Secondhand Pariah: A Plea for Empathy from the Girlfriend of a Sex Offender

Note: The author of this essay chooses to remain anonymous.

One morning in January of 2014 my life changed forever.

Out of nowhere, seven highly militarized FBI agents wielding guns and a search warrant raided the home that I shared with my partner. Barely awake, I couldn’t believe what was happening.

Then we discovered his charges: possession and distribution of child pornography.

He is not a monster; he is not even attracted to children. While he was on a torrent site looking for music to download, he came across pornographic images that he thought he’d check out, against his better judgment. He didn’t actively trade or send images, but due to the nature of torrenting his computer uploaded the files to other users. In just an instant he crossed a very dangerous line.

He spent two months in federal jail last year before being let out figure out his case. He had a public defender that was more interested in impressing the prosecutor, joking around with him and making lunch dates, than actually defending my boyfriend.

During the second meeting with his lawyer, he was informed that the prosecutor said that he can either plead guilty and be given between 5 and 11 years in prison or go to a jury trial. The lawyer warned my boyfriend that if he made them take him to a trial they’d throw the book at him and demand the maximum sentence for each image found. He was also told that he should take the deal because, if he went to a jury trial, the jury would hear “child pornography” and, in group disgust, would convict him even if no evidence was produced.

That is the stigma and fear cultivated in society over these crimes. “Stranger danger” has polarized the masses into a lynch mob deeming even non-violent and hands-off offenders as “child molesters” unfit for society.

The prosecutor haughtily laughed and said “try me” when the subject of a jury trial came up.

My boyfriend was petrified at the thought of prison. He’s only 33 years old, has no record, and is a small man of five feet and six inches with a slight build. He knows the ramifications of being branded a “chomo”, prison lingo for anyone with sex offenses that include minors.

Fearfully, he took the deal, pleading guilty. Last month he was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison, 15 years of supervised probation, a lifetime on the sex offender registry, and limited access to the internet for life.

His life is effectively ruined. He will have a very hard time finding any meaningful work or a place to live, and he will be vulnerable to attacks from vigilantes who find his name, photo, and address on the registry. Simply put, he’s going to be a walking target for the rest of his life.

As his partner, so will I. Because I have chosen to stick by him through this, I am guilty by association. I don’t condone what he did, but I know that he is still the good person I fell in love with. He didn’t touch anyone or attempt to talk to any minors online. The images he had on his computer were of girls between 12 and 17 years old. He was looking at girls who were attractive because they portrayed themselves as older. It’s still not right, but again: he hurt no one.

Despite all this, and though it makes great headlines for the authorities, there is a lot of collateral damage done in these sentences. The family of the offender has lost a valuable member of the family, a wage earner, and a loved one. We’re left to deal with the ramifications of their crime, and no one thinks about what this process does to the families of the offender.

We aren’t the ones convicted, yet we are treated as if we’re just as guilty as our loved ones. I’m not asking for sympathy, only a chance at understanding. People don’t want to associate with anyone having anything to do with sex offenses, but the crimes regarding children carry a special stigma that no one can understand unless it affects them personally. We’re “persona non grata,” and in our experience even those that say they understand are still found to be talking disparagingly about us behind our backs. Sadly, I’ve learned that I can trust no one, even lifelong friends.

I am disabled and my boyfriend was my caretaker. Several of his friends that said they’d be there for me when he went to prison have already bailed and blocked me from their lives. They don’t want to be associated with someone who has the “audacity” to stand by “such a person.” I’ve been deemed “sick” and “desperate,” and told that I must have enabled him to do what he did. I was blamed by his family for actually being the one who downloaded the material to set him up. They even spread rumors about me that I’m already with another guy “mooching” off him, and that I’m trolling adult dating sites.

It is really eye opening to be in this situation. The lynch mob mentality is not new to me, as I used to think the same thing. I immediately thought of those families as sick, demented, and deranged for sticking by sex offenders—even those with charges similar to my boyfriend. But I knew nothing about what he was doing, had no idea how or when he did it, or even knew where on the computer the images were kept.

Because of his listing on the sex offender registry, I felt unsafe alone in our house. In a desperate attempt to find safety I moved close to my family four states away. Now I have to be careful who I let into my life. I have to lie about what my boyfriend did or conceal his existence altogether. I know that as soon as the secret is out, I’m tainted.

