Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Picking up the Pieces

I found her sitting on the dirty floor of her garage, surrounded by pieces of broken pottery.  The family dishes stored away for her future use had fallen, and almost all had broken.  As tears ran down her face, she pointed to the shards and pieces and said, "This is my entire childhood, and it is broken."  I knew what she meant and I knew her tears were about more than broken dishes.

Courtesy of Sweet Pea Productions
Much like her dishes, our lives have shattered and broken.  Two years later, and we are still finding the broken pieces and trying to figure out what to do with them.  Broken promises, broken dreams, broken family, broken holidays, broken relationships, broken memories . . . the list of things broken is huge and sometimes threatens to overwhelm the fragile peace we currently enjoy.  Our past is being reframed and our future has taken an extreme turn; sometimes it feels expansive and full of promise, at other times it appears limited and without hope.

Picking up the pieces after an immense tragedy that has been likened to a life quake, is time consuming and draining.  My daughter's treasured dishes represent family meals when life appeared more idyllic, laughter and tears around the dinner table with loved ones and friends.  They are a reminder of that time when life seemed simple and predictable, when her dad appeared to be a safe person she could trust and she didn't have to fear law enforcement or even think about police reports, court transcripts or protective custody.  To her, they represent innocence, trust, security and stability--all things broken by her dad's arrest and incarceration.

Courtesy of Sweet Pea Productions
Together we bent and reverently picked up the intact pieces of her family treasures.  We packed them away in a safer place.  Maybe we will look at flea markets and online to replace the dishes so that she has a complete set for her future.  Maybe she will decide she doesn't need that.  But the broken pieces we are saving.  Together we will learn how to craft something new from them.  They are no longer useful in their current state--but they are still beautiful.  Maybe a mosaic tray or trivet?  Or maybe something we have yet to imagine.  But the pieces of our shared past are not to be destroyed--but to be respected and treasured.  Maybe we will value them more because they are broken or maybe we will one day decide that they are no longer important enough to keep lugging around.  But for now, we simply bend and pick up the pieces.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Knew I Wouldn't Be Believed

Over three decades ago, I made the decision to not call the police after my husband confessed his molestation of two children to me.  I made that decision out of fear for myself and my unborn child, this is true.  But a big part of my fear was that I would not be believed.  I feared that the police would not consider my accusation to be true since I had no proof, other than his confession.  I feared that they would be swayed by his academic credentials and his ability to spin abhorrent behavior into a believable and acceptable tale.  I have lived in shame over not reporting his abuse for far too long. But today I know on a far deeper level that my fears so long ago were founded in reality.

Yesterday in a courtroom many miles from where I now live, the judicial system essentially confirmed my fears.  While he was originally looking at 49 consecutive years in prison if convicted on all of the charges and while he was actually sentenced to 42 months in prison last month, the judge reduced his sentence to 180 days in the county jail.  With credit for time served, he will be released in two months.  After two years of scandal and a long, drawn-out criminal case, this is what it boils down to.  I am stunned beyond words.

When the detectives were raiding our house, they lectured me endlessly on the fact that pornography is not a victimless crime. My shame was compounded by these lectures.  Without denying the pain of child victims one iota, I needed the detectives and state's attorney's office to acknowledge that they were also dealing with victims that cold morning--the secondary victims.  And they were not kind, considerate or compassionate.  They put catching a big fish ahead of caring for those most impacted by the arrest and incarceration of the family breadwinner, as well as the media feeding frenzy they initiated and encouraged.

At every step, my engagement with the criminal justice system has been difficult.  I have sought to cooperate, told them everything I know about my ex-husband's behavior, including his confession of molestation.  I offered to testify and asked to present a victim's impact statement at his sentencing.  They denied that offer and request.  They knew about the molestation from the beginning and yet agreed to an incredible plea deal and then expressed anger at me for not cooperating with them!

