My partner abused a child 20 years ago.
Dear Stop It Now!,
I've just broken up with my partner because of a secret he disclosed to me. He told me that when he was a young adult (over 20 years ago) he molested a young child. I have a lot of past traumas around relationship abuse, so this news triggered me and made me second guess everything. He used to break down on the phone and say that he's done a really bad thing and was scared to tell me. I would reassure him that bad actions don't have to make us bad people, and we can define who we want to be for our future.
I still believe what I said, but am not sure what I want to do. I told him he needs to talk to his therapist, which he's done, and his therapist informed the police - investigation pending. He has never hurt me but I am hurting from what this triggered in me. I feel upset for that child and concerned that this will affect my trust in him. I'm so confused. Is it possible to have a relationship with someone who abused a child?
Dear Concerned Partner,
I can only imagine how much this disclosure of abuse must have affected you - you may have felt shocked, scared, angry, confused, ashamed, upset - a mix of all of these and more. There is no one expected response after learning that someone you love sexually abused a child, but it's clear from your email just how much care and compassion you're bringing to this situation. I'm so glad you took the time to reach out to us.
People We Know
People who sexually abuse children most often are the people we know, love, trust and have relationships with. I say this not to scare you or to minimize what your ex did, but to clarify that people who sexually abuse and those at risk to harm are not just people "out there" but those we interact with everyday (especially since most children don't disclose abuse when they're being harmed, which means that legal intervention is also rare). However, when people are able to work with a sex-specific therapist and honestly engage with treatment, it is possible for them to work towards living a life they're proud of, free of harm or abuse if that's something that they are actively choosing for themselves. It does take time, work and honesty; I'm sure it's hard to confront the harm he may have caused and what got him to that spot - but it is a really important first step if he's serious about living a healthy and safe life.
- Does treatment for adults who have sexually abused children really work?
- Is there a typical profile of someone who sexually abuses children?
- Why would an adult sexually abuse a child?
Your Feelings Are Valid
But, that's not to minimize your reaction or how you feel at all. A relationship is built on trust, respect, the values you both share, and the future you want to build. Learning this must have been hugely jarring, and it's normal to wonder where to go from here, and how you will (or if you will) ever be able to trust him in the same way. You need to trust your gut right now, and your gut is telling you to take care of yourself first and foremost. This triggered something in you, and it's good that you're taking a step back to assess.
Navigating Next Steps with Support
A simple answer to your question is yes, it is possible to have a relationship with someone who has sexually abused a child if they are serious about staying safe and committed to change (and have/are working with a therapist). But - are you ready for that right now? You just had a huge bomb dropped on you, and it's totally normal, healthy and even necessary for you to need time to process what this means to you, your relationship together, and what the future holds. And you certainly don't have to navigate that all on your own. Do you have a therapist you're working with? If not, that is a vital next step that I hope you take for yourself. Certainly someone who is experienced working with adults who have abused and/or trauma therapy may be best positioned to help you right now.
This can be a way for you to share some of the feelings you’re having and to figure out what makes sense for you at your own pace. If this is something you’re interested in and you don't have this type of support already, I’d encourage you to search for the therapist that is right for you, as the right person (qualifications, personality, style) is key: this may mean talking to several people on the phone, asking about their experience in the field and goals of treatment, and seeing if they align with what you’re looking for. The second or third person you meet may be the person that you really connect with. This may lead you to figure out, with time and patience, how you want to move forward, and if you want to be in a relationship with this person, if you want to support them and be in their life as a friend, or if you need to take a step away from them altogether. There is no "correct" choice, only what makes sense to you and it's okay to take time and care in deciding. I've included some resources below.
Community and Connection
No matter your next steps, do remember that right now it's important to feel connected to your loved ones. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to disclose everything (or anything) that your partner has shared to your friends, family or others you're close with, but you can still reach out for their support right now. Ask for what you need - time to hang out, a distraction, a nice meal or an ear to vent some feelings; leaning on the people who care about you right now is important.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: August 29th, 2022