Vendors have pulled out of a popular convention for moms after it came to light that its founder's husband was charged for possessing child pornography.
But MommyCon's founder told BuzzFeed News the photos come from the "abusive" relationship she had with the man and the real story is much more complex than it had been portrayed.
Alexzandra "Xza" Higgins founded MommyCon in 2012 with the first event in Las Vegas. The convention series focuses on "natural" parenting and includes seminars and children's goods vendors. According to its website, it has an audience of over 100,000 parents and has expanded to include DaddyCon and KidCon.
In early November, Higgins' husband, Kevin Higgins, was arrested and charged with three counts of possession of child pornography. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Higgins — who is legally separated from his wife — was released on $200,000 bail.
A spokesperson for the law firm representing Kevin Higgins told BuzzFeed News it does not comment on pending litigation.
Higgins, 52, was a teacher at Highland Park High School. A spokesperson for the school district told the Chicago Sun-Times that he had been placed on administrative leave in October when the school was notified of the investigation. School district Superintendent Bruce Law told the newspaper the charges don't appear to be related to anyone else at the school.
As the MommyCon community got wind of the arrest, alarm bells were raised and vendors started dropping out of an upcoming convention in San Diego on Nov. 23.
GroVia, a cloth diaper company, announced on Facebook that they would no longer be a vendor at MommyCon events.
Kinderpack posted a similar statement.
Arctic Baby Bottoms posted a message saying they "take the safety of children and [their] commitment to our brand relationships extremely seriously." According to MommyCon, the brand has no relationship with the event.
On Nov. 18, the MommyCon Facebook page posted, then subsequently deleted, a statement acknowledging the charges, saying, "There was no indication that the alleged criminal conduct involved MommyCon or any of our attendees, families or sponsors."
It also said Kevin Higgins was not involved in MommyCon's "day to day operations" and hadn't been at an event since April 2018.
Comments on the Facebook page accuse MommyCon of deleting negative comments before the post was removed entirely.
Now, Xza Higgins has come forward with details of her marriage in the hopes of saving her business.
Higgins told BuzzFeed News she met her husband when she was 14 and he was 36. After years of therapy, she said she came to realize she had been "groomed" for an abusive relationship and marriage.
Kevin Higgins' attorneys declined to comment on these allegations to BuzzFeed News.
"I realized that I had been in a very abusive relationship. Even though he never hit me, there are other forms of abuse," Xza Higgins said. "It took me a lot of therapy to make me realize that I was a victim."
She said the images found in her husband's possession were of her when she was a minor. Highland Park police did not respond to a request for details about the case.
"I cannot defend Kevin’s actions in taking these pictures of me, in keeping them, or in any of the aspects of the abusive relationship he had with me," Xza Higgins said in a statement shared on Facebook. "All I can say is that in almost 15 years I have seen no evidence that he has preyed on anyone other than me, in the context of the intimate relationship that he formed with me."
Higgins said that even after realizing her marriage was abusive, it still took another year to actually leave.
"I had tried to get out and escape the marriage for many years but I had only been with him and I didn’t have any resources of my own and my attempts to get out had failed," she said.
"I wasn’t equipped to get out. I had to live a life that many people will never understand."
She said she never thought at any time that her husband was a danger to their or anyone else's children.
Lake County records show Kevin Higgins filed for divorce in December 2018. Xza Higgins said her divorce attorney advised it would be better if her husband filed for the divorce, and that so far it's