I not only have to live with the fact that my partner is in prison, but I have to get used to a new city, make new friends, disassociate myself from my past, and start over. I’m 48 years old, and I never would have imagined being in this position. I worry about him every day and I’m still questioning why he did it. It could happen to anyone with a momentary lapse in common sense.

The federal minimum sentence of 5 years in prison for downloading illegal images is cruel and unusual punishment. People with hands-on offenses against minors can do less time than what my partner is facing. In a sense he was charged with a thought crime—disproportionately punished for what could happen in the future rather than what actually happened. The Department of Justice made up their mind about what he was thinking when he downloaded the images and who he is as a person. In court they made him out to be a drooling monster who will attack your kid at any moment, and they think similarly about the family, about me.

Society needs to wake up to the truth, not what’s been fed to them through government scare tactics and media sensationalism. If only people were able to not be so reactionary when it comes to computer ‘stings’ by the FBI, look at the facts, and see what a lot of these convictions actually mean.

Stop with the lynch mob mentality. Listen to facts with an open mind and try to put aside preconceived notions.

As it stands, I live in a completely unfamiliar place with a sibling as the only nearby person I know. My partner is in federal prison four states away and I have no way of even visiting him. Our only means of communication are through infrequent expensive phone calls and mail that rarely gets through. The prison industry does not care what they do to families of prisoners. We’re not even collateral damage. We are nothing to them.

I receive disability benefits and can’t afford to put money on his books every month, so he has to do without necessities like socks and underwear. Commissary? Forget about it. Because he was convicted of a computer crime he won’t have access to (paid) email either. I have no idea how we’ll make it. I even have to be careful who sees me mailing anything to him, since it says “Federal Prison” right on the address label.

Everything has changed. Life as we knew it is over. Every day is like waking up in the same nightmare, and I still haven’t been able to wake up. I don’t trust meeting new people because I don’t want to have to explain anything. And when he gets out? Having to worry about him getting a job or a place to live will be paramount, but that is far from all we’ll have to be concerned with.

The next time you hear of someone who is in a relationship with a person with a sex offense, listen to them. Don’t automatically assume. Just because we’re close to them doesn’t mean we did anything wrong, so don’t paint us with a scarlet letter. Some of us are good people. Some of us even need therapy to get through this and need to be surrounded by supportive people that don’t judge us because of what our loved ones did. It does nothing but create more problems with people that haven’t done anything wrong and are struggling to get through this in one piece.

And you might make a new friend. Please, bring an open mind and an open heart. We need you.

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  • To the writer of this: It took courage to share your truth. I applaud you for courageously sharing the very multi-layered life of being in a relationship with someone labeled as a ‘sex offender’. I want you to know you are not alone. I run a soulfully cultivated community for women who are in very similar shoes – some have stayed with their loved one and some have not. Feel free to drop by to connect when it feels good for you to do so. Sending much love.

  • yellowroselady1

    Andrew: this is a very compelling story and I will use parts of the thought process in my presentation next week at the Prisoner’s Family Conference next week in Dallas. I can’t stress enough the difference it would make the 3-million family members of the 819,218 registrants across the nation would decide..we have had enough and are willing to fight back. Our loved one has been adjudicated, paid their debt to society and want to live a law-abiding life in peace and we are bringing attention to the way our families are being treated and it needs to stop.

    The “crimes” range from urinating in public (indecent exposure), sexting, incest, mooning, exposure, false accusations by a soon-to-be ex-wife, angry girlfriend, or spiteful student, viewing abusive OR suggestive images of anyone18 years old or younger, playing doctor, prostitution, solicitation, Romeo and Juliet consensual sexual dating relationships, rape, endangering the welfare of a child and many others.

    The collateral damage experienced by our families are those of being harassed, threatened, children beaten, have signs placed in their yards, homes set on fire, vehicles damaged, asked to leave their churches and other organizations, children passed over for educational opportunities, have flyers distributed around their neighborhood, wives lose their jobs when someone learns they are married to a
    registrant….all these things occur when these people try to hold their family together and provide the three things that professionals state are needed for successful re-integration; a job, a place to live and a good support system.

    According to credible studies the recidivism rate for another “sexual” offense is 3.5 % and those who are beginning to educate families are advising the other 93-95% of sexual offenses come from within the victim’s family, friends and those having access to the children.

    Vicki Henry, President

    • “”compelling story”” ??? This “story” is not compelling, its the usual run of the mill propaganda manufactured by women who refuse to recognize the “men” in their life have thrown them under a bus for the sake of getting off with those society has determined is illegal. Its the textbook “I cant make it on my own, so therefore I will play martyr and position myself as the “suffering one” because I am too embarrassed to admit I chose a relationship based on a lie with a deviant.. Pretty black and white..

