On a November evening in 2014, Leah Mouatt had a sinking feeling that her partner of six years was having an affair. Acting on a hunch, she picked up his laptop and began combing through online profiles hoping to find an answer. What she saw in those searches made her realize she was involved with a monster. Her partner was uploading and downloading images of children for the sole purpose of his sexual arousal. Leah was involved with a pedophile.
For nearly six years, Leah and Phillip Vellio had been in a committed relationship. The couple owned a home in Penrith, Australia. Philip worked as an IT project manager at a local University where he earned a good salary. He was charming, kind, and adored by most that knew him. From the outside looking in, their relationship seemed perfect.
However, as the years went on, Leah said Philip’s behavior became secretive. He spent a lot of time tucked away on his laptop. Leah began to suspect that Philip may be talking with other women online.
Then he started going out more frequently with friends. There were several nights that he didn’t come home. As Philip’s behavior became more unpredictable at home, Leah became convinced he was having an affair.
After months of secretive behavior, Philip told Leah he was leaving to have a beer with his friend Tim. While getting ready, Philip put on a collared shirt which Leah felt was an odd choice to wear to a pub. Before leaving the house, Philip appeared nervous and out of sorts. Leah had a sinking feeling that he was meeting another woman.
As soon as he left the house, Leah grabbed his laptop to try to figure out who he was meeting. She used his username to dig through Google to find any websites he may have used to meet the woman. Expecting to locate a name, Leah sleuthed through dozens of pages.
That evening Leah didn’t find the name of Philip’s mistress. Instead, she found a profile he had created on a pornographic website. By using his known username and password, Leah gained access into his profile. What she saw next made her stomach drop to the floor and made her hysterical.
On the website, Leah found photos Philip had uploaded of young girls. One of the pictures was of a friend’s daughter that was only fifteen years old. Philip made inappropriate comments under the picture. However, a photo of two girls under age ten is ultimately what changed her life forever.
Under an image of two girls that were between the ages of eight and ten years old, Philip made a comment that indicated the photo aroused him. When she saw the comment, she knew that Philip kept a dark secret from her for years. Philip was a pedophile.
After seeing the comment, Leah began sobbing and fell to the floor. She called a friend and asked her to come to pick her up. When her friend arrived, Leah told her what she had found. Her friend told Leah that she had to call the police. Leah knew without any hesitation that she needed to report Philip to police because she feared he was harming children.
Only hours after finding the photos, Leah sat down with police to share the details of her online search. Police requested access to Philip’s laptops and Ipad so that they could search for more images of children. Leah consented and allowed the police access to her home to take the items.
After meeting with police, Leah spent the night at her friend’s house. Early the next morning at around 3:30 am, Philip texted Leah to ask her where she put his Ipad. She told him that she found his account on the pornographic website and turned over all his electronic devices to police. Leah asked Philip to move out of the house.
Following her message to Philip, Leah expected to hear from him. However, Philip never spoke to her again. When she returned home in the morning, he was not there. A photo of the two of them had been removed from the wall, a knife was missing from the kitchen, and a dead rat laid on the floor.
Leah was fearful that Philip might attempt to either harm her or himself. She packed a few belongings, gathered her dogs, and left her home to stay at friend’s house.
The next few months were a blur for Leah. She learned through Philip’s family that he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. While he remained in the hospital, her in-laws fought her tooth and nail over all of the couple’s joint possessions. Philip’s parents believed Leah planted the photos in his laptop and wanted to ensure that she would be left with nothing.
As Leah fought with his parents over money, their home, and their dogs, the police scoured through Philip’s digital life. Police found 32,000 images and hundreds of videos. Of the pictures they found, thousands of them were photos of child sexual abuse.
According to the police report, a random sample of the images located 271 images of child sexual abuse. A scale used by police classified 178 of the photos depicted intercourse between an adult and a child, and fourteen of the images showed sadistic torture of a child.
Not only did Philip have disturbing images, but he also had hundreds of videos. Dozens of the videos depicted terrible sexual abuse to children, and one showed child torture.
