Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Divorce Diaries: ‘My Husband Sexually Assaulted His Colleague. I’m Embarrassed it Took Me So Long, But I Am So Thankful For Her’

TW: Sexual assault

Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries: Today, we hear from a woman who found out her husband assaulted a woman – a colleague of his. Her husband lost his job and over time she learned the truth about what her husband really did. Sarah is telling the story but she says it’s not really her story – she certainly doesn’t need anyone to feel sorry for her – instead, she hopes women will know that other women will always be there to support them if they come forward when they have been assaulted.

In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from when you’re most likely to divorce to whether they’re contagious to whether being on the contraceptive pill can effect your chances! and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old, another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband and one who discovered the real reason her husband divorced her was because he had a baby with her SISTER.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected].

The phone rang at midnight. A call at that hour is rarely good news.

Ordinarily Sarah’s phone would be off, but she was overseas due to a family emergency and had made a habit of having her phone on and next to her when travelling.

When she picked up the phone, half-asleep and jet-lagged, and saw that it was her husband, she wondered if he’d just got the time difference wrong, again. She desperately hoped it wasn’t bad news. She hoped her children – who now lived away from home – were safe.

But her husband sounded flustered. He had a bit of bad news, he said. Once Sarah ascertained that everyone was alive and well, she listened to his news.

He’d lost his job. He’d been let go, or stood down, or something (he seemed to use different ways of explaining it as he stumbled over his words). He sounded in shock.

The details were confusing. Someone had made a complaint, he said, a complaint that was entirely made up and the whole thing was a misunderstanding. But he wanted her to know right away in case someone got in touch.

“I remember asking, ‘who might call?’” says Sarah. “And he said, ‘I don’t know, a journalist? I don’t know how these things work!’ That’s when something in my stomach really started to clench. I knew there was a lot more to this story than what he was saying.

“I asked what story had been made up and he told me a girl at his work had a crush on him and when he rejected her advances, she made up a story.”

She says after trying to get more details, which he said he was still trying to get himself, they ended the call and she tried to go back to sleep.

“That was years ago now and I still don’t think I’ve had a good night’s sleep since.”

There’s not a lot of detail that we can go into, but Sarah’s husband was stood down from his job – a job he eventually lost after it was determined that he sexually assaulted a female colleague, Kate. Her husband still denies it happened, but has also changed his version of events several times. At first he denied any contact took place, and then conceded it did, but that it was consensual.

“It was six months after he first told me about it, that I read the statement his colleague gave and I knew after reading that, that he had done it, without a shadow of a doubt,” says Sarah. “I would never have thought my husband – the man I knew for decades – would be capable of it, but when I read some of the details in her statement, I knew he had done it. It was him.”

Sarah says it took her “too long” to come to that conclusion. “If I’m honest with myself, I suspected he had done something very wrong when he called that night while I was overseas,” she says. “I could tell something was off with what he was saying to me. Honestly? I hoped he’d had an affair with her. To think he assaulted her, is… well, there are no words, are there.”

Admitting to herself that her husband was capable of such an act, was horrifying.

“It meant reassessing every moment of my marriage,” she says. “It broke my heart in a million ways. It fractured my family. It meant so many unimaginable conversations, including with my children. The words ‘embarrassing’ or ‘undignified’ don’t even begin to cover it.”

“But look, that’s not what I want to focus on,” says Sarah. “This is not a story about me. I would hate for anyone to read this and primarily think about me, or feel sorry for me. Because while it has upended my life, yes, it’s nothing compared to the experience of being assaulted. Kate is the one who has endured something so much more horrific, and she is the one who deserves to be lifted up and supported. She is the reason I want to be vocal about this and not hide it all away.”

Sarah says that after reading the statement, she ended things entirely with her husband – who she had been living separately from for few months prior, while they worked on their marriage. She then got in touch with a friend, to see if they could reach out to Kate on her behalf.

“I wanted to reach out,” says Sarah. “But I didn’t want to cause her any further distress by hearing or seeing anything from me. I was torn with what to do, but it felt important to me that she knew she had my support. My husband told her no one would believe her – especially not me – and I imagine it happens that way, frequently. But I didn’t want it to be a selfish act, in which I tried to dimmish my own guilt about the situation (it’s funny that you can feel so guilty about something you haven’t done, but that feels like your burden when it is done by your spouse), but I hated the thought of her thinking that he hadn’t had to pay for what he did with everything in his life. It cost him his job, his reputation, and his family. I wanted her to know that. And to thank her.”

Sarah says she often thinks about Kate and whether there were more women like her.

“What if she wasn’t the first?” she says. “What if she was just the first to do something about it? I think about that most days and think about how she may have stopped it from happening to someone else. I wanted to thank her, genuinely for stopping this happening to anyone else.”

In the end, Kate agreed to receiving a handwritten letter from Sarah.

“What on earth do you say to a woman who has been through hell due to your husband?” says Sarah. “What do you say to the woman who your husband sexually assaulted? There’s no guidebook for this.”

But Sarah knew what was in her heart and poured that out.

She ended up receiving a letter back, and she and Kate have kept in touch via email.

“It has been several years now, and she has had many professional and personal wins and it has filled me with so much joy and admiration to watch her succeed,” says Sarah.

And in those years Sarah is also learning to forge ahead in her own life.

“Therapy has been a godsend,” she says. “I think I am finally in a place where I can allow myself to invite happiness back into my life and feel worthy of it. For the last while, I have not felt deserving of it. My ex-husband’s actions tainted every happy memory, or bit of confidence I had in myself, my convictions, and my intuition. But I am regaining it.”

She says one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was one that was very unexpected. Unfortunately, she is now estranged from her elderly mother after she continued to believe that her husband was not capable of the assault, and could not understand Sarah’s decision to divorce him. “She comes from a ‘stand by your man’ era, coupled with some different religious beliefs, that I think mean that even if she were to see him capable of his crime, that she would still see the bigger problem being that I chose to divorce him. Again, therapy is helping and with my therapist’s help I have set boundaries for myself which mean I will no longer chase my mother to be in communication or to gain her approval.”

Sarah says she wanted to share her story for a number of reasons.

“Sexual assaults happen much too often, and are reported far too infrequently,” she says. “I want women to know there are many of us out there who will support you if you come forward.

“And if there are any women out there like me, who were sitting there, trying to bury any feelings or bits of intuition telling us that our husbands had done something very wrong, that it is far less horrible to face up to that reality than it is to live that false life. I wish I had come to that realisation sooner. It’s one of my many regrets, but it’s one I’m learning to live with. I’m not even saying your husband has to have done something as terrible as mine did, but maybe you know deep down a terrible truth about your partner. It’s a much lonelier and sad life to keep up appearances and maintain that false relationship than it is to face the truth. As they say, the truth will set you free.”

Where to get help for sexual violence

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