How would you advise a woman who has just discovered that her husband is viewing child pornography? I'm very sorry to say that this is my personal situation. I have a young daughter from a previous marriage who lives with us. I love my husband and want our marriage to survive, but at the same time I need to protect my daughter and make sure she remains safe. What should I do?
As you must realize, this is a very serious situation. It merits careful attention and decisive action on every level.
Spiritually speaking, it's difficult to think of an offense more odious to God than involvement with child pornography. Children are precious to our Heavenly Father. They get high ratings in the hierarchy of His Kingdom. "Whoever receives one little child like this in my name," says Jesus, "receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:5, 6). Shocking as it sounds, our Savior suggests that it would be better for a man to lose his life than to violate the innocence of a child.
Child porn use is also a very serious matter in the eyes of the law. In most states (if not all) it's regarded as a felony. This means that people who get caught dabbling in activities of this kind go to prison for a long time. And once behind bars, they often find that their troubles are just beginning: so deeply ingrained in the human psyche is the idea that children need and deserve adult protection that even the most hardened criminals usually feel nothing but contempt for a fellow inmate who has been convicted of sexually abusing a child.
Nor is that all. The psychological and physiological implications of child porn use are similarly alarming. Sexual addictions, like every other kind of addiction, have been shown to create, in addition to chemical changes in the brain, anatomical and pathological alterations which result in various kinds of cerebral dysfunction. What's more, researchers have found that among convicted sex offenders there is an 85% correlation between viewing child pornography and actually participating in actual sexual relations with children. In other words, consumers of child porn often go on to act out their fantasies. As you can see, the level of danger associated with this activity is extremely high.
What does all of this mean for you? We'd suggest that there are at least four things you should be thinking about.
First, it's important to talk to your husband and find out exactly what's been going on and how far his habit has progressed. There's a big difference between a man who has looked at child pornography twice and a man who is deeply steeped in this kind of behavior. He may give you a large dose of denial or defensiveness in return for your trouble, but it's crucial to bring the issue up regardless of his reaction. If he displays a strong tendency to downplay the seriousness of the problem, it would be a good idea to introduce a third party into the discussion - someone who won't be taken in by deception or smooth talk.
Second, it will be important to determine the nature, duration, and frequency of your husband's use of child pornography. To this end, it's vital that you persuade him to meet with and be assessed by a competent licensed clinician who has been specially trained to deal with sexual addiction. A good therapist can help evaluate his overall attitude - for example, is he truly repentant and sorry for his actions, or does he refuse to admit that he's done anything wrong? The counselor will also be able to gauge your husband's receptivity to treatment.
Third, you may need to think about separating yourself and your daughter from your husband, at least for a while. We don't want to broad-brush your situation, but we've found that many women in your position tend to make light of their spouses' behavior out of a desire to "get back to normal." Don't make that mistake. Your child's safety is a matter of top priority in a case like this. When porn is in the house, there is always a possibility that it will have a direct impact on the behavior and actions of the user.
If you do decide that it's advisable to live apart for the time being, we think it would be best if you could persuade your husband to move out of the house. That way there's no need to disrupt your routine or upset your daughter any more than is absolutely necessary. If he won't cooperate, you may have no choice but to pack up and leave. But you'll want to make sure that your support system is in place, that people are praying for you, and that you actually have a place to stay - the home of a friend, family member, or neighbor - before taking that step. Lay out your plans, line up your resources, and make your arrangements prior to walking out the door. Do not wait until you are emotionally out of control and run the risk of making a snap decision that you will later regret.
Finally, once at a safe distance, you should also give some thought to the legal ramifications of the situation. The best way to do this is to consult with a reputable attorney. If you don't want to take this step right away, another option is to contact Child Protective Services with a "hypothetical" report - in other words, call them and say, "I know someone who is having serious domestic problems. What should I tell a woman who has discovered that her husband - the stepfather of her child - is involved with child pornography?"
Depending on the legal advice you get, you may come to the conclusion that it's time for you or your lawyer to report your husband to law enforcement officials. This is a decision you will have to come to on your own. We can't tell you what to do. But we would like to suggest that this is probably the best way to get him the help he needs: if the case comes to trial and he is convicted of a crime, the judge will probably order him to undergo individual therapy.
We understand that you love your husband and that you're willing to do anything you can to preserve your marriage. But you need to understand that love sometimes has to get tough. Under the circumstances, the most loving thing you can do is to put your husband on the pathway to recovery by shaking him out of his current pattern of behavior. As for your marriage, it's arguable that, in your case, the marital covenant has already been broken or seriously damaged. It's even possible that your marriage may ultimately prove unsalvageable. But there's no need to jump to that conclusion at this stage of the game. All of these questions will have to be addressed carefully and prayerfully within the context of counseling, preferably with the assistance of a trained marriage therapist.
If you'd like to discuss this question at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to give our Counseling Department a call. We have a number of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. They can also refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area. If this option appeals to you, you can reach our counselors for a free consultation at this number.
Bourke, M. and Hernandez, A., "The 'Butner Study' redux: A report of the incidence of hands-on child victimization by child pornography offenders." Journal of Family Violence, 2009. 24:183-191.
Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis (book)
Be Broken Ministries - Serves men (married, single, or divorced) and couples affected by pornography and other sexual struggles and strongholds.
HopeQuest - A comprehensive residential treatment facility dedicated to helping individuals and their familes find restoration and healing from sexual brokeness and addictive behavior.
Pure Intimacy - a Focus on the Family Web site offering articles and resources that assist both men and women in the pursuit of God-honoring sexual purity, and recovery and redemption from sexual brokenness.