The State's Attorney made a politically expedient decision to offer a plea deal and then to not allow my ex-husband's past perpetrating behavior to be introduced in court.  It was a political decision.  It wasn't about protecting the public or seeing that justice was served, it was all about re-election and public support for their ongoing effort to "fight crime."  The defense attorney announced at the hearing yesterday that he has been promoted to a judgeship.  He actually spoke with the press after the hearing and praised the judge for his sound decision--sounds like they are now best friends as well as colleagues.  Suppose that had anything to do with the judge's decision?

So the next time you are angry at the partner of a pedophile for not supporting the prosecution of her husband, remember my story.  We are shamed, sometimes prosecuted and often ridiculed for not reporting our partners and yet, when they are arrested with a preponderous amount of evidence, our voice is not valued--we are not believed.  We are not believed when our partners are given less than a smack on the wrist for their crimes.  We are not believed when family, friends and judges believe that the pedophile's carefully crafted persona reflects an accurate picture of their risk to society.  We are not believed when a judge can sit on the bench and actually insinuate that there are degrees to child exploitation.  We are often not consulted or kept in the loop by the prosecution and presumed to be guilty of complicity by a public that refuses to hear or value our voice.

If the crimes my ex-husband was accused of were egregious enough to warrant breaking down a door before dawn, holding innocent civilians/victims at gun point, announcing the home address of those victims to the media, then how in the world can this be a just decision?  How can I ever believe that my voice is valued and my story believed?  I was not a match for a master deceiver and manipulator three decades ago and I certainly am not a match for a judicial system run amok.  I was not and am not believed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dottie Sandusky: The Stereotypical Partner of a Pedophile

I heard the news bulletin on my lunch break today and gasped aloud.  Dottie Sandusky, the wife of convicted child molester and Penn State coach, Jerry Sandusky, is "standing by her man," according to her first television interview.  She believes he is innocent, defends behaviors she acknowledges are troubling to some, and blames the victims for railroading a great family man for monetary gain.

Dear God, have mercy.

She perfectly represents the stereotypical partner of a pedophile--a clueless, loyal but naive woman who believes in her man, no matter what the evidence shows.

Mrs. Sandusky does not indicate whether she had any suspicions that her husband was sexually involved with children prior to his arrest.  I think most partners of pedophiles will attest that they did not know a whole lot about the activities their spouse was involved in because pedophiles are extremely gifted deceivers.

She defends Jerry's practice of showering with kids but then goes on to say that she would be uncomfortable if an adult had behaved that way with her kids.  So why did she go along with it? Maybe her gut was trying to tell her something?  Or did she go along?  Did her protests fall on deaf ears?  Was she afraid to challenge him because of his power and status?  Or is she so calloused she didn't care as long as he left her kids and grandkids alone?

She indicates this has been hard on her family--some of her children have lost jobs, and friends have distanced themselves from them.  I think most partners of pedophiles who have had their silence broken can agree with this statement.  It is a lonely world we live in when we have been attached to a perpetrator.

Mrs. Sandusky is perfectly free to have her opinion and to express it whenever and wherever she wants.  It appears that she truly believes in the innocence of her incarcerated husband and if she was kept in the dark by her husband, as most partners are, her continued faith is somewhat understandable.  I can see how difficult it is to wrap your brain around the notion that the man you have spent decades with is a monster who never truly loved you.  I do get that, as do all spouses unfortunate enough to have married pedophiles.

I can totally accept these ideas as well:
  • She did not know he was sexually interested in children.
  • If she questioned his risque behavior, I can understand why she might have been duped by his well-rehearsed and "logical" explanations, his minimizing of the facts and his dismissal of her concerns.
  • Her financial survival was tied to his success and that may have required secret-keeping.  It seems that a great many powerful men knew what Jerry Sandusky was doing and kept quiet about it.  She may have been covertly threatened or cowed into silence.  She is now in her "golden years" and may still be dependent upon his assets for survival.
What I cannot accept is her blaming the victims and refusing now to see what is plain to the rest of the world.  In my opinion, she was groomed by this man.  I appreciate that she has spent her entire adult life with him and that she genuinely loves him.  I know she has a powerful betrayal bond with him that has survived decades of questionable behavior on his part.  I understand these dynamics, I really do.