Police determined that Philip downloaded all of the images and videos. He had not uploaded any of the child abuse images to his laptop. After making the discovery, police arrested Philip and charged him with possession of child sexual abuse images.
Despite the gravity of the images found by police, Philip received only a year of probation. The court required him to register as a sex offender for eight years, and the court-mandated he sees a psychiatrist during his probation.
Philip barely got a slap on the wrist, and his life continued as though nothing happened. On the other hand, Leah found herself within a tornado of emotions of confusion, hurt, isolation, and betrayal.
Even though Leah did the right thing and turned Philip into police, friends struggled to grasp her innocence in his crimes. Some people failed to realize that Leah was as much a victim to Philip as were the children whose images he possessed. Others didn’t know what to say or how to help her.
Instead of finding herself supported by friends, Leah was left completely abandoned by everyone close to her. The trauma of seeing the photos was only a part of her struggle with Philip’s crime. Leah realized that every part of her relationship with him was built on a lie.
Quickly, she started to feel violated for being intimate with him. If Leah had known Philip’s real personality, she never would have consented to a relationship of any kind with him. This violation and betrayal made her feel as though she would never be able to trust or love another man again.
She sank into a deep depression, and a psychologist diagnosed her with complex post-traumatic stress syndrome. Her chronic fatigue became more profound as the months went on. Leah found herself unable to work or function in the world. Soon after Philip’s arrest, Leah moved back to her parent’s home more than an hour away.
Perhaps most troubling for Leah was that she had no friends that could relate to what she went through. She desperately wanted to find other women that had gone through similar experiences, but she wasn’t sure where to look. Soon she found an organization, the only of its kind in Australia, that supported women like her called PartnerSPEAK.
PartnerSPEAK supports non-offending spouses and families of perpetrators of child sexual abuse and child exploitation material. Leah became friends with the founder Natalie who also found similar images on her husband’s laptop. Through this friendship, Leah found support, understanding, and a path toward healing.
After years of feeling silenced and alone, Leah realized she had no reason to feel shame for her involvement with Philip. Through this organization, she learned that she too had been a victim of Philip and a pawn in his twisted game. Leah stopped blaming herself for not knowing or missing warning signs. In fact, she learned that many of these offenders show no warning signs and are skilled at hiding their secrets.
Now almost five years removed from that horrific night in November 2014, Leah is well on her path of healing. She can now speak freely about the crime, aftermath, and trauma she experienced.
No longer bound by silence, Leah shared her account in an interview last night on “The Smoking Nun.” Her interview is raw, gritty, heartfelt, and dives deeply into her experience.
Leah’s advice to all spouses that are victims of these crimes is that they should not remain quiet. Spouses and partners are not perpetrators in these crimes. Therefore, there is no need for any of them to feel guilty for their spouse’s actions.
While PartnerSPEAK is located in Australia, their online forum is accessible to anyone around the world. Additionally, partners of offenders should consider finding a support system and psychologist to manage their trauma.
Photos of child sexual abuse are shared rampantly online. Many individuals use a dark web browser called TOR to access the content. In 2016, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations located more than. 1.3 million images of children subjected to violent sexual abuse on a single website. Another organization found more than 26 million images of child sexual abuse.
Every single image of child sexual abuse is evidence of a crime. When a person views the picture, they become a perpetrator of a crime against the child. Every single person that looks at these photos victimizes the child over and over.
The distribution of the material online has provided pedophiles easier access to these images. On a single website on TOR, 200,000 users were exchanging and viewing child sexual abuse photos.
Spouses of perpetrators often feel tremendous guilt and shame that their partner exploited and harmed a child. For Leah, one of the hardest parts of recovering was working through the pain she felt for the children.
Many spouses have no idea their partners are offenders. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often charming, kind, and create a mask that hides their dark secrets. Leah and women like her are not responsible for their partner’s crimes. These are women that are also victims. Their voices need to be heard so we can truly understand the full impact of child sexual abuse.
Watch our full interview with Leah:
*All information for this article was received from Leah Mouatt. Police records, interviews, and statements were used to write this story.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
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