery: we will remain part of your life until you acknowledge this is your new reality.

FRIENDS & FAMILY = Support network which have new criteria

Your world has imploded but unless you tell them people won’t know. It is your choice who to ask for help from however you will need to reassess your inner circle of trust otherwise you may make the situation more complicated/worse for yourself. Whether family by blood or marriage you cannot assume automatic support right now: IF you disclose they will be going through a whole rainbow of emotions from their own perspective & it could be that they are questioning how you let it happen as you were closest to them. You need to seriously weigh up whether a friend or relative would keep information confidential, which is shocking & prime gossip material, because if they do tell other people then your home could be targeted by vigilantes. This condition is a blackness that spreads & you will be affected.

COMMUNITY = Court of public opinion

Once the information is out there it cannot be unheard. The fact that professionals are investigating the symptoms means they had good reason to suspect something was not right: those with cautious instincts would want Tim in immediate quarantine until the results are back. Whether closed or open minded, people you see in the street will be asking themselves “How did she not know? Has she got the condition too?”. Parents at the school will be worried if their child had ever come to your house for a playdate as they will fear something may have happened involving their children. There will be 2 clear responses: the more common being to avoid eye contact/you like the plague or approach directly for answers but No Comment will not be a satisfactory response & reassurances appear empty if the defence is “I didn’t know”.

PRIMARY EMOTION = Grief

Prepare yourself to be grieving for: the man you thought you knew; the life you thought you would have with all the plans you made; the father you imagined he would be; memories now queried for being real as suddenly the past can be viewed differently; a simple life where certain things could be relied upon such as family support; social standing; freedom to be judged for your choices only not someone else’s….basically everything you had before The Knock.

How did it feel?

May 2015

The Knock on my door by a plain clothes officer holding a search warrant was life changing & surreal. It is the beginning of something so unexpected, with such significant consequences, that the whole experience of having my home searched passed like a blur yet snapshots & sound bites of that evening have remained etched in my brain ever since.  The first 2 weeks were intense because the children, who were only 6 & 3 at the time, were missing their Daddy but he was not allowed any contact at all.  I was in shock. I spoke with Tim on the phone regularly & believed that suicide was a real possibility: I desperately didn’t want that to be part of my children’s back story so I never threatened that he wouldn’t see his children again as they seemed to be his only reason for living. The Police were kind but made it clear that they couldn’t help me make sense of his crime due to suspects rights, so I had to wait until Magistrates Court to hear the full charges.

I found Children’s Services terrifying to deal with even though the Social Worker who came out to my house was friendly to me & fabulous with the children. Her role was to assess whether the children could have been subject to direct abuse & to ensure that I demonstrated the ability to adequately safeguard them in light of the new risk their own father now presents: Tim has shown an online sexual preference towards underage subjects & she made sure I understood that. Again, parts of that conversation in my kitchen will remain with me forever. My biggest fear was that my children would be taken off me because I was completely ignorant of what my husband had been doing under my own roof & I worried that suddenly Social Services were to be become an integral part of my life. However, that became the only time someone in an official capacity has ever spoken to my children about their ongoing relationship with their father. Two weeks post arrest I signed a 100% supervised access only contact order & I have not met with Children’s Services since.

Summer 2015

In June I made the decision to move out of my hometown. I felt fundamentally isolated by the potential judgement of the community & I feared that my children would be bullied or socially excluded when their father’s abhorrent crime became public knowledge. The Police & Social Worker both felt strongly that it would be in the media when it got to Court as a custodial sentence was highly probable. Luckily the house I had bought just 3 years before, as our forever family home, sold quickly. That August I relocated my family to a town 30 minutes away where I knew no-one at all. My eldest had to change school in Year 2 & my youngest started school for the first time just 2 weeks after the upheaval of moving.

Autumn 2015

Even though I had gone through a lot of change I felt like my life was in limbo for the 5 months it took for Computer Forensics to complete their analysis of all our electronic devices. I couldn’t face going to Magistrates Court to hear the charges in the public gallery, so the Lead Officer told me them over the phone the next day. The level of shock I felt was just like that first day all over again. I think I had survived until that point holding onto hope that there would be a small number of images containing barely illegal teenage girls only. Turned out that he was pleading guilty to over 1000 images dated from 4 years previously, when I was pregnant with our youngest, until the point of arrest & in relation to all 3 categories.

