I Was Married to a Paedophile
We spoke to Kate, who after 20 years of marriage discovered her husband had been looking at illegal images of child sexual abuse online.
Sinead Keenan portraying Kate in 'Married to a Paedophile'. All stills courtesy of Channel 4.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It was the knock on the front door, just after 7AM, which first indicated to Kate that her day was going to be out of the ordinary. She was getting ready for work in the family home she had shared with her husband of 20 years, Alex. Their two daughters had already moved out, so it couldn't have been them, and nobody else was expected so early in the morning.
"The next thing I knew, the house was full of police officers," explains Kate over the phone. "They came straight into the bedroom as I was doing my makeup and said they needed all my electronic equipment." Kate's phone was on the bed, an iPad and a laptop elsewhere in the house. "I had no idea what was going on whatsoever."
An officer asked Kate to take a seat in the lounge. Before she sat down she called her office to explain she probably wouldn't be in on time. She was so shaken that she forgot to hang up the phone, and would later find out that the voicemail message to her boss just kept on recording.
"Alex was sat rocking in a chair," Kate continues. What he said when he opened his mouth shook Kate to her core. "'I'm not a paedophile, I'm not a paedophile,' he was repeating to himself, again and again and again. The police officers wouldn't let us talk alone together, because when they arrive in a house they have no idea who they're going to be arresting. I couldn't get any reassurances from [Alex], and he just kept repeating that phrase."
With only her life partner's words to go on, Kate took his defence in good faith and believed that yes, maybe this was simply a malicious allegation.
Twelve hours later, Kate would arrive at the police station where her husband had been taken. She would sit in a room with him, and he'd confess to her that, for years, he'd been looking at illegal images of child sexual abuse online.
"When he made that confession, everything changed," says Kate. "I had been defending him until then, even being abrupt with the police officers. I was fighting for him – but then suddenly it was plain to me I was on the wrong side. When I realised he had been lying, I knew there was no hope for the marriage. I knew we wouldn't get through this one."
Kate remembers screaming as she stood in the clinical police station, before walking out, wanting to escape to anywhere she could. Two years have passed since the day Kate's life changed forever, and she's now preparing herself for the airing of a documentary she has co-created – Married to a Paedophile – on Channel 4 at 9PM tonight.
We're speaking over the phone to preserve her anonymity. Kate's name isn't really Kate, and while all the audio used in the show is from actual recordings of Kate and others, actors have reconstructed the conversations. The team behind the film spent months with Kate and another woman who had been through a similar experience, documenting their families' attempts to navigate unknown territory and uncertain futures.
When we talk about child sex abuse, the focus is invariably on the offender and their victims. But Kate has opened up her life to director/producer Collette Camden in the hope that this documentary will draw attention to the other innocent people who are all too often forgotten – the families of those who have committed such grotesque crimes.
"A lot of attention is given, rightly, to the victims of sexual offences and online images," Kate continues, before taking a moment to compose herself. "That should be the main focus. There's also quite a bit of attention given to offenders, and discussions about how they should be managed: why they commit the crimes they commit and what can be done to prevent it happening. But nobody thinks about this third group of people. Our lives suddenly change, and it's devastating."
Kate says she remembers calling the officer who arrested her husband; she'd been left alone with no idea what to do next, and wanted to know where she could turn for support and guidance. The officer suggested victim support, but added the caveat that she wasn't actually a victim. "He said we were collateral damage," says Kate, clearly frustrated. "There was no consideration for me or my girls."
Kate drove Alex back to the house after he was released from custody. They sat in silence for the entire drive. The first thing she did when they got home was make her husband call his mother. Kate had been in contact with her throughout the day, and she needed Alex to admit to her what he had done, so she didn't have to. "I also just wanted to punish him a bit, really," she says. "Then I spoke to my sister – she couldn't take it all in. My sister thought I needed to get out the house, that I shouldn't stay there." That night, Kate slept upstairs, while Alex was left on the sofa. "I tried to talk to him a bit, I found it hard. Then I made arrangements to stay with my sister. She picked me up the next morning, and by the time I got back to the house a few weeks later, Alex had packed up his stuff and left."
During that time, Kate obsessively read up on paedophilia, trying to find out as much information as she could. "I needed to know about the offence, how and why he had done it," she explains. The other question she couldn't stop returning to was whether Alex had any direct contact with children – the couple have two daughters, and Alex worked as a teacher in a school. "That really bothered me for a long time – it still does in a way," she says. "Im pretty sure he didn't and wouldn't have, but there is evidence out there to say people often do go on to."
Kate has now rebuilt her life. She has little to do with Alex, although she knows he's still in contact with their two daughters. She has moved away and found a new partner. She tells me making this documentary wasn't easy, and the build-up to its screening has brought up a lot of unpleasant emotions and memories. She does, however, believe it will all be worth it.
"There are a lot of myths about family members and partners of sex offenders, mostly that they must have known what was going on," she says. "Because a wife is intimate with their partner, then people make the assumption that a wife must have had knowledge, or at least a suspicion, of what was going on. The truth of the matter, in the vast majority of cases, is that the first the wife knows is when there's a knock on the door and the police burst in."
Kate hopes that Married to a Paedophile can challenge that perception.
"I also wanted to point out that there is help available for those who find themselves in similar situations, in particular praising the Lucy Faithfull Foundation," she says of the charity which offers help to the families of offenders, among other services. Every year in the UK, 5,400 men are arrested for downloading sexual images of children – that's a lot of friends and families left feeling stigmatised, confused and isolated, and in need of that help. "The foundation does really good work to help family members in my position," says Kate. "I hope seeing this film helps women in a similar situation to mine."
I ask Kate how she feels now, looking back at the last two years. "My life had moved on, so I try not to think about it too much now," she says. "When I see my daughters it's in my mind. I've felt a whole range of emotions: there's still quite a lot of anger, but also compassion. I know he's not living a pleasant life – he lost his job, his home, me. There's still this sense that he hasn't come to terms with it. It must be hard to admit to himself – that he looked at images of children and got gratification. He still claims he wasn't gratified by it, and I find that hard to accept.
"That said, my story does also end reasonably well: I'm living a good, happy life now. I hope it gives some of those women like me hope, and empowers them when they feel like the good times are over and that there's no getting back."
Married to a Paedophile airs on Channel 4 tonight, Monday the 3rd of September at 9PM.