My waking nightmare started on January 31 more than 10 years ago. That was the day my family’s life imploded in a spectacular and life-altering fashion. I’m going to share my story with you, but not my name to protect my children.
That day my husband of 20 years was arrested and my daughter disclosed that her father had been molesting her. Law enforcement said he’d been creating sexual abuse images of her and trading them with pedophiles around the world. I had no idea that by the end of the day, I’d be the sole parent of three traumatized children, trying to figure out how and why this happened and what to do next.
The next morning, I got up and hired a lawyer to help me figure out our rights in the face of these heinous crimes. Then I hired a divorce attorney. I was fortunate that the law enforcement officers assigned to our case were helpful, kind and wanted to help us through this trauma.
When you’re a victim in this kind of case, the way you’re treated by the professionals you need to get through this makes a huge difference! We have had great support from our therapists, FBI agents, attorneys, Justice Department officials and many others, but it took a lot of work to advocate for all the help to come to us. My family was amazingly wonderful and supportive – we were very lucky that way.
During this trying time, the FBI agent on our case kept mentioning “NCMEC.” I had no idea what that acronym meant. He explained that it was the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the leading non-profit organization on issues of missing and sexually exploited children. He told me about a NCMEC program that helps law enforcement identify children in sexual abuse images on the internet. My daughter was now an identified child in the program, he said, and authorities will be alerted if they find any of her images.
I immediately went to the NCMEC website, at www.missingkids.org, and found Team HOPE. At the time, it was only for relatives of missing children, but after contacting Abby Potash, the program director, she expanded it to help parents of sexually exploited children as well.