Wives break silence after child sex images emerge

Victoria MP Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins. - Photo: Supplied

Three Australian women who discovered their husbands had stashes of images featuring sexual abuse of children say many New Zealand women could face the same situation.

They say the country needs a support group to help break the silence around a "time bomb".

Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins said she would never forget what she saw on her husband's computer in February 2016.

"I find myself now unconsciously searching the faces of little girls I see on the streets, distressed when a face triggers a memory of a photo or a video of a little girl that I glimpsed at in his collection," she told the Victorian State Parliament, where she is an MP, in a recent speech.

A second woman, Dr Desley Lodwick of Melbourne, has also spoken up about what she went through in 2003, when she said she feared for her life.

"As soon as I spoke to the police I realised that my physical safety would be potentially compromised," Dr Lodwick told RNZ.

"I felt my life was in danger. I had no money, he had taken everything."

The third woman, Natalie Walker, has told a sex abuse conference in Auckland how she set up PartnerSPEAK in Australia, after her own experience 15 years ago, and she believed it was the world's only such support group for people in these situations.

The lack of research into the problem indicated what a taboo issue it still was, said Ms Walker.

Dr Carling-Jenkins told RNZ she had people tell her she should not have gone to the police.

"People who think that I should've attempted to help him, to save my marriage. I've had some quite serious threats from what had been mutual friends - 'I know what you've done, how dare you do this, I'm going to make sure you get exposed' - and I hadn't done anything wrong."

She wanted it on the record what had happened, she said, but even when she emerged from her speech in Parliament, she received abuse online.

Back in 2016, she had suspicions something was wrong, but did not know exactly what, until she checked the computer.

"I left the house, I packed bags and I left and I've never been back. In my brain the marriage just ended right then, right there. My entire world and the entire world of my son changed, absolutely."

She went straight to the police - who she said were "fantastic" - to give her ex-husband Gary Jenkins no chance to delete the files.

He was jailed this year for four months on one charge of possessing the images.

Dr Lodwick said it was much more difficult to go to the police in 2003.

She described going to six different law enforcement agencies, partly because her ex-husband had gone to Canada, and being treated with "disdain".

The few friends and family she told did not know what to do or say.

"As I've since realised, you start to get tarred with the same offender brush yourself - 'Well, why didn't she know?'"

Her ex-husband was jailed in 2009 for six and a half years, and it was revealed in court he had discussed in emails getting hold of children in Asia and South America for sex.

RNZ has agreed not to name him.

The police had improved their response but also had a long way to go, and so did wider society, said Dr Lodwick.

"The trolling of me after I spoke up was amazing - 'She's just as much to blame', 'of course she knew', 'how dare she wait to report him to the police', that sort of thing."

The extent of the use of these images was a "time bomb" for families, she said.

Ms Walker wants the partners of offenders to be classified as secondary victims of crime. Many went through post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

She described how the deception works.

"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.''

Australia conducts more than 5000 investigations into images of sexual abuse of children each year. Comparative figures for New Zealand are being sought.

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