Pedophilia in marriageWritten by Focus on the Family
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Question: I just discovered that my husband has been abusing our six-year-old niece. What should I do?
I won't go into details, but I have solid evidence that my husband has been sexually abusing this sweet, innocent child. He isn't yet aware that I know, and I'm ashamed to say that I feel tempted to look the other way. I know I need to do something to protect my niece. But I'm afraid that if this gets out, everything in my life will be destroyed. And I'm scared that family and friends will treat both of us as outcasts. Should I report my husband – and how? And do you think there’s any chance to save our marriage?
You’re in the middle of an agonizing situation, and our hearts go out to you in your pain, anguish and fear. It takes courage to ask for help, and we commend your boldness in reaching out.
Before anything else, turn to God
Pray. Hold on to faith. You’ll need God to give you strength and courage to successfully navigate this difficult path.
(Do you know him? The one true God has always known you and loved you. And when you have a personal relationship with his son, Jesus, you can be confident that he will redeem everything that has gone wrong because of sin. Until then, we as Christians find comfort in the truth that he sees our tears.)
Realize that your emotional response to your husband’s behaviour is normal
Anyone in your position would experience the same fears, doubts, temptations and feelings of confusion and disorientation. After all, among other things, your spouse has broken faith with you. He has violated the marriage covenant, and he has destroyed the innocence of a precious child with his abusive and criminal actions.
And when trust is destroyed, the relationship between husband and wife inevitably suffers. So if you feel like you’re going crazy, take heart. That’s a normal response to a crazy-making turn of events.
But while the situation is agonizing, there’s a sense in which the decisions you face are not. Something needs to be done about your discovery. Your emotions might be paralyzing and clouding your judgment right now, but somehow you have to find a way to get past them.
Step back and do your best to take an objective look at your husband’s secret life of sexual abuse. It doesn’t matter what your friends and relatives think; there’s no reason to assume that you will be blamed or vilified for your spouse’s actions. In fact, you can’t be implicated in his guilt – as long as you make up your mind to do the right thing before it’s too late.
You need to act now for the sake of your niece and for the sake of your marriage.
Ensure your niece’s safety and care
Make sure your niece is in a safe location. Right now she probably feels isolated and completely under the control of her abuser. If you are the child’s legal guardian, the first thing to do is get her away from your husband.
Place her under the care of a trained Christian clinician who specializes in sexual abuse
Do whatever it takes to get her medical and psychological help. You don’t have to play detective, and you shouldn’t push her for details. Instead, you may need to let her know that you’ve learned about the sexual abuse she’s been subjected to. Express your sorrow over what’s happened to her.
A therapist will know exactly what to do. It’s important that your niece receive help as soon as possible. In instances like this, there’s a huge difference between immediate assistance and delayed assistance when it comes to overall effectiveness. If she represses the memory of her ordeal until she’s older, her symptoms will likely be far more severe, and she’ll face a much longer recovery.
Report the abuse to law enforcement or child welfare
You are legally required to notify the police or a child protection services office in your province about your husband's actions.
We can understand why you might be reluctant to take this step. But if you don't report your husband, you could bear some degree of legal culpability.
If your niece isn’t under your direct care, you’ll probably want to bring her parents or foster parents into the loop right away. Take them into your confidence and tell them what you know and how you know it. Then encourage them to contact the authorities and connect your niece with a qualified counsellor.
If you don’t believe that they’re competent or responsible enough to take these steps, you might have to act on their behalf. From your niece’s perspective, having the love, reassurance and support of wise and caring adults will make all the difference in the world.
Turn your attention to your marriage
Here, too, we don’t believe you have any other choice than to bring the truth to light and take immediate action.
If you’re afraid or hesitant, think about this: What’s likely to happen to your relationship with your husband if you turn a blind eye to his behaviour? The bitterness, anger and disgust you’re feeling toward him at this moment will continue to grow. In short, your marriage will be destroyed if you don't reveal what you know.
Confront your husband
Love and trust depend on honesty – and in this situation, honesty requires a direct confrontation.
Talk to your husband and find out exactly what’s been going on. Ask him pointed questions about the frequency and duration of his involvement in pedophilia. He might respond with intense denial or defensiveness, but it’s critical to bring up the issue regardless of his reaction.
Keep in mind that most pedophiles and perpetrators of sexual abuse share several distinct personality traits:
- They’re usually seductive, manipulative and highly controlling.
- They’re also nice, friendly, helpful and extremely good at charming their way into other people’s good graces. That way they can persuade those same people to do what they want them to do.
These qualities are essential to a typical abuser’s secret double life – to their ability to seduce their victims. This means that when you confront your husband with your discovery, you’ll probably find that he’s very good at looking you straight in the eye and saying something that will cause you to doubt yourself.
That’s why it’s so important to stand firm and get the help of a few supporters who won’t be fooled by deception or smooth talk. If you think your husband may respond to your confrontation with anger or would downplay the situation, bring other affected and trustworthy people into the discussion. Your niece’s parents, a pastor or a trusted Christian friend are good places to start.
Remember that your goal is to convince your husband to get help
Your goal in all of this is to persuade your husband to meet with and be assessed by a competent licensed clinician who has been specially trained to deal with sexual abuse and addiction.
In most cases, pedophiles and sexual abusers are sexually broken themselves. Many were abused or victimized by others earlier in life. To make matters worse, they tend to marry someone who has also been sexually broken. We’re not suggesting that’s the case in your situation. We’re only pointing out that there’s a good chance that both of you will be tempted to minimize, rationalize or deny the seriousness of the situation.
A wise therapist can help you sort all of this out. They can evaluate your husband’s overall attitude – for example, is he truly repentant and sorry for his actions, or does he refuse to admit that he’s done anything wrong? The counsellor will also be able to gauge how open he is to treatment.
Move forward with your eyes wide open
And now to your last question: What are the chances that your marriage can survive this crisis? The answer depends on several factors.
One important point is that there will be legal consequences for your husband’s actions. So we highly recommend that you consult with a reputable attorney to find out what your options are.
If your spouse ends up serving a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes, this is obviously going to have a serious impact on your marriage. The good news is that this might be the best way to get him the help he needs: If the case comes to trial, and if he is convicted, the judge will probably order him to undergo personal therapy.
Get professional support for yourself
Here at Focus on the Family Canada, we are committed to doing everything in our power to save and restore broken marriages. But we’re also aware that it’s important to be realistic. We live in a flawed, fallen world and some wounds simply won’t be healed until the Lord comes again.
Pedophilia is a severe sexual dysfunction, and many reputable experts don’t hold out much hope for the average abuser’s rehabilitation. With that in mind, consider the profile of the typical pedophile we mentioned earlier, ask yourself some serious questions about the future of your marriage, and work through them with the help of wise counsel.
God hates divorce, and we would hesitate to recommend it as a first option even in terrible scenarios like the one you’ve described. However, we’re also aware that there are times when the wounded partner of an unfaithful spouse simply must face facts.
Ending a marriage is a huge decision that no one should ever make without a lot of support from a small group of trusted advisors such as a pastor, counsellor and friends and family. You need support as much as anyone in this situation: Please surround yourself with a team of caring people.
We don’t have all the answers – and at this point, no one can know exactly what’s going to happen. Your marriage might be healed, but it might not. Only time will tell. Whatever happens, though, we want you to understand that it’s not your responsibility to sacrifice everything else in your life to save this relationship.
We’re here to help
Our staff counsellors would welcome the chance to talk with you more about your situation. And they can give you a list of reputable and qualified counsellors working in your area for ongoing support. Call us for a free, over-the-phone consultation.
© 2015 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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