But for the rest of us wives or ex-wives of pedophiles, while we may not have known what our partner was doing, looking back we can see the warning signs.  We came to realize that we were groomed and deliberately deceived, and we can identify times when our gut told us that something was off, even though the perpetrator had such reasonable explanations for his behavior.  After our silence was broken or our innocent belief in the sanctity of our marriage destroyed by an arrest, disclosure or acusation, we began seeing what had been hidden.  Our eyes were oepned and we were devastated by what we saw.

As ex-wives of pedophiles . . .

We felt complicit, even though we know we were not.

We felt shame, even though we know it is not ours to carry.

We felt tremendous compassion for the victims and sorrow that such harm came to them at the hands of our partner.

We felt appalled by the discoveries that we have made about our partners, either through arrest, disclosure or accusation.

We felt haunted by the "what if's" though we know it is pointless.

We are not all Dottie Sandusky!  Some of us courageously acknowledged the truth and apologized to all known victims.  I hope the wider public will see the difference between us and her.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Sentence

Two years ago today the front door of the home I shared with my husband of 32 years, and our young adult daughter, was broken down by the police executing a search warrant.  The day after the raid, the police returned and arrested my husband.  He spent 34 days in jail and bonded out with the aid of his sister, much to our surprise.

For two years he has wrangled with the criminal justice system.  For two years he has evaded, blamed, denied, minimized, rationalized, deceived and manipulated.  He has sought pity, pseudo-forgiveness, and has acted as the victim in this horrible situation that he brought on himself, his family, his friends and his employer.  For two years--two very long years.  But this week, time ran out on his delaying strategies.  This week, he stood before the judge and was sentenced to prison.

In English Grammar, I learned that a correctly constructed sentence must have a noun, a verb, maybe some adverbs and adjectives with some prepositions and conjunctions thrown in just to make things interesting.  Every sentence must end with appropriate punctuation.  I know what type of punctuation belongs at the end of this sentence, but what goes at the end of the sentence handed down in the courtroom this week?

A period indicates the end of a statement; an exclamation point adds an umph for emphasis and a question mark lets the reader know that the writer is asking a question.  I guess all three forms of punctuation belong at the end of the judge's sentence.

Certainly his sentence ends the statement of my ex's guilt.  He admitted guilt in a sweet plea deal; in exchange, the Prosecutor dropped six other charges.  So the statement of his guilt has been concluded.  And he was sentenced!  He did not get a slap on the wrist, as he expected.  He is facing a very difficult time in a maximum security prison.  He was facing 49 years had he been convicted on all 7 charges and he would have been required to serve the sentences consecutively rather than concurrently.  42 months is nothing compared to 49 years, but it is a sentence and is deserving of an exclamation point!

But the judge's sentence also begs a question mark as the appropriate punctuation.  A sentence?  Really??  How can 42 months possibly be enough time for the depth of degradation he had reached?  And now that he is imprisoned, what next?  This sentence does not mean that our family tragedy has ended; it has simply begun a new phase.  And we do not know how this phase will end either.  Lots of questions with no firm answers, and questions demand a question mark, right?

"When you look at the defendant, you would be completely justified in asking how someone like him ended up here," the Prosecutor said.  "Apparently, very few people knew the real Joe Smith."  As his wife, I spent 406 months married to Joe Smith and most of that time, I knew nothing about his secret.  So I would argue that no one knew the real Mr. Smith, absolutely no one.  406 vs. 42--not a real fair arrangement, is it?  Another question.

And what about the children he sexually offended, both actively through molestation and passively by using pictures of the worst day of their life for his own sexual gratification?  How much time is sufficient to wipe away the lifetime of pain to which his actions sentenced them?  Does enough time even exist to accomplish this?

So, we have ended the Sentence with a period, an exclamation point and questions marks.  If it sounds confusing, welcome to our world.  Somehow we will go on.  Somehow we will continue rebuilding, healing and growing.  Because his Sentence is not ours; the end of his criminal case is not the end of my story or that of my sweet little family.  His Sentence belongs to him and he alone will serve it.