Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My friend of 50 years was jailed for child abuse

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Dear Virginia 

My friend of 50 years was jailed for two years for child abuse. I was so shocked. We belonged to a large friendship group, with dinner parties at his home. Since then, contact between us all has stopped. It is as if a pall of embarrassment has fallen on us all. My friend didn’t answer the Facebook message I sent him saying I had always considered him a friend. I’ve always thought him a nice guy, educated, generous and well-liked.  He was full of remorse, but two of the girls are, according to reports, still traumatised. What should I do?

Yours sincerely, Greville

Virginia says...

It sounds to me as if you’re hankering for a continuation of the good times, even though your friend is in prison. And no wonder – you’re feeling the loss of a gang of affectionate friends. If I’m right, have you thought of initiating some social events yourself? You’ve got no idea – maybe your friends are longing to be asked to dinner, but are too embarrassed to set the ball rolling. Someone’s got to do it – so why not you? The worst they can do is say no.

But if they do say no, it’ll be because they feel tainted by having ever been associated with this man. These feelings are very primitive. They may feel that just to be connected again in the same way will remind them of the child abuse, and of their friendship with a man who they now feel is completely beyond the pale. They don’t want to be reminded that they once drank wine at his table, ate his food, laughed at his jokes and, if they were honest, actually felt fond of the chap.

They can’t disassociate his generosity and kindness as a friend from his unspeakable sexual predilections, even though, most unusually, I must say, he appears to feel intense remorse for what he did. But it seems, from your Facebook message to him, as if you are prepared to maintain your friendship with this man, despite what he’s done. You appear to hate the sin but love the sinner.

If you really want to stay friends, I’d find out what prison this man is in and start writing to him. (He almost certainly won’t have been allowed to use Facebook). Almost certainly, he’ll be overjoyed to hear from you. But remember that it’s one thing to offer succour and support to a criminal in prison, but another to deal with their friendship when they get out. Are you strong enough? I’ve been in your position a couple of times and naturally been pleased to see my friends when they’re released. But when I’ve mentioned that I’m having supper with someone who’s been in prison for sexual offences or attempted murder, I’ve noticed other friends can shrink away from me and say: “But how could you?” You may think that being imprisoned is enough without being socially shunned as well, but not everyone agrees.

So I suggest that, first, you ask everyone over and see if you get a response. But don’t be surprised if you get a cool reaction – and even if you do get a group together, remember it will never be quite the same without your friend’s presence.

And second, do stay in touch with your friend, but only after you’ve made sure you can cope with the follow-through when he’s out. To befriend him in prison and shun when he’s free would be too cruel. Even to a child abuser like him.

Readers say...

Write him a letter

Greville, he may not have been able to access Facebook. I think that you should write him an old-fashioned letter of support and friendship. Also, find out where he plans to live afterwards, and look into local support groups and rehabilitation services, in readiness for his release.

Rachel Davies, by email

Don’t write him off

This man has already been punished through the courts: is it for us to add to his punishment? If you can be sure that he is persevering with any medication and/or therapy prescribed, and that nothing your group does brings him into contact with vulnerable people – abusers are often tempted to re-offend – then don’t write  him off.

Bob, by email

Is he really guilty?

Not all convictions are sound. You must make your own mind up both as to the seriousness of the crime and his guilt. 

If you believe he should have been charged and that he was correctly found guilty, then drop him.

If you think the offence should not have ended in court and/or that he is not guilty, then don’t.

Deborah, by email

Keep your distance

I cannot understand why you want to remain friends with somebody who has.been found guilty of abusing children. You need to keep your distance and get on with your life. If you don’t, and you pursue this friendship, people may turn against you.

Angela Laird, by email

Have nothing to do with him

Do not have anything to do with him. I know we are supposed to forgive, but this is unforgivable. If, that is, you are absolutely sure he did what they say he did. And it sounds as if you are. The more we can show that the world will not accept such behaviour from  men towards young girls the better a place it will be.

As for the other people in your group, they will sort things out the way they want to, and it may be that you can continue to be friends without him. It will take time, that’s all.

June Rogers, by email

Next week's dilemma

I stopped drinking six months ago. I never appeared drunk and none of my friends knew I drank so much (two bottles of wine a night sometimes) but I felt bad, physically and emotionally, so I gave up. I had often tried, but this time, it worked. The problem is that although I have found I feel better, I find socialising really hard, and now I’m going through a very tough time and long to pop out and get a bottle of wine. I have read a book on drinking moderately, and wonder if it will work for me? And yet I don’t want to risk going back to heavy drinking. Do you have any advice?

Yours sincerely,



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