Married to a Pedophile: “Living With the Stigma”

“I can’t imagine being in your shoes” is one of the most common things said to me. “How do you face people? What’s it like?” Those are valid questions, and they are questions that need to be addressed.

For almost forty years our family was “the family” — adored and respected in our church, among our friends, within our small community, and even across state lines. We were a uniquely large family, especially for this day and age,  having eleven children. Even more unique was the fact that they were good kids. Good Christian kids, most of them attending Harding University,

a private Christian college.

Suddenly the head of our family, perhaps the most respected of all, made big, bold headlines in newspapers that reached across three state lines and beyond! How did we live through this? What was it like having to face this kind of shame? And, let’s face it. There really is a stigma attached to the word pedophile. Since John’s arrest and incarceration there have been hundreds more arrests of child sex offenders, and those who don’t know my situation freely sling those not-so-nice terms around often saying things like, “You can’t tell me that none of the family members knew!”  Family members are often “attached” to the pedophile by harsh thoughts and unjust, cruel words. How do you separate the pedophile from the rest of the family? Do you see what I mean?

I can’t tell you how much that hurts. I really can’t begin to put it into words. The wife is not responsible for the actions of the pedophile, but we were clumped together as the “family of a pedophile.”  I know it’s hard to do, but the family members must be separated from the offender. This situation is hard enough without the shame and disgrace of being marked by others as being part of the problem.

But, we’ll save that thought  for another time. For now, what was it like facing everyday life with people who were just as shocked as I was about finding out this horrific truth? What kind of support was there? Who came to help?

Sadly, there was very little help at first mostly because nobody knew what to do or say. Let’s face it. This was truly the shock of a lifetime! There are still people this many years after John’s incarceration who will say they can’t wrap their minds around this. They cannot believe that HE molested children. Not the man they knew! Not John, the kind, caring, giving man. Not the family man, the minister, the youth pastor. How could this be?

I can vaguely remember those first few weeks following his arrest. The initial reaction of others was mostly tears. People would look at me and just burst into tears and turn away.

I understand. They had no words.

There were also the ones who were just plain nosey wanting to know details of what happened. Thankfully, there weren’t too many nib-nosers because I was in no frame of mind to tolerate anything like that. And, believe me, it was easy to feel sincerity versus nosiness! They create two polar opposite emotions within.

The majority of friends were kind. Honest-to-goodness kind. They might not have known what to say or do, but I knew they were suffering right along with me and the kids.  Thankfully, many of our children lived out of state by this time, so they didn’t have to face this mess head-on. They had a bit of time to digest what had happened and they were able to tell their close friends about the events that were taking place in our family at their own pace.  The media doesn’t help soften the blows of grief and trauma!  As we all know, the media feeds off of stories like this one.

But, for those of us who lived right in this tiny community of Somerset County we had no choice about taking time to digest the news of John’s arrest. Everyone knew that John was in jail. Everyone knew why John was in jail. As shameful, as humiliating, as hurtful as it was, we had no time to grieve privately. Our world as we once knew it, was turned inside out and upside down. And, the media made sure that everyone knew “the news.”

So, how did we get through this initial blast of public humiliation? We could stay buried in the house for months too ashamed, hurt, and pained to face people. Or, we could do what we ultimately chose to do: face the church, the community, and our friends and pray that they would eventually give us some support.

I’d never want to go through it all over again, but we did what we had to do.  And, we survived. And, if you’re going through something similar, you’ll survive, too. I can remember my head feeling like it was going to split wide open. I went to my family physician and he said my blood pressure was “sky high.” Immediately, he put me on medication. He hung his head as he quietly said, “I had no idea. I’m so, so sorry.” He was also John’s physician for years. He was our family doctor taking care of our children, too. John had given no clues to the physical about the double life he was living.

I was going to a counselor once a week for almost three years. At first I simply needed validation that I wasn’t going crazy. I explained all of the strange things John did that made me feel crazy, and she concluded he probably had a personality disorder. One day after John’s arrest made the newspapers and radio broadcasts, my counselor sent me a message that she was so very sorry. She couldn’t put the pieces together, either.

I was worried sick about the kids. How would the local ones handle this? Nobody wants their family to make the front page of multiple newspapers — not this way!  One of my boys was driving truck at the time. Truck drivers can be a rough bunch of guys, BUT…….THANK GOD…….they showered him with kindness in their own truck driver way. Can you imagine being in his shoes? He was one of the ones that was so very proud of his dad. He hunted with John since he was a wee kid. He spent weekends camping with his dad. They were a closely knit father and son team.  How do you try to explain to others that “it’s okay” when it really isn’t?  It’s never okay when you’re hit with the news that your father has been molesting children for years and years. It horrible! There is so much brokenness and wreckage left behind when a father has been molesting children. It’s nearly impossible for the mind to separate all of the different emotions. How do you love and adore your father one day, then get hit with this kind of news the next day? My heart is breaking as I’m writing this. It’s so terribly hard and so very painful.