November 2015

Tim drove himself to Crown Court as he believed he didn’t deserve a custodial sentence so would be going home afterwards. He had apparently fully complied with Probation since the point of arrest, so the Judge gave him a 3-year Community Order plus a 5-year SHPO. I didn’t attend due to fear of media exposure: as it turned out by pure chance nothing was reported in the press. I had been preparing myself for supporting my children through not seeing their father for months when he was in prison. I forced myself to be the supervisory adult during the agreed access times throughout the investigation to prevent them associating our fresh start with losing their Dad. It wasn’t easy & messed with my head, but I did it for the long game. The reality that I had to continue living this way indefinitely nearly broke me at that point. My ex-in-laws have done the access ever since & whereas I am civil to his face our interactions are reserved for handover only as I hate him for the choices he made.

2019

Straight after the conviction I went through 9 months of counselling to try to come to terms with my past, present & future. Every now & then I still get overwhelmed with my situation so need to pay for another block. This will never go away for me. I can’t put it in the past as Tim did something unforgivable. His family want me “to let us all move on”. I think that is unreasonable. I have facilitated ongoing contact because I believe he has never harmed our children; however, the trust has been destroyed so I will always view him as having a risk factor until they know the truth so can safeguard themselves.

My decision to empower my children to know who their father is by spending time with him has made moving forward considerably harder for me. I respect that it is their right to choose if they want him in their lives & they love him. To tell them they can’t see their Daddy anymore, but not the reason why, would break their hearts & damage our relationship too. I know they are always supervised so are safe. Some people completely disagree with them having any sort of interaction with a man who has a known sexual predilection & therefore distance themselves.

I have many more acquaintances in my new town than true friends as disclosing the reason why the children only have very limited contact carries risk. It is like living in witness protection without support as part of our past must stay secret to protect us. I have started new relationships for them to end soon after I confirm that the no overnight childcare is never going to change because it is not down to me being an unreasonable post-divorcee but for a much more complex reason: my life comes with a level of compromise which can be a deal breaker. Friends who stand by me initially can sometimes change their stance in time which has surprised & hurt me.

It is the isolation which is one of the toughest aspects for me as the remaining safeguarding parent. At the start the isolation almost feels like a choice. The reason I felt so alone was because I hadn’t told many people so no-one could help me: it made sense. Then whilst starting again in a new town it was logical that I would be lonely until I integrated into my new community. This I could cheerfully do at the school gate & in my neighbourhood on a superficial level however after a couple of years it all starts feeling shallow/hollow. I have more examples of people I like & respect melting out of my life after I have told them the truth than I have of them becoming closer like I hoped.

The rebuilding process is on a loop & it is so tiring having to keep strong all the time. The anger of how unfair this situation is comes in waves too. Let’s not forget this wasn’t my crime. Tim did it yet I am left struggling. I moved away thinking I could shake off the paranoia that people would judge me for not knowing what my husband did. However, experience has shown me that I am equally judged for allowing ongoing contact so I can’t run or hide from the association of his crime.

The hardest aspect of all this by far is knowing the future effect it will have on my children & being powerless to protect them. I sit here today knowing that at some point I am going to be walking by their side as they navigate living with the knowledge that their father has a conviction for downloading indecent images of children: a burden I still find hard after 4 years & hours of counselling. Somehow currently they both simply accept the arrangements & my explanation that I promise I will tell them why it must be this way when I think they are old enough.

They are boys who are now 11 & 8. Before they find out the nature of the crime itself, I need them to be at an age where they understand about sex, healthy relationships & what pornography is. Teenagers. The age where they are beginning to explore their own desires & have a strong drive to fit in. Will they fear developing the same predilection as their Dad? Will the pressure of keeping the family secret make them withdraw socially? The heightened potential for significant mental health problems scares me.

Why do I perceive my children have been Victims of Crime?

The definition of a Victim is: “a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence.”[1].