      • J. Effingham Bellweather

        I bet you’re a born-again, conservative “christian”, ‘publican tea-bagger, aren’t you?

  • cathy

    Facts stated so compelling and truthful. Lives and families ruined because of mistakes, lack of judgement, accidental, none of it matters, they hurt no one and they are not the ones people need to worry about – rapists and murderers who commit horrible crimes – those are the ones you need to fear. Set our people free and allow families to get their lives back.

  • Afraid I couldn’t get past the first paragraph, I have read it all before. Amazing the anonymous writer of this tale of woe will actually think the public will fall for it. Contrary to this “cut and paste” story, persons don’t appear on the ICAC radar then go on to refer to a FEDERAL AGENCY, issue warrants and have the FBI suit up and take down a guy who was looking for “music” and “accidently fell on a CP site. DOESNT HAPPEN and if the general public (who reads this crap) will take to a completed thought the sheer amount of evidence, effort and steps taken to mandate a raid for a successful prosecution then its a good thing the fairytale writer stays anonymous. “Society needs to wake up to the truth” is the only factual sentence in that long tangled web of sorrowful BS, she wants to pass off. What is textbook is the writer has now positioned herself to be the “victim” in this worthless story..

    • Mister Bender

      I’m not a person, like yourself who has more than 1300 comments in less than 2 yrs, that makes comments on these sort of things, but I really felt compelled to say something.
      When this man gets out of prison, no matter how hard his life will be, because of a crime he committed of his on accord, he will still have people who love him, and want the best for him. For love is an action, something that a person does, not something that they feel. And, like you, I offer no credentials for being an authority on the woes of society. Only what I think. And I think this man has a chance to overcome his past. But for you, you will always be a hater, a vindictive person, a self proclaimed hero, but more important, a lonely, bitter, old person that people count the minutes to get away from. How does that feel? And please, don’t even bother with calling me a molester or a defender of molesters, because you don’t know. But it is obvious of what you are.

    • Incorrect. This happens all the time. The FBI actually often setup stings to entrap people and I suspect child porn distributed by the FBI constitutes the majority of child porn available now due to it being criminalised in every country in the world. A man clicks the link and bang his life is over. Quite shocking as child porn is indeed a thought crime. It is disturbing that in the “land of the free” with its supposed “first amendment” it seems that child porn does not qualify as free expression despite the fact that it is.

      In the UK, a mass of arrests of literally thousands of people for child porn occurred all as a consequence of credit card fraud. There was a great deal of evidence of credit card fraud yet despite that many were convicted of credit card transactions alone or for possessing an image of a 16 year old wearing a bikini (which was criminalised in 2003 by feminists seeking to set the age of consent for porn higher than the age of consent for sex. Makes so much sense, huh?). This was known as “Operation Ore” led by Jim Gamble (horrible man) and was instigated by the FBI who jailed Thomas Reedy as the “kingpin” on similarly absurd charges for over 1000 years (!) which was “reduced” to, (if I remember correctly) 180 years on appeal (bet he was chuffed…) Those interested can read more about the travesty of Operation Ore and the failed class action appeal (likely due to political pressure) here:

  • ummmmm anonymous writes:The federal minimum sentence of 5 years in prison for downloading illegal images is cruel and unusual punishment. People with hands-on offenses against minors can do less time than what my partner is facing.””
    68% of those who have gone down for CP have a live victim. 78% of those who indulge in Child Porn use it as an “exhilarant ” prior to committing, used during or after (to relive the experience) of a Live crime . The AMOUNT of Child Porn confiscated at the time of arrest is in direct correlation to the AMOUNT of Live Victims the arrestee has abused.

    • Hi Valerie Parkhurst – woman with multiple convictions for violent offences and who would be serving a life sentence if you were: a) Male b) Black c) Not targetting sex offenders. Yet instead our wonderful “law(sic) enforcement” let you roam our streets with impunity because of your female privilege. Others can find more about you here:

      Anti sex offender vigilantism is a small world, isn’t it?

      To address your points, however, no 68% do not have a live victim. Studies which show these figures generally have significant bias as they come from reports by prison therapists. Unfortunately offenders are encouraged to report previous crimes they have committed to the point that they are penalised (longer sentence, higher risk category etc) and seen as being in denial if they don’t come up with a previous crime that they have committed. As a result, offenders may often make up crimes which they never actually committed.

