Online abuse: ‘I found out my husband had indecent images’

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People are being urged to spot signs that members of their families are viewing indecent images online.

Calls to a confidential helpline to prevent online abuse in the UK have increased by nearly 50% during the pandemic, say reports.

Stop it Now! said spending more time together in lockdown may have revealed signs in some households.

Sarah – not her real name – from Wales has shared her story in the hope it will help others.

Her husband of 25 years was arrested nearly five years ago for possessing indecent images of children.

“I had no idea what he was doing until the police raided our house early one morning as I was upstairs getting ready for work,” she said.

“He must have realised the implications, but he kept on saying to me, ‘I’m not a paedophile’.”

Man on computer

Police took her husband for questioning and removed all electronic devices from the house.

Later that day, Sarah was able to speak to him alone at the police station, which was when he confessed to viewing pornography for 10 years, including illegal material for the last two years.

“I was completely shocked and numbed,” Sarah added.

“When I learned what my husband had done, it immediately meant the end of our marriage.

“Many women choose to stick with their partners, but I knew our marriage could never be the same again.”

Man on phone

Sarah initiated divorce proceedings as she felt she could not trust him any more.

It also put her in an awkward position with her career as a teacher, while she had to break the news to their teenage daughters, who were studying at university.

“It was horrible telling my daughters, which I had to do by phone because they were both away studying,” she said.

“I was afraid that, if I didn’t act quickly, they might hear through social media.

“The police had arrived in marked cars and had also been to my husband’s place of work to remove his computer, so I didn’t know what was known in the local community.”

Both daughters have managed to rebuild their relationship with their father, however Sarah, who has since remarried, said he is now “depressed” and living “a pretty impoverished” life.

Man on computer

She said it is important people are able to recognise the signs.

Her husband had a long history of depression and low self-esteem, he struggled at work and was always worried he might be forced out of his job.

Sarah had a niggling suspicion something was not right and, a few weeks before his arrest, had called his line manager to express her concerns.

She mistakenly thought his late nights on the computer and struggles with sleeping were because he was reading about his interests, such as sport.

“I wish now that I’d been less naïve and trusting, and more suspicious,” Sarah said.

“The abused children are the real victims of these crimes.”

She said it is really important people act on any suspicion and praised the support she received from the Stop it Now! charity.


‘Spotting signs’

It is the UK’s first confidential and anonymous helpline dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse by supporting adults concerned about their own sexual thoughts and behaviours.

Helpline director Donald Findlater urged anyone who suspects a loved one of viewing sexual images of an under-18 online to call.

“Due to Covid and people working and living more closely, I think that’s part of the reason we’ve had an increase to the helpline. People are either more self-consciously aware or a loved one has noticed,” he said.

In 2020, 114 people from Wales contacted the helpline about their own or someone else’s behaviour, with 2,750 viewing the self-help website.

Mr Findlater added: “Due to the pandemic, feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the last year in particular, are often what leads to our callers’ escalating pornography habits, and in turn, illegal online behaviour.

“It can be really tricky to spot the signs but they can include, becoming much more secretive with online devices, using them at odd times – such as early in the morning and feeling guilty or uneasy the next day.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: “Anyone who is having inappropriate thoughts about children, or anyone who believes a family member may be, should seek help from Stop It Now!, otherwise they should expect a visit from police officers.”

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