Northern Ireland

Sex offender's wife speaks about horror and forgiveness

Anne's husband abused a young girl
Image caption Anne's husband abused a young girl

A woman who discovered that her husband had sexually abused a child has spoken publicly about her horror.

But, after he served a jail sentence, she decided to take him back.

"What he did was bad, but he was a good person, so I decided I wanted to make the marriage work," she said.

After he had confessed to police and served time at Magilligan prison, the couple got back together. "You're not a sex offender for the rest of your life," she said.

Anne's (not her real name) ordeal began with a letter that dropped through the door of their comfortable middle class home one day, addressed to her husband.

She did not pay much attention but the contents would shake their marriage to its foundations. The letter was from a relation whom Anne had known for more than 20 years.

She was now a grown woman, but had occasionally stayed at their home as a young child in the early years of their marriage.

What Anne did not know was that her husband had abused the child during some of those visits. In the letter, the woman told her husband about the abuse he had inflicted on her and how she had suffered because of it.

Anne's husband showed his wife the letter and told her he was sorry, but the contents were true.

"It was a big, big shock, something I would not have contemplated he would have been capable of doing," she said.

"It happened while we were married, but I had no indication at all of anything untoward going on. People find it hard to believe that you wouldn't know, but I knew nothing. It was just a complete shock.

"I felt a sense of horror at what he had done, and betrayal. He was in the family and had betrayed everybody, betrayed the trust in him, and betrayed me.

"Then I started to think had I done something wrong, was it something I had done that caused this?"

A few days later her husband took the letter to the police and told them the allegations were true.

Shocked by what she had learned, Anne moved out and went to live with her mother for a year and a half.

"I just needed to get some space, to try to come to terms with it," she says.

Her family reacted with anger, severed all links with her husband and told Anne to do the same. They wanted her to file for divorce. To their surprise, after a long period of reflection and counselling, she opted to go back to her husband after he had been charged with sexual offences.

Three years after receiving the letter from the woman he had abused as a child, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and served half of that term in Magilligan.

Until his court appearance, few outside the immediate family circle knew what had happened, but that changed when he was sentenced and his name and photograph appeared in local papers.

So why did Anne opt to stay with a man who had abused a young family member?

"I know people will find it hard to understand," she says.

'Good marriage'

"But whilst what he did was a really bad thing, that is not the whole person. We had a very good marriage for 25 years.

"What he did was bad, but he was a good person, so I decided that I wanted to make the marriage work. We both wanted to make it work, to give it another go."

Anne visited her husband during his time in prison. She said the sexual offenders' programme he participated in helped him realise the damage he had caused.

"It was very hard for him, but he needed to address and wanted to address what he had done. It made him have to deal with what had happened, what he had done and see the damage that he had caused. It helped him."

When he was released from Magilligan, he went back to living in the family home. Aware that details of the case had been publicised when her husband was sentenced, Anne went to see her neighbours to tell them he was moving back in and that they were staying together.

"It was a difficult thing to do, but I just felt I had to be up front and open about it. Luckily they were fine about it," she said.

Her husband is on the sex offenders' register for life and is visited on a regular basis by a probation office, and Anne said she is confident he will not re-offend.

"I think I can say that now," she said.

"I couldn't have said it a couple of years ago, but I do think I can trust him. Knowing him the way I do, I don't think that he is ever going to do that again.

How does she respond to the view that sex offenders cannot be treated and rehabilitated, that once they are a sex offender, they will always be a sex offender?

Anne paused for a moment and shook her head.

"No," she said. "People don't understand. They are just ordinary people. It happens to ordinary people, and it is not something that he was born with, not something that he sat and said one day, 'I am going to do that.' That's not the way it works.

"You're not a sex offender for the rest of your life. I don't think that at all. "