      Other studies looking at more reliable data such as conviction rates find that only something like 1% commit a hands-on offence:

      A more significant and interesting study is the Milton Diamond study which found that legalising child pornography actually REDUCES rates of child sex abuse:

      So if anything child porn should be legalised not stigmatised.

      • You need to distinguish what “convictions” are numbnut. Kinda like that issue you have so much trouble with, as to “good touch, bad touch”

  • marie

    Thank you for publishing this essay, Andrew. I hope the writer reaches out to find others like her. With 819000+ registered sex offenders across the country, another wife of a sex offender cannot be too far away.

    The years of incarceration do NOTHING to affect the supply of illegal images. The videos my husband had, the images the writer’s partner had? Those images and videos are still available, still free.

    • It’s funny the FBI claim that “every image of a child being abused is that child being abused all over again” yet we know they distribute child porn themselves. Kind of makes their claim into a bit of a joke, doesn’t it? (e.g. In the men’s rights movement we have a word for cops like that: paedocrite (= paedophile + hypocrite).

      • The FBI has always been the Stasi law enforcer against any group or person that will not conform to establishment views. The FBI is an agency of the US Department of justice” (sic) that hypocritically specializes in deception, entrapment tricks, lies, and every conceivable operation necessary to thwart and disrupt democratic and truth movements that threaten the power and wealth of elite rule in the united [police] states of america (sic). The will use CP online entrapment to go after political dissidents who they want out of the way. Beware of email from strangers.

  • ShellyStow

    Thanks to the writer for this article. RSOL—Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc.advocates for a law enforcement only registry because public notification is not supported by facts and evidence and, in fact, is contradicted because it severely interferes with the criminal justice goals of rehabilitation and community re-assimilation following punishment.

    There are those who disagree with these goals, as is their
    right. In their posting of their disagreement, their comments primarily consist
    of name-calling and ridicule of those they see as their opponents. Having no
    evidence to support their points of view, they have little else at their disposal. Occasionally they will use broad, sweeping, unsupported generalizations, and they will sometimes even fabricate numbers and statistics. A simple search using a few
    relevant terms or phrases will clear up the confusion for anyone actually
    interested in the truth.

    RSOL is hosting its 7the annual national conference in Dallas, Texas in June. We would welcome supporters and skeptics alike. Visit our website for more information. Peace to all.

  • If only the FBI and the US Justice Department would only put as much zealous attention to White House war criminals, Wall Street fraudsters and environmental corporate polluters then we would all be better off.

  • No sane democratic people would ever allow their government to tell them what they may see, say and write. The First Amendment’s free speech clause is sacred to any free and liberty-minded people. But obviously the american (sic) people fell for one of the oldest political tricks in the book in that of getting a Constitutionally-flawed law enacted by the mere mention of protecting children. We really do have stupid and politically ignorant citizens today by letting the government trample the US Constitution. Its’ time for Constitutionally-minded citizens to take back their government.

    • We have even more stupid and legally ignorant citizens like yourself who think they can have sex with kids and declare it a “constitutional right” ..Chicken and or the egg numbnut..

      • Oh boohoo breaking the “magical” age of consent! What a horrible crime! That magic age of 18 when all of a sudden an innocent child turns into a fully sexually aware adult! You’ve convinced me! I must apologise for being rational, for questioning the “science” behind setting the age of consent at 18 (there is none), for looking at history to see a more “rational” approach (the age of consent used to be 7 in Delaware, for example), for questioning the verdicts of our kangaroo courts that rely not on evidence, but rhetoric. I apologise! I’ll never do it again! I’ll become a professional hypocrite like other men and advocate for killing paedophiles in order to save my own skin from the feminists!

      • J. Effingham Bellweather

        That isn’t what he wrote you pseudo-christian conservative ‘publican tea-bagger.

  • The vast number of sex offender laws and registries are brought about by one primary group: The Victims’ Rights Child Safety Political Extortion Racket (VRCSPER). This racket of especially the last twenty-five years has caused the destruction of legislative common sense, disrespect for facts and reason, converted criminal corrections into a criminal warehousing system and the uprooting of Constitutional protections for the accused. It’s time to repeal or reform laws that violate the First Amendment of our Constitution such as simply looking at mere images. Today it’s a war on child pornography. Tomorrow it might be a government war on Islamic, atheistic, anti-war, gun culture, or any other material, website, words or images that become banned and outlawed. If the government wants to stop child sexual abuse then investigate and prosecute the abusers of children.

