Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

The Wives of Pedophiles Always Know the Truth

Don't think for a minute that Sandusky's wife isn't guilty, too.

The Jerry Sandusky trial has put pedophilia front and center in recent weeks, and I’ve heard more grotesque details about the abuse of multiple boys than I can stomach. Yes, it turns out Sandusky is guilty, so he’ll go to prison as he should for committing the crimes. But what about the adults around him who knew and covered it up or suspected but chose to ignore it? Moreover, what about the other adult in Sandusky’s home – his wife? When it comes to his wife, I think she may be guilty of child endangerment, too. Seriously, what was his wife thinking all those years when her husband must have lit up like a Christmas tree every time a young boy came over – and spent the night, to boot?

Sandusky isn’t the first man who’s been accused of pedophilia. Though his case is the one that’s hogging the spotlight now, many other lesser-known cases came before him. In many pedophilia cases, the men, like Sandusky, were married. I think it’s time we consider what’s going on in the mind of these women. Simply put, the knowledge and insight of years of clinical experience tell me that these women – Sandusky’s wife, included – must have known something was a little off.

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On occasion, the news reports stories of isolated sexual abuse cases. In these instances, the perpetrators can successfully hide their behavior from others close to them. In Sandusky’s case, however, the abuse impacted at least ten boys over a period of many years – and these are just the boys who came forward. My point: there was a long-term pattern. As a parent myself, I can relate to appreciating children. As a therapist, I can additionally relate to caring for children and adults who come from impoverished backgrounds, as was the case with some of the boys Sandusky molested. That said, I don’t feel the need or interest in having a host of young kids spend the night at my house. It goes without saying that I’m like most people in this respect.

Consider your own circumstances for a moment. If your husband or wife had such an incredible interest in this population of children – attention directed toward only one sex, mind you – you would probably think it’s a little unusual. Without question, you’d become even more curious if your middle-aged partner were spending time in the basement with these kids. One thing I’ve learned from my clinical experience is that people have strong instincts, and those instincts – whether you choose to listen to them or not – tell you what’s going on. In the case of Sandusky’s wife, I will tell you – without ever having assessed her or her husband – that she had her suspicions. No, she won’t own up to them, and I’ll tell you why.

Psychologically, there are few things as upsetting as imagining that your husband is the kind of man who would sexually abuse a child. Conventional wisdom says that pedophiles are monsters – and especially evil monsters, at that. Understandably, we view children as innocent and can’t wrap our heads around why anyone would harm them in such a sinister way. This is one of the reasons why Sandusky’s wife – and the wives of other pedophiles – don’t want to believe that the man they married is an actual child molester. However, leave no doubt that these women fear, deep down, that there is a major problem.

While the pedophile often feels little guilt, anxiety, or remorse about their own behavior, the wives feel significant anxiety but use denial and rationalization to sweep their suspicions under the rug. They don't focus on the feelings of the victim because all their energy goes into feeling sorry for themselves because they made a mistake in choosing the wrong man to marry. The wives of pedophiles rarely admit to others that they knew or suspected what was going on, but these are their thoughts and fears in their most dark and private moments.

Above all, why these women don't come forward or even admit the problem to themselves for more than a minute or two is that they don't want their husband to get in trouble with the law, because this would call attention to the women by their sides and make the women look guilty, too, for standing by all along as boy after boy gets abused.

The wives of pedophiles usually have their own set of problems to deal with as a result of their suspicions that their husbands are child molesters. Odds are that Sandusky’s wife and the wives of other pedophiles have sleep and eating issues, and sometimes isolate themselves from friendships that get too close for fear that they’d spill the beans and share their fears about what’s happening at home. I also believe that many of these women are on some sort of psychiatric medication to help them deal with anxiety and depression.

Though I don’t wish psychological problems on anyone, the wives of pedophiles should be accountable for having suspicions but dismissing them to protect their husbands or the status quo – and anxiety is a lot easier to deal with than prison time. My hope for the future is that the wives of pedophiles who haven’t yet been caught get honest about their suspicions and actually do something about it.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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