Did people talk about us? I’m sure there was a fair share of gossip going on, but for my own sanity, I chose not to think about the few who were doing that. Instead, I formed a close circle of friends to help me get through. I love this crazy group — one man has turned eighty, and the youngest of “my group” is thirty-two. Eight people helped keep me from losing my mind simply by being my friend and treating  me as they had always treated me. They never brought anything up unless I said something. And, for months following the media mess, they sheltered me. I often found it difficult to even step into the hallway at work to get water. So, they got water for me! They held me up when I was too weak to stand on my own. 

Little did I know that the emotional trauma of headlines in the newspaper was only part of the difficult path that was ahead. The first few months after the media blast was the easy part…….if I had to choose an easy part. Next time we’ll focus on the layers of trauma that came in succession. I’ll also let you know what helped.

While we’re on the subject of trauma, there is no trauma of mine that is in any way comparable to that of the trauma experienced by those children who were hurt by John. I will do all that I can humanly do to advocate for ALL victims of abuse, but most especially for children of abuse. It is my constant prayer that as you read and share this blog, a growing awareness will continue to spread throughout the WORLD as to the horrifying pain of any kind of abuse. There is NO ABUSE that is acceptable! NONE.

Thank you so much for reading. Thank you for being a voice with me and my son Jimmy. Please be sure to visit his blog, jimmyhinton.org, and please listen to our podcast. I know reading about abuse is hard stuff, but you must be educated if you’re going to help end abuse.

Lastly, please be sure to subscribe to the blog (just enter your email where it says subscribe) if you want to be notified by email of new posts.

Again, thank you so much for reading. Thank you for caring. Together we must become a strong voice in order to end abuse!

With love,

Clara

9 thoughts on “Married to a Pedophile: “Living With the Stigma”

  1. Clara – your blog is so truthful and it is also my story as well!! I was married 21 years with three children and didn’t know he was addicted to porn and abusing my daughter. We are divorced and he is in prison. I moved my family an hour away to start a new life. The stigma was awful! The children who were victims continued to suffer in the community we lived in – particularly my daughter. All the invites for birthday parties, play dates, etc stopped. It was awful for her in so many ways! I was a girl scout leader and he was one of the volunteers for my troop. Girl scouts made me resign even though I had a letter from DHS stating I was investigated and found that I did not know about him. I had to threaten legal action three months later for them to assign her into a different troop. However in her other activities I found caring adults who were supportive to us. So there were still many caring people in that community -but I knew we needed to move and have a clean start. So here we are 6 years later in a new life – however the stigma is still there to some degree since I know I don’t trust people like I used to, but we are all moving forward in our lives. You are so right the trauma we as wives have faced is nothing compared to what trauma these pedophiles inflicted on their victims. I commend you for your work in this area. Reading your story brought tears to my eyes as it really was so similar to my own story about how he groomed me over the years. I don’t feel I can speak publicly about my story since my daughter is still in school so I commend you for your strength to be the voice to tell our stories. May God bless you!!!

    • Dear Mary, Oh, how much my heart hearts with you! It seems like we often get out of one abusive situation only to find abuse of another nature. Sometimes I don’t understand the “well meaning” of people! They mean well but end of hurting us. The stigma that you’re talking about is so difficult to overcome. I think it gets easier in time, but I’m not sure that it ever totally goes away. I’m glad that you’ve moved away. I’m sure that will continue to help you and your daughter. Trauma of this sort is not easy to heal. It takes time and lots and lots of hard work. Hang in there (I know that you are), and continue to be a support for your daughter. She needs your love and trust more than you can imagine. I’m so glad you’ve found this blog and I pray that the words found here will continue to encourage and help you. Much love, Clara

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all you have been through, Clara. Recently, I read through every post on your blog from beginning to end. I can’t imagine the pain, heartache, and vast range of feelings you and your family have had to endure. I think it is tremendously helpful for others, like myself, to gain understanding of the way in which abusers/pedophiles so often use God, Christianity, and their own families to hide their evil practices. It is truly a wake-up call to the deceptive nature and tactics of evil. Also, I think a call from Jesus to have hearts of compassion for those who are used as cover by the evildoer, who have caused such hurt not only to the victims, but to family members whose trust was betrayed. As difficult as it much be for you I am grateful and appreciate so much your willingness to let God use you to shine His light through you to expose the darkness. May God continue to bless you as you minister to others and supply you with strength and the hope and joy only He can give through the trials in this fallen world.

    • Cris, Thank YOU so much for reading this hard stuff. None of this is what would be considered an “easy read.” I find myself totally exhausted after writing each post. Recalling events and difficult memories stirs up emotions that have been placed on the back burner for a while. I know you understand what I’m saying.

      Understanding of those in abusive situations is so needed! What a difference it makes to receive words of encouragement!

      Thank you, again.

      Love,
      Clara

  3. I am so sorry for what you went through. Thank you (again) for sharing what it was like for you, because your story is NOT unique. Stories like this hit the headlines ALL the time, and the families and loved ones (of the accused) often have very little say or control over what is printed. It can go in the opposite direction, too, where the accuser (and their loved ones) are dragged through the mud with little to no say in the matter.