  • mamabearroars

    This story is very typical of the “REAL DANGER” the media promotes as frightening. Child porn turns out to be innocent and not a person wanting to find the most horrific photos on prepubescent children and do harm to children. Looking a photos does NO HARM TO ANY CHILD. Those that kidnap, raped, torture, molest children are in a different category. These cases much to the lies that come from mainstream media are rare.

    Most “Child Porn” are young men who have come across a photo either innocently or actually looking for porn. They are have a nature normal desire for looking at young women and young or old men are visual and most people know this to be true.

    Porn industry is a billion dollar plus business. The neocon right wing of the political dial wants to make porn illegal and have worked at it for absolutely multiple decades and even a century.

    The problem is the devious corrupt politicians working for the corporate prison system legislated new felonies every year in huge batches to make sure they can keep their promise of a filled corrupt for profit prison system running slave labor smoothly.

    Television shows are filled with only one-sided information and actually “Point the Finger” of shame instead of giving a true picture of what the really truth is.

    Whether it is lies about the registrants that are labeled in the present tense to give the illusion to an immediate danger or ostracized from society after they paid for they “crime” where they have a difficult if not impossible time having a second chance and a place to live or a job. They suffer finding friends that see them not as an object of ridicule but as a person that has desires for a productive life.

    When we treat any group of people as separate from the rest of society – as “others” we are saying we are no different from the brown shirts, the good Germans, as the “others” were beaten, kicked in the streets, their businesses and homes taken from them and they then were executed.

    The most shocking part of this horrific history of the USA that we are now living in is that the churches and religious rhetoric preached on the pulpit has shown the money hungry capitalistic unforgiving greedy monsters they are. They have been silent during this massive assault on the constitutional freedoms of fellow citizens.

    Victims Rights organizations for sex offenses is highly financed by the federal government, supported with strong arm politics to the state and nationally elected politican’s. It is a political suicide to speak the truth about any topics in this category that are not part of the “Official Sanctioned Rhetoric.” Many people that have a finger pointed at them go for a coerced plea agreement and are actually innocent or greatly less culpability than they were charged with. 97% of all felonies are plead out.

    Every crime show on television is designed for profit and selling advertising by how many watch. The more emotional they make the program, the more salacious the more viewers. Humans love to gawk at a freeway accident and this works in the same way with the human mind.

  • Sex offender #17,098,234

    I know what you are going through and can only say that I am sorry you have to experience what can only be described as “deranged moral panic”. Your essay was very well written and spot on.

  • Ethan L.

    I am so sorry to hear about what you are going through, and what your man is going through, all because of the stigma attached to sexuality, and especially children and sexuality. That we as a society are willing to punish innocent people with a lifetime of misery in order to make ourselves feel self righteous—this is something we ought to be ashamed of. This antisexual attitude is mostly a phenomenon found in so-called Christian nations, yet it is a decidedly anti-Christian attitude. Christ taught that his followers ought to be known for their love—love for each other, love for their neighbors, love even for their enemies. The well-known story of the Good Samaritan shows us what Jesus meant by his followers loving their neighbor. And this is the attitude that Christians ought to have toward sex offenders and their families. I am a Christian, and I would like to apologize for the anti-Christian attitude of those who call themselves Christians. And if there is anything I can do to help, I will do it, for you and for anybody caught up in this ungodly witch hunt.

    I especially appreciate your willingness to stand by your man in spite of it all. I pray that God’s blessing will be upon you for doing so, and may He help you through these hard times.

  • Srh S

    He was “curious” for a reason. Statistics show that child kidnappers and rapists all start out looking it child porn. ZERO tolerance should be acceptable.

    • Michael Kelsey

      Show us these statistics…I’m 99.999999999% sure you just made this up. Your desire for brief moments of self righteousness is the very root of this problem…your just a few clicks away from being in this situation. Keep doing your ‘research’ you’ll find out soon enough.

      • J. Effingham Bellweather

        It’d serve pompous, self-righteous “law-and-order” pinheads right. I revel at the news of an AR ex-trooper and a ME former attorney general getting their asses kicked by the very same system they help to build.

    • J. Effingham Bellweather

      Which “statistics”? Citations please.

  • J. Effingham Bellweather

    Very well said Andrew. Sending you nothing but love and good thoughts.