Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Twist of Irony or an Epidemic?

The Ebola Epidemic in Africa has captured the attention of the world.  Fear is the natural response to a virus that so ravages the human body, especially when there is no known cure.  Recently we learned that aid workers in Guinea were killed by villagers who feared that they were there to deliberately spread the feared virus.  As "enlightened" Westerners, we scoff at the ignorance of unenlightened third world societies that embrace and act on such wrong information.  And yet, when it comes pedophilia, fear often drives our response and as a society, we are often guilty of similar knee-jerk reactions.

Over two years ago my wise sponsor suggested that I find other partners of pedophiles as part of my recovery journey.  I had been faithfully attending S-Anon but found that there are some distinct differences in the experience of a pedophile's partner as compared to that of the partner of a sex addict.  I remember putting the phone down and sighing at the seeming impossibility of the task.  How does one go about finding other partners of a disease that is so deeply hidden?  I had a hunch that neither Craig's nor Angie's lists would be helpful.

But I picked up my laptop and began the search.  It was a search that eventually led me to one other partner, who just happened to live in my geographical area.  And in a bizarre twist of fate, she had actually written anonymously to me after my own life exploded.  We met for dinner and she confessed that I was the first partner she had spoken to about her experience in over 18 years.  I had found one other former partner.
The Ebola virus

Since that time, through my own blog and others', I have encountered dozens of women who are or have been in a romantic relationship with a pedophile.  I quipped recently that I need to create a spreadsheet to keep everyone's story straight.  On average, I hear from one new woman every week or so.  While the names and particular circumstances are varied, the reality is our stories are very similar.

  • We were wooed by a man who seemed to be the man of our dreams.
  • We worked hard to create a life and family with someone who was present but not fully present in our lives or in our relationships.
  • We had no clue that our partner had a secret life, often until his involvement with the criminal justice or child protective services.
  • We are left with a devastated life--a past that now begins to make sense and a future that seems uncertain at best.
  • Our children are impacted, either as primary or secondary victims.
  • We feel very little support from any quarter.  We are isolated and alone.
  • We feel shamed and scorned and often feel pretty stupid that we didn't know.
So I am left wondering if this avalanche of partners/former partners in my small world is a cosmic twist of irony or if it is indicative of an epidemic.  Maybe it is both.  I firmly believe that the protestant church is facing a scandal at least as large as the Catholic Church has faced and maybe larger.  We have pointed at the celibacy requirement for priests as a reasonable excuse for the huge percentage of pedophiles that have been exposed within the Catholic Church.  But what excuse does the protestant church have?

The reality is that pedophiles are drawn to professions where they will have a legitimate reason to be around children.  What better place to hide than in a school or church?  And it is far easier to gain unsuspecting parents' trust if one wears a clerical collar or carries a large Bible, hears confessions or organizes Sunday School. It is a perfect set-up for the predator-in-waiting.  And he looks so normal, with a wife and children of his own--why should anyone suspect him?  He looks and sounds authentic so we blindly trust him with those who are most vulnerable and precious to us.

I believe that my ever growing pool of partners/former partners is indicative of this exploding problem.  As a society, we can continue to blame and belittle her--it may make us feel good but it will do little to protect children from the man in the pew or the one in the pulpit; the neighbor next door or the youth group leader.  We need to reach out to the partner in kindness, empathy and support and enlist her in this battle to protect our children.

How we should respond as a society to this growing pedophilia epidemic can be informed by the West's response to the Ebola epidemic.  We need solid information, good containment and isolation practices informed by the best research and a determination to do all we can to protect and assist those who have been exposed to the virus.  Instead of "killing" those who could provide us with inside information if given the support, information and compassion they need, we should invite her to the conversation.  Only then will we have a workable plan to contain and eradicate this menace to our children.

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