My family has been left with no structured support as we allegedly do not fit the above criteria. As a mother I have felt guilty for wanting my children to get some attention because heartbreakingly in this particular crime there are multiple direct child victims, however, the longer this has gone on the more I see how much this experience has negatively shaped, & will influence, their childhood. My beautiful boys already tick the boxes of 4 Adverse Childhood Experiences[2] & I need to proactively work hard to prevent more. I would like to offer the following rationale to demonstrate justification for re-classifying them:

Mental or emotional harm

  • The structure of the family unit changes the instant an investigation starts if a search warrant is issued at the primary residence of child. If they are young the family, like I did, may decide to shield them from why the suspect must sleep elsewhere & have limited time with them. Older underage children may be told of the nature of the crime. Either way it will be confusing & scary. The backlog in computer forensics means that there is no definable timeframe for this new arrangement creating insecurity. Over the years my youngest has shown considerable separation anxiety & the eldest becomes very focused on specific topics which I interpret as a coping mechanism.
  • The remaining safeguarding parent will be upset & stressed initially. This may develop into depression or anxiety as the process drags on. I know I would have needed medication if I hadn’t had the financial flexibility which allowed me relocate & fund counselling to live life forward with a degree of autonomy. I used to find falling asleep tricky & then wake early after being disturbed frequently with night terrors or palpitations. Whereas I would like to think I countered this during the day so my children were not affected it would be easy to unintentionally emotionally neglect their needs.
  • It is accepted that suspects can show suicidal tendencies after their secret online behaviour is exposed. The child could pick up on their parent’s altered mental state during limited access times.
  • Coming to terms with the social ramifications for a crime they didn’t commit will be challenging. Trust issues could also develop if they held their parent in high esteem so begin to doubt their own judgement of character. The crime may have been reported in the media so be available to Google for years to come meaning confidentiality amongst peers hard to manage.

[1] https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/victims-crime-code-practice-cps-legal-guidance

[1] http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/888/page/88524 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Physical harm

  • I was told by the Police that during interview my ex-husband showed a clear online/offline demarcation & therefore they view him as a low risk contact offender: the virtual offending occurs through a desensitisation process when watching pornography. I hear & understand that. However, I perceive the way I was left totally unsupported throughout with no ongoing contact with any authority, creates the potential for the suspects risk to begin to be minimised by family as hope creeps in that the Police might have got it wrong, which may introduce an evolving safeguarding gap. My concern is that disclosure of historical abuse (including photos taken which may have made the child feel uncomfortable) may be supressed, by the child or whoever they confided in, through fear of making an already nearly unbearable situation worse.

Economic loss

  • Effectively overnight the remaining safeguarding parent becomes responsible for the family’s finances. The suspect must find alternative accommodation for the foreseeable future & they may not be able to continue working if forced to disclose to their employees, so cannot be relied upon to contribute. It is highly likely that the child will soon find themselves in a single income home. This will impact the child to varying degrees. I have had sporadic maintenance payments, with nothing for the first 2 years, so for my children it has meant short break UK based holidays & they have never been abroad. I can imagine that for others it would mean a much greater sacrifice.
  • I gave up work to care for my Mum who had terminal cancer when my eldest was a baby & now I am a carer for my Dad who has long-term physical limitations therefore throughout this I did not have to endure the pressure of holding down employment. As childcare suddenly became my sole responsibility, with little reliable outside help, I do not believe it would have been practical for me to work full-time & look after the children properly: something would have had to give. I also would imagine scenarios where the wife/partner would have to disclose the nature of the offence to their employer which could affect their career.

Victim status would give an automatic referral into a Multi-agency Support Hub facilitating the child being on the radar of the Council Safeguarding Officer. Schools could then provide wellbeing support & monitor/mitigate for any evolving ramifications as the child matures. There would be the option to request a closed court so remove the fear of media intrusion throughout the judicial process. The family would be informed of the outcome of the case in Crown Court so that the conditions stipulated in any community-based sentencing would be fully explained by a professional.

There is room for improvement within the current system to better protect & support Indirect Child Victims, for whom this crime has a lifelong impact, regardless of whether the CPS takes the case to Court.

FURTHER REFERENCES

  1. A more in depth version of the above account written in 2018 is found on the Lucy Faithful Foundation website https://get-help.stopitnow.org.uk/en/freyas-personal-story
  2. There are examples found of other women telling similar stories on https://get-help.stopitnow.org.uk/family-and-friends/family-and-friends-forum

[1] https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/victims-crime-code-practice-cps-legal-guidance

[2] http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/888/page/88524 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)