    BOTH are wrong. Terribly wrong.

    This topic is actually very close to my heart. I’ve been through 2 situations where 2 men were “exposed” as abusers and/or deceivers. One was my now former pastor, the other was Saeed Abedini (please Google him for the full story. It’s too long to describe here)

    In both situations, I was deeply concerned for the families involved, and what was being said or done to them. And both families, IMO, were treated very unfairly.

    I DO understand how there are many questions, and much confusion. Did the families or loved ones know, or even suspect, or did they turn a blind eye? Were they complicit in ANY way? Did they cover for the accused, intentionally or not?

    All of those ARE possibilities. But never, ever assume anything. It is unfair and unjust, and if the world around us is carried away on some “tidal wave” of gossip and public opinion, there is NOTHING that we Christians are obligated to jump on that bandwagon.

    In fact, we need to resist it and set an example for the world. Gossip can ruin lives, and we must resist that.

    Please read Ezekiel 18 for the proper, Biblical perspective on how God views this topic. He makes it clear that everyone is responsible for their own, personal sins. The son is NOT automatically guilty of the sins of his father. And the son is NOT responsible for them, either. In reverse, the righteous life of father is not “passed down” to his son. If that son chooses to live wickedly, the previous righteousness of his father will not save him.

    I’m beyond grateful that you had support, Clara. I’ve often wondered what it was like for you and the family in the immediate aftermath. The shock and impact must have felt like an earthquake! And it affected so many people. I believe it must have been the long and strong arms of the Father that held you together during that time.

    I do understand what you mean by “public humiliation.” Our families and loved ones are one of the most personal, private parts about us—and there is no one we are more protective of. Suddenly that is impossible to do. You could not keep this private, and you could not protect your loved ones from the onslaught of media attention and whatever else came your way.

    I don’t know if this is proper to say: I don’t believe any of you had anything to be ashamed of. The embarrassment is real, and I don’t discount that. But when it comes down to it, you and the kids were not guilty of anything, except that John abused your trust and love. I am of the personal opinion that it is the one who abuses a person’s trust who is 100% to blame for doing so. Trusting others is NOT a sin, even if you look back and see all the red flags you did not see @ the time (which you have described at length!)

    But I do not have sympathy for those who say or imply: you should have known. You should have seen. So you are, at best, at least partially responsible. I don’t think that is fair, or Biblical necessarily. The exception I would make is that if the Lord reached out to you, and you resisted His counsel and warnings. There is something to that, but in your case I don’t believe that happened. John was a master @ deception—and eventually he was exposed, but it took time!

    I understand the “layers” of trauma you mentioned. I think, once the shock wears off, the reality sinks in and that is when the layers start peeling back. And every layer is PAINFUL. New truths, new lies exposed, new emotions rise to the surface. More wounds are uncovered, and fresh ones are added. So I think I understand what you mean when you say how much harder it got, as time went on.

    I would think that one of THE hardest layers would be hearing the victims speak about the abuse done to them. In detail, which you might have had to hear in and out of court, or read in the papers. You are a precious woman to make it clear that the abuse done to John’s victims is the worst part of this story.

    I WOULD add that the abuse done to you is a close second, however. When someone abuses our trust, it is brutal. When it is our spouse, it is beyond brutal. We tend to trust our spouses more than anyone else, except for the Lord Himself. What does that do to a person when he betrays you on every level imaginable??

    I look forward to reading your next posts, because I am gaining so much wisdom and insight, but I take NO pleasure in reading the pain I feel in your words. Again, you are a fantastic writer. Praying for all of you.

  4. I am so very sorry for your pain. I can’t imagine surviving news like that. Thank you and thank Jimmy for being brave enough to report this abuse, despite how much it cost you and your family to do so. Thank you both for being a voice to the voiceless. I can’t tell you how much that means to those of us who have been silenced for so long. Praising God for your example of sacrifice and bravery!

    • Tina,
      Thank YOU for the encouragement! And, thank you for helping in this battle to end sex abuse. I truly believe progress is being made each and every day, and for that I’m so very thankful!

  5. Back in the 1990’s, I divorced my pedophile husband. A handful of people at church knew. I worried for my reputation and for my children’s. Even though people found out and I felt embarrassed, I am glad I did it. It made an immediate positive change in our lives even though we struggled financially for a while. For the first time we weren’t living a lie.

    My kids are grown now. They are doing well in life. Good educations; good careers. They are good people. And both are much more emotionally healthy than their father, in every way.

    I’m glad I divorced him. I too turned my experience into a ministry to help others.

    • Jane, Thank YOU for the encouragement your comments have made to all who read this!

      I think we both would agree that it takes a lot of courage to “step away” ***be sure to listen to tomorrow’s podcast because it talks about this very thing!

      I’m so very glad to hear of all of the positive outcomes. What a blessing!

      Love,
      Clara

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