How can I help my sister cope with her husband's offenses?


Dear Stop It Now!,

My sister's husband got arrested for possession of child pornography of kids as young as 7. He was out on bail and will likely be going to prison next month. I need to know what resources I can give her to help her get through this. They are currently still together. It turns out he's been doing this for 15 years. She seems to think it's all about his legal consequences. She doesn't treat it like a trauma she has been through and refuses to see a therapist because that's what he needs, not her. I don't know what I can do for her.

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Dear Supportive Sister,

Helping a loved one through such a difficult situation can be challenging. It can be especially hard when they aren’t able or ready to address the way this has affected them. I’m glad that your sister has you for support, and that you’re writing to us for guidance.

Your Sister's Needs
It isn’t unusual for your sister to be focused on the consequences for her husband, even though this means she isn’t focusing on her own needs. There are so many Practical Difficulties that may be at the front of her mind right now. Her husband may have been a big part of her life, and his legal consequences can have a dramatic effect on her not only in regards to trauma but in many aspects of the day-to-day. Your sister may feel like it’s easier or even more important to focus on steps that may “fix” the situation and bring life back to normal, like addressing her husband’s behaviors or legal situation. She may still love her husband and want to focus on helping him with next steps. 

How You Can Help
Shifting her attention to her own emotional needs may take time, and the best thing you can do for your sister is to be patient with her while she goes through an emotional process that might include feelings of urgency, shock, and denial before she can address her own grief. You can share resources that may resonate with where she’s at in this process, like Ellen’s Story of Loving Them Both or Stop It Now! UK’s help for Family and Friends of adults who use illegal images. It may also help to ask what you can do to help her in the way she needs it most right now and let her guide you in being that support.

Thinking Ahead
You can also let her know that, when she’s ready, there are resources out there to address her trauma as well. The Partners of Sex Addicts Resource Center, though not specific to child pornography (most often referred to as "child sexual abuse imagry" or CSAM), may be a helpful resource as she starts to acknowledge her own feelings about what’s happened. You can help her with Finding Treatment local to you, and offer to help her with phone calls to providers or go with her to meetings or appointments. For many people, seeking professional support can be a frightening and overwhelming process, so extra moral support may be a big help.

As hard as it can be to watch the people we love go through such a painful experience, it’s important not to push your sister into steps she isn’t ready to take yet. Pushing too hard can turn a source of support into a source of pressure, and may actually make this process more difficult. Be there with your sister as she takes her healing journey at her own pace, and please don’t overlook your own need for support as you take that journey with her. What happened affects everyone in the family, including yourself, and it’s important that you also have an appropriate space to voice your feelings as you provide your sister with such loving support.

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: January 19th, 2022