THE DIG­I­TAL WORLD IS EN­ABLING SOME OF OUR SICKEST MINDS

The Riverine Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By Ivy Wise

NO BE­TRAYAL could be more com­plete, more emo­tion­ally de­struc­tive, than dis­cov­er­ing the man you love is an on­line child abuse of­fender.

Yet not even your hor­ror and your anger at this most base theft of your love, of your bliss­ful naivety, will likely off­set your per­sonal des­cent into shame, and dis­be­lief, that nag­ging ques­tion of how could you not have known.

Even worse, what sort of crea­ture have you en­abled?

Yet for Natalie Walker, once the sheer scope of her part­ner’s sick­ness un­rav­elled, the ul­ti­mate les­son which ended the mar­riage was there was no-one to turn to for un­der­stand­ing, for sup­port.

So she cre­ated Part­nerSPEAK, an on­line fo­rum for part­ners of those look­ing at on­line child ex­ploita­tion. And she hasn’t let it stop there. Natalie is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing links be­tween those of­fend­ers and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, with re­search high­light­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the ex­pe­ri­ences of non-of­fend­ing part­ners and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims.

She, along with other ad­vo­cates, are now push­ing for non-of­fend­ing part­ners to be clas­si­fied as sec­ondary vic­tims of crime and for sup­port ser­vices to be funded.

“You didn’t know be­cause he is far more in­vested in you not finding out than you are in finding out be­cause you didn’t know there was any­thing to find out and his en­tire life is built around hid­ing this se­cret, so you didn’t stand a chance,’’ she said.

Two years into their mar­riage Natalie and her hus­band had just moved from Ade­laide to Mel­bourne.

‘‘All his friends came over for a long week­end and one of them, who had al­ways ser­viced our com­puter, took me aside and said: ‘Look we know (he) has al­ways had a lot of porn on the com­puter but this time I found some­thing dif­fer­ent and I need you to know it’s chil­dren’,’’ she said.

“I went dig­ging and I found some hid­den RSS feeds and that’s where I found con­tent that was about chil­dren and teenagers, barely teenagers, and that kind of stuff.

“I chal­lenged him and he de­nied it briefly, but I had it right there. Then he was dis­tressed to the point he was cry­ing, howl­ing.”

Natalie mar­ried her dream man while still in her early 20s.

“He wasn’t just a nice guy. He was be­yond that. We were the pinup cou­ple in our group. All my girl­friends wanted to have a boyfriend just like him, he was the kind of guy your par­ents are very happy with, kids loved him.

“He’s the kind of guy you’d think ‘he couldn’t have done some­thing like this’.”

Even as they started dat­ing in high school, Natalie knew there was a se­cret un­der­belly to her man – he seemed hooked on pornog­ra­phy.

“He al­ways hid it, even back then. Even when it was just maga- zines like Play­boy, and those sorts of things,” she said.

“But as the years went on, his porn started be­com­ing more depraved, more dis­turb­ing – and it kept get­ting worse.

“He went out of his way to hide it and so every few years, which in­creased to every few months, I would find it and by this stage we’re on­line and I would find it some­how, we would have a con­fronta­tion, and he would cry, and would prom­ise not to do it again.

“I would be very clear and ar­tic­u­late about how dam­ag­ing it was to me, to know my part­ner was look­ing at this depraved ma­te­rial and how it was af­fect­ing me.”

Natalie soon recog­nised the cy­cle – some­thing hap­pen­ing, the tears, the promis­ing it’s not go­ing to hap­pen, the walk­ing on eggshells and the hon­ey­moon pe­riod.

“I told him ‘that looks a lot to me like do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and I’m not go­ing to be­come that kind of vic­tim and this isn’t go­ing to hap­pen again, and if it does, I’m out of here’.”

But none of that pre­pared her for what was to come.

“I felt the same as any­body when read­ing or think­ing about it, that kind of ab­hor­rence and hor­ror and sick­ness but then mag­ni­fied be­cause it’s this per­son I’m so close to which made me nau­seous,” she said.

