The struggle of a family shamed

A woman’s reply to Rapke’s claims
“JANE” had an unusual childhood. Her father was a Salvation Army officer who brought home all sorts. She remembers as a child sitting in a gutter chatting to an alcoholic. Growing up, many of her best friends were criminals.
It prepared her – as much as anything could – for what was to come.
Several years ago her husband was jailed for child-sex offences. Jane stood by him. She waited for him to get out, read all that she could find about pedophilia, got him counselling – and now watches him like a hawk to ensure he does not re-offend.
That decision to stay destroyed life as she knew it. She can no longer get jobs in either of her two professions, social work and teaching. Her house is being taken by the state (not Victoria) as compensation for her husband’s crimes.
“Do you want a list of what I lost? Most of my friends – I really only kept my two children and my father. I lost my reputation – people think I’m sinister. I lost my peace of mind, I lost my trust in him, I lost my sexuality – I went into menopause the day I heard what he did.” Her Christian belief in the primacy of forgiveness has cost her dearly. But she finds it even harder to forgive this week’s comments by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, about offenders.
As well as calling for longer jail terms, Mr Rapke complained about the psychologising of crime. He said defence lawyers always tendered psychiatric reports about an accused’s childhood suffering as if that somehow explained the offences: “In some cases it may … But I can’t accept that an adult … could always call upon their unhappy childhood as an explanation for their thoroughly bad conduct. There are some people who are just bad.”
Jane says such condemnation makes it more difficult for offenders trying to stay straight because it leaves them isolated and depressed and adds to their self-loathing, all risk factors that could tip them back into molesting.
She says: “I just want you to imagine that you are a 15-year-old boy at school and that you have just discovered that you are sexually attracted to children. You would like to get some help. Would you put up your hand and ask for it?
“There are boys in school who know this about themselves. What do we teach them? That those men are beyond forgiveness.”
Jane admires Mr Rapke’s skill as a prosecutor. While fostering and testifying for a young man accused of helping his father commit a murder several years ago, she was on the receiving end of one of Mr Rapke’s cross-examinations.
But of his remarks in The Age, Jane says: “Comments like that teach the community to hate and to stay in this ignorant mindset that one group is all good and one group is all bad. God Almighty, I really could have smacked him.
“These men are victims too. Today’s child-sex perpetrators are yesterday’s victims of pedophiles. If we don’t do something about today’s victims, they will be tomorrow’s perpetrators – not all, but some of them definitely will.”
Jane’s husband was molested as a child. The young murderer she fostered while he was on bail had grown up in a criminal family. “That’s what Jeremy left out of his story: the effect of environment. This kid grew up having police raids in the middle of the night and a shotgun in his face, from when he was very little.”
Her sympathy for offenders is not boundless – the young man’s father got 23 years, “and I was glad for every minute of it! The father was just one of those evil men that Jeremy Rapke was talking about.”
But she believes it is important to differentiate between such hard cases and those who can be rehabilitated – and many child-sex offenders can be, she says.
Jane knows the risk factors now: access to victims, emotional collapse, substance abuse, more sexual preoccupations than normal, becoming suddenly hostile, rejecting supervision – and rejection by others. If she sees any one of them, she and her husband go together to his counsellor.
Asked how she felt when she heard about her husband’s crime, her eyes fill with tears. “Oh God, murder was on the agenda – me murdering him.”
She cries again when asked what she thinks the effect on children is. She tries hard not to keep imagining what must have happened.
“But I love my husband and I see the desperate struggle he has. I wouldn’t toss him away if he had anything else wrong with him. He’s got this wrong with him, and he’s doing everything in his power to do something about it.”
Is she ever tempted to leave?
“Every week. It’s the trauma of having to hide yourself. That’s the biggest burden we live with.”
“Outed” by the media when they were living interstate, she fended off phone calls “telling me all the different ways they would kill us” and sat in her home at night while men drove around her property shouting abuse.
Jane and her husband go through “mental gymnastics” about every choice in life. He was offered a humble job cleaning public toilets but realised he could not accept even that because he might run into a child alone.
Meanwhile, Jane continues to push for offender programs and for the message she feels society does not want to hear: “Forgiveness is the only thing that works. I’m sorry, but it is.”
“Jane” is not her real name.

First published in The Age.