Collateral Banishment of Spouses and Children.

I don’t read the comments on articles about “sex offenders” anymore. Most of the time anyway. But occasionally, I can’t help it and I find myself scrolling to the bottom to see if there are comments. I almost always regret reading them. Recently I read through the comments on a Facebook post of a local news channel. The comments ranged from suggesting we save the tax payers money and put the accused out of his misery, wishing for him to be raped and beaten, and one particular comment suggested placing the man’s genitals on an anvil and smashing them with a hammer. What did he do? It doesn’t really matter. The media will paint whatever the alleged crime to be in the worst light possible. A good example is an article I came across this week that talked about a 21-year-old man being arrested for sexual assault of a child. He had been texting a minor and had apparently had sex, multiple times, with that minor. Most people read that and assume he raped a young child multiple times. I read that and think it was probably consensual teenage sex. The comments were similar for the 21-year-old as they were for the man in the other article.
The problem with the ugliness spewed like this is the damage it does to his family. I know many people won’t have sympathy for the alleged criminal, but what about those close to him? Does he have a wife? Children? What about his mother and father? Surely his family is heartbroken, to see someone they love being thrown into the court system (justified or not), and then to have the world paint them as a monster. But to the family, they are not a monster. They may have done something terrible, or they may be accused of doing something terrible, but they are still loved human beings, whose sins have been publicly paraded for all the world to see.
But today I don’t want to talk about the person who may end up on the registry or even those who already are. I want to talk about their families, and even more specifically, their wives.
My husband and I got married two years ago this coming October. He is on the public registry, and therefore, so am I. In fact, two weeks after we got married and he moved into the house I had bought, the state deemed it necessary to send postcards to our entire neighborhood to warn them that a “high risk sex offender” had moved into their community. On the postcard was our address and a picture of my husband. It’s not important what my husband did, but I will say, we consider ourselves lucky in that his crime is what he and I call a “socially acceptable” crime. One that, when we tell people why he’s on the registry, they either gawk that something so typical could have gotten him there or they respond about someone else they know on the registry for a similar reason. We have yet to have anyone respond negatively to our situation. We have an extremely supportive church, supportive friends, and a wonderfully supportive family. We even got very little backlash about not allowing children come to our wedding. I’ll say it again: we are very lucky.
What really breaks my heart, are the stories I hear from so many other women. Women who stood by their husband’s during court, women who’s world crumbled when their husband was arrested, sometimes at gunpoint by the SWAT team at 5AM which happens more than you think. Women whose families stopped talking to them because they married, or stayed with, the man deemed a “monster.” The world often sees these women as victims of their husband (although they are usually victims of their friends and family and the public media), blindly in love, and often, these women are blamed for not knowing “what was happening under their own roof.” Sometimes they too can be charged for negligence, despite the fact that they are, more often than not, in no way a negligible parent.
I hear these stories because when my husband and I started dating three years ago, I quickly began looking for groups, or people, that we could talk to about what we were dealing with. My husband’s crime was committed 14 years ago this winter, and he is at the very tail end of his probation, but I needed to know what I was getting into and I wanted to help others who were in our situation.
Today, my husband and I facilitate a support group for those on the registry and their family members. I’m also part of a secret community for wives of those on the registry. And I am a part of SOSEN. These avenues of support raise me up when the darkness gets overwhelming and I feel like it will swallow me up. The members of these organizations face mountains that I will probably never have to climb, and they handle it so bravely and are so quick to accept others like themselves. I want to be clear, that the darkness I speak of and the tears that often fall, are not for my husband and me, but for those who push through situations that I can’t even begin to imagine.
My husband and I are very open about our situation, me more so than him. I post about it on Facebook, on the very few articles I comment on, and anyone who knows me for more than an hour will most likely know our situation and about the support group that we facilitate and the organizations I’m a part of. For better or for worse, they are very much a part of my identity. And yet, friends of mine still don’t reach out to me until after a family member has been convicted and others wait to join our support group after being on the registry for years. This baffles me. If they know what I do, what I am a part of, why are they still so hesitant to come forward when things first begin to happen? The resources a support group can offer, from experiences, to post-conviction requirements, to just hugs, and love, and even prayers, are far too important to wait until the gavel has been dropped.
So why do we wait to reach out?
What I hear, over and over, from those I’ve asked, whether they stay with their husband or they leave, is that they don’t reach out because of the shame. They assume that every man on the registry is a monster, a pedophile, a predator and their loved one just isn’t like the rest of them!
When a husband is accused of being a sex offender, the shame is also heaped on the wife. There is blame heaped on the wife. There is insecurity, and feelings of inadequacy heaped on the wife, even if she is the only one heaping those feelings on herself.
Sometimes the wife feels that it’s their problem, their burden to carry, and they don’t think any one else should have to help or would want to help. We tend to do this a lot, both men and women. We want help, but assume no one wants to help us. I myself, have been hurt because I wanted to help a friend but they were too afraid to ask, assuming no one would want to help them.
So wives (and spouses, and girlfriends, and partners, and children, and parents) listen up. Shutting yourselves away and refusing to “associate” with support groups for registrants, or their families, is doing a disservice to your family, to your husband, and even more importantly to yourself.
The women I meet through these organizations are strong. They are inspiring. They are loving. They are some of the best women I will probably meet in my lifetime and you would be lucky to know them. And to top it all off, you could be one of them. You could find strength you didn’t know you were capable of through the support of others who have been where you’ve been and who have walked in your shoes. You could find information you need to help create the best outcome in court for your spouse. You could help him find a job through the network of those willing to hire someone on the registry, because they too are on the registry. And the thing that would probably surprise you the most, the thing that has brought the most joy, the most meaning, and the most purpose to my own life, you could find a wonderful community of people that you can support, that you can fight for, and that you will one day be able to help thrive because they helped you survive.

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