Someone tweeted today, “I wouldn’t have believed it unless I went through it myself. I naively thought if you broke the law, you were arrested. Period. I was wrong.”
I used to think the same thing. But I am smarter now than I was over seven years ago when I first reported to the police. In my first statement to police, I reported finding child pornography on my home computer. I told them that this was the third time. I told them that my husband had admitted to being responsible the first two times. I reported my daughter’s complaints from that morning that she did not like the way her father looked at her when she was getting dressed.
They seized our computer, told him not to return home (that is a story for another time) and told me that they would get back to me. They said, “if I remembered anything else, call.”
I had answered the questions truthfully, but there was all the stuff I didn’t say… If they wanted to know, they would ask wouldn’t they? The police didn’t speak with my older kids at that point, but the social workers had an informal talk with them. Like me, they were honest answering the direct questions with direct answers. No additional information. We’d all learned how to truthfully not talk about what happened at home.
The next day, I called the officer back and told her about naked pictures of my own children that were on the camera. The response? “Just hang on to them.” Two days later, I told the social workers about an incident when my daughter said that her dad got into bed with her and “he was naked.” They told me to focus on the child pornography. They told me that “even if something did happen, I’d stopped it and children recover.” No one ever asked about anything else happening in our house. I did what they told me to do. Partly because I was in shock. Partly because I’d learned over 10 years how to stay silent. Partly because I trusted them.
It was only over a year later, the day before my first trip to family court (despite links to child pornography being found and admitting to viewing to many including social workers and police, my ex never faced criminal charges) that my lawyer told me to “it was time” to write everything down. I did what he told me to do and it was submitted to the court. He told me not to be in court for the hearing. I followed his advice.
After the hearing, my lawyer advised me that it had not gone well. Three weeks later, I was in court for the judgement. My ex was awarded generous unsupervised access. In her reasons, the judge cited the lack of criminal charges and the fact that I had “all of a sudden” provided a list of concerns that I had not mentioned before. She found that the events listed, “made no sense” because I had not provided dates (no one had ever asked me to). She found it “surprising” that a wife would report her husband for viewing child pornography given that he might lose his job as a consequence.
As soon as the visits started, my kids reported issues. They had no beds. He screamed at them. He forced the sever-year to climb over the railing. He was sleeping with the youngest one. He was watching them undress. They hid under furniture when they got home and missed school. I reported it all to the social workers, but there was a court order. My words meant nothing.
I went back to the police to report the abuse I had endured. The officer told me even before I gave my statement that it would be “my word against his” so the crown would not press charges. The next time I ended up in the police station, there would be no record that I had even gone in – My words meant nothing, not even worthy of documentation.
Less than a year later, my two youngest daughters had disclosed was sounded like sexual abuse to their counsellor who reported it to the police. More statements. My four year old explained how her father tiptoed into her room at night and tickled her vagina with his hair. My seven-year old described something that started as a dream, but felt like something slimy touching her inside. She also thought that it was her dad who did it, but she didn’t see him. My oldest daughter described the time that at her father’s suggestion they all got into a hotel tub and take naked pictures. She also told them about a time when she was eight that she had caught him watching her getting dressed through her bedroom window. The first time I heard about that incident was in another court room.
Again, there were no criminal charges. The four-year old’s interviews were found to be inconsistent. The seven-year old thought it really happened, but said “it started as a dream.” – Unreliable witness. My oldest daughters’ accounts were years earlier and apparently not serious enough to warrant charges.
Eventually, a series of protection orders was granted in family court something that felt like a small miracle almost four years later.
Me and my children suffered abuse at the hands of my ex so we’re tough, but the abuse and trauma suffered as a result of the legal system have taken their own toll.
So many people knew for so long that he was a risk and no one would or could stop him. They either chose not to, or they were too scared to try, or couldn’t be bothered, or the rules prevented them… When we needed help the most, the systems that are meant to keep us safe, the systems that I used to trust, let us down.
When we needed help the most, the systems that are meant to keep us safe, the systems that I used to trust, let us down.