WHEN plainclothes police walked through Nijole Lucinskaite's front door she was, as she describes it, "a stunned mullet".
They were escorting her husband of eight years through the couple's property, looking for one thing in particular.
They moved straight to the computer room where later they'd find as many as 22,000 photographs and 900 videos of young girls and boys being exploited.
The house in Brunswick, 4km north of Melbourne, was suddenly transformed from a family home to a crime scene, and all of it was news to Ms Lucinskaite.
She asked police to explain what they were looking for. They told her to ask her husband. That's the moment she realised the person she loved most was the person she knew least.
'NOBODY WANTED TO LISTEN'
"He confessed to me straight away," the now single Ms Lucinskaite told news.com.au. Her husband told her he had a penchant for child pornography.
Suddenly she feared the worst: that his daughter from a former marriage was implicated, or worse, that the grandchildren were somehow involved.
He insisted they weren't, but how could she trust him now? It would take a gruelling 18 months for police to sift through the material.
"Eventually I was told they had looked at all the photos and didn't recognise any of the children."
It's been seven years since police walked through her door and only now is she starting to feel like herself again. Now in her early 70s, she finds her sense of humour returning but admits she still struggles with the past.
To move on from it, she's identifying herself for the first time. She wants to talk about it because for years she was forced to pretend it didn't happen, to attach shame to it.
"I was left to pick up the pieces - my face was the face in the community that was judged and questioned while he was neatly tucked away in a jail cell amongst his peer group.
"There's so much I suppressed, wanting to tell the story but nobody wanted to listen," she said.
Now she has an audience. Today, she addressed a world-first conference in Melbourne alongside other women whose former partners were caught with child abuse material.
'I GOT CONNED BY THE BEST'
Ms Lucinskaite's story ended with her ex-husband deported to the US where he was originally from.
She says it's important women are aware of the grooming process. She wants them to trust their instincts as she wishes she had done. Looking back she knows how and when he did it.
"We were only together eight years and it was my second marriage. I've been a single mum for most of my life so I didn't always have a partner. I just got on with life. I thought I'd won the jackpot when I met him."
She says she was "groomed" to give him space and time to do what he wanted to do.
"A lot of people think you're groomed through fear of aggression and abuse but grooming is very broad. Normally people who do it have something they really wish to hide.
"They've worked themselves to the point of great access and only now, as I'm reflective, he gave me so much freedom so I gave it back to him, which he took advantage of to support his tendencies.
"I felt really quite nurtured and looked after. I was away very often visiting family and that was encouraged. I realised later that I was just giving him time to sit on the computer really. That sort of situation leaves you actually feeling very disillusioned, disrespected. I got conned by the best."
Ms Lucinskaite is "becoming more of herself" these days, she says. She has a simple message for others who might have been conned.
"For the women with the lived experience of child exploitation and abuse, all I can say is don't give yourself a hard time about not detecting it because the offending party would have been absolutely invested in you not finding out, no matter what questions you asked about any of his actions, normal or suspicious."
PartnerSPEAK was held at Melbourne's RMIT University on Wednesday.
For more information, visit partnerspeak.org.au.
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