“There two were plainclothes detectives on the doorstep asking to speak to my husband,” Hope recalls.
The two police officers specialised in child sexual abuse and this was the start of a living nightmare – the unravelling of decades of her former husband’s dark secrets. And the destruction of life as Hope and her two adult daughters knew it.
“I remember at the time my whole body was physically shaking. My husband was being interviewed by the police for the most disgusting crime ever. I couldn’t think of a friend to call … I just sat alone.”
Hope’s husband then made a shocking confession.
“At the time of the arrest, he confessed to me he had been a sex addict for many, many years. He wasn’t just sexually interested in little girls, he was sexually interested in any female,” says Hope.
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A year later, in 2018, Ryan was convicted of nine charges – three historical child molestation offences and three current child molestation charges. A further three charges related to his possession of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM.
When it comes to CSAM, things are getting much worse in the pandemic – mainly because we’re all at home on our computers. New data from the Australian eSafety Commission shows that child sexual abuse material (CSAM) reports to their office increased by 82 per cent in May this year, 97 per cent in June and 129 per cent in July 2020 compared to the same months last year.
For Hope, she had no idea her husband was looking at CSAM in their own home.
They’d met when she was 14 and he was in his mid-20s.
“His family came into our church and he pretty much set eyes on me from the day we first saw each other,” Hope recalls.
Hope’s mother was the product of a difficult wartime upbringing and lived with PTSD. She was not always a very nurturing to her seven children. For Hope, the lack of parental love gave her a message: You are unsupported and on your own in life.
“Because I was not happy in my childhood home, often feeling quite neglected, I was just ripe for someone like him to come along and say, ‘Oh, I’ll be your friend’,” Hope reflects.
“My parents weren’t pushing me into it (the relationship), but they weren’t doing anything to stop it either. It was just like, ‘Well, if she leaves and gets married, then that’s just one less child to feed.’”
Looking back at what attracted her to Ryan in the first place, she says: “We had a good friendship. We loved going on drives and picnics together. He was funny. I liked that he made me laugh.
“And in some kind of creepy way, I now see that all as just the perfect grooming for this ideal wife to cover up what was ultimately his first choice in life – and that wasn’t me. I know that now, but I didn’t know that then.”
A few days before Ryan was arrested, Hope had got a shocking call from her cousin, Sonia.* When Hope and Ryan had been newly dating, Sonia was just six years old. Sonia said Ryan had sexually abused her all those years ago. Now Sonia was a new mother herself she’d had a sick realisation.
“I don’t want him anywhere near my daughter,” Sonia told Hope on the phone.
“She sounded very angry in her voice and I was just starting to get really confused,” Hope says.
Having just found out about her husband’s double life, Hope went on to make a shattering discovery
“On our computer I found a file which I’d never seen before, openly entitled ‘Kiddie nudes’,” says Hope. “I could just see all these pictures of little girls, the same approximate age as my cousin all those years ago.
“They were six, seven-year-old blonde little girls, all deliberately photographed full frontal nude. And at the time I thought, ‘Oh, there’s more to this. There’s more’,” she says, “And I still think about those girls now. Where are those girls today? How have they been affected by being abused like this?”
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Hope took the brave step of immediately ringing the police, dobbing in a man she’d loved for decades. Law enforcement seized the home computer, hard drive and a pile of USBs.
“It was the hardest phone call that I’ve ever made in my life. The thing that rose up in me was, ‘I don’t care how much I love my husband. You can’t abuse other human beings,’” she says, her voice cracking.
After examining the evidence, that’s when police came to arrest Ryan.
What sticks most clearly in Hope’s mind from the day her world imploded is her own shock and confusion: “I don’t know what’s going on. Something’s going on and I’m just completely in the dark. I’m in the dark with my cousin. I’m in the dark with my husband.”
After his initial arrest and questioning, Ryan was sent home. But Hope found herself increasingly repulsed by him. After a week, she told him: “I can’t have you here anymore. I just am sick at the thought of you coming home knowing what you’ve done.”
Ryan asked her: “Well, where am I going to go?”
Hope replied, “Well, you’ve had a long time to think about it. You’ve been doing this for 30 years or more. You’re going to have to figure that out without me.”
Ryan was convicted of three historical child sex abuse charges against Sonia and three further charges relating to possession of reams of child exploitation material. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was another bombshell to come: three current child abuse charges against Hope’s brother’s young daughter.
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Altogether, Ryan spent nine months in prison and was placed on the child sex offender register for life. For Hope and her daughters, none of this heals the pain.
“He’s destroyed our family,” she tells me, “That’s what my brother said. We (siblings) don’t really have a lot to do with each other anymore. That’s what hurts me the most.
“Though my adult daughters are moving forward in their lives and healing slowly, this comes back like a tsunami every Father’s Day. They have to think about what he’s done. They have nothing to do with him and don’t hear from him.”
At the time of Ryan’s arrest, Hope was an integral part of her church community. But the congregation abandoned her once the news of his crimes filtered through.
“I was dropped like a hot brick,” Hope says, “It was like I had some virus and they would catch it by coming near me. People just stayed away from me. They don’t want their own reputation ruined by knowing somebody whose husband has gone to prison on child sex offence charges.”
Hope’s experience of being shamed and shunned by her community is a common one, according to Natalie Walker, CEO of PartnerSPEAK. The non-profit works with law enforcement to end child exploitation.
It also supports the innocent family members – like Hope – of men who use and produce child abuse material.
Natalie says the primary victims of these crimes are always children. But the intimate partners and close family members of perpetrators must be viewed as secondary victims.
“Knowing that they lived in the same home, shared the bed, were intimate with, had children with someone who was perpetrating this child sexual abuse is part of the non-offending partner’s trauma,” she explains.
“Often innocent partners in this position are shamed and stigmatised and lose everything. Even their own children and their homes. It’s therefore not uncommon for the people we work with to end up with a diagnosis of PTSD.”
Ginger Gorman is an social justice journalist, cyberhate expert and author of the award-winning book, Troll Hunting. Continue the conversation @gingergorman
Visit PartnerSPEAK website for peer support forum or access the web chat.
Contact the PartnerSPEAK Peerline: 1300 590 589
Disclaimer: Ginger works in a part-time media and communications role with PartnerSPEAK. She started this investigation before taking up that gig.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.
Originally published as Wife uncovers husband’s 30-year secret