“But then on the other hand, it made sense. There was no red flag or pre­dic­tion that I thought some­thing like this would hap­pen, but with the con­text of the es­ca­la­tion, I guess it made sense.

“So I was shocked and hor­ri­fied yet it made sense at the same time.”

She kicked him out of the unit in which they were liv­ing, she dropped out of her univer­sity course and started work­ing full­time. And still the trauma went on. Natalie had be­come col­lat­eral dam­age in her hus­band’s savage per­ver­sity.

“The shock and hor­ror, that’s dif­fer­ent for a part­ner is if it’s the per­son you’re in­ti­mate with, the next thing you ask your­self is ‘what does that say about me?’ That I chose some­one who is turned on by that and how didn’t I know and I should have known and I’m part way re­spon­si­ble,” she said.

“It’s so aw­ful, ev­ery­one else is say­ing ‘how could she not have known?’ be­cause that’s your big­gest ques­tion of your­self, you don’t need other peo­ple ask­ing it.

“How could I be sleep­ing next to this per­son and he’s do­ing this? Is there some­thing wrong with me, am I stupid, a bad judge of char­ac­ter – can I trust no-one?

“I thought ‘if this is the nicest guy in the world, and he can do this, then ev­ery­body’s a po­ten­tial pae­dophile – and I can’t trust any­one.’”

Natalie re­mained wrapped in, even pro­tected by, that emo­tional iso­la­tion for al­most a decade.

“I had planned to have chil­dren with him and for the next 10 years I was sin­gle, and I was never hav­ing kids with any­one, be­cause if he could be a pae­dophile, any­one could,” she said.

Then she started do­ing what many in her po­si­tion do — read­ing sur­vivor sto­ries from child sex vic­tims.

“That’s prob­a­bly the most grief I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced,” she said. “The part­ners of these of­fend­ers are the peo­ple that know with every ounce of their be­ing the na­ture of their of­fence and what it means and who’s af­fected – and that’s the first level of trauma.

“The se­cond level of trauma is that my whole life’s a lie, I can’t trust my­self, I can’t trust any­one.

“A lot of women I speak to say ‘my whole sense of mean­ing, my whole sense of self, my whole sense of the world is gone’, it’s been ripped out’. With no hard ground, it’s all shift­ing sand”, many of these women go through post-trau­matic stress disor­der.

“You think it can’t get any worse and you’ve got to deal with peo­ple’s re­sponses,” she said.

When Natalie re­vealed her hus­band’s story to his mother, her mother-in-law, she re­sponded: “Well, didn’t you know that be­fore you mar­ried him?”

“All his friends ral­lied around him. Out of his whole fam­ily, with the ex­cep­tion of one aunt, not one per­son held him to ac­count – and the aun­tie was os­tracised by the fam­ily,” she said.

“They were vir­tu­ally pro­tect­ing him, and why was I try­ing to ruin his life? It was an in­sane re­sponse, my world had turned up­side down.’’ And then there was the po­lice. Natalie re­ported the of­fences – and they are crimes – and gave po­lice the con­tact num­ber of the mu­tual friend who had first found the ma­te­rial.

But they never con­tacted him and they never in­ves­ti­gated the claims.

And through it all, as the in­sid­i­ous reach of the dark web spread around the world, in­creas­ing the power of pae­dophiles, there was no sup­port as more and more part­ners/ spouses found the men in their lives in­ves­ti­gated, charged and ar­rested.

And for Natalie and Part­nerSPEAK, the fight goes on, and has barely be­gun.

For in­for­ma­tion or to ac­cess peer sup­port, go to www.part­nerspeak.org.au/

His en­tire life is built around hid­ing this se­cret, so you didn’t stand a chance

Photo: Sit­thixay Dit­thavong

Shat­tered dreams: Natalie Walker has cre­ated Part­nerSPEAK, an on­line fo­rum for part­ners of those look­ing at on­line child ex­ploita­tion ma­te­rial.

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