A study looking at the impact on women who discover their partners have committed a sexual offence has detailed how one woman decided to have a child with her husband after learning of his offending.
Given the nature of his offence — accessing child sexual abuse imagery on the internet — he has never been allowed to spend time alone with his two-year-old daughter.
Only one woman of the eight who participated in the research ended her marriage immediately. She had been married 20 years when she discovered her husband had raped her niece.
Six said they intended to stay in their marriages and attributed this to their husband’s engagement in treatment to address his offending behaviour.
The catastrophic impact of finding out their husbands had engaged in sexual offences is captured in a paper which will be presented today at the Psychological Society of Ireland’s annual conference in Kilkenny.
The research, by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) student Eileen Conmy, who has a doctorate in Counselling Psychology, was inspired by her experiences at Patrick Randall’s Forensic Psychology Service where she encountered these women.
One study participant wept as she said: “If you put 100 people in a room, he would be the last person that you would think would do it. The last person, I just trusted him so much.”
Six participants were married to men who committed non-contact offences — possession of child sex abuse imagery (CSAI), production and possession of CSAI, possession and distribution of CSAI, and possession of illicit pornography.
One was married to a man who committed incest offences and one was divorced from a man who raped a 15-year-old girl.
In the aftermath of learning of their husbands’ behaviour, the women reported fear of sleeping, of going to the shops, and of experiencing paranoia.
The betrayal the women experienced was “aggravated by the trauma of having their houses raided,” the study stated.
Five women described experiencing internal conflict regarding how they viewed themselves — as a woman, wife, and mother. One husband told his wife that her personal appearance had been a contributing factor in his offending.
Three of the women believed a death would be easier to deal with. Seven of the participants described a future filled with uncertainty.
“They were waiting to discover if their husbands would go to prison, and if the offending would become public knowledge by being reported by the media,” the study stated.
All said their lives would never be the same. They said they viewed themselves as secondary victims and feared social reprisal.
Barbara Hannigan, professor of Counselling Psychology at TCD, said as a result of the study, Garda policy has changed.
Now when raids are carried out on suspected offenders’ homes, their partners are given information leaflets and contact details for support services.
“Garda policy has actually changed as a result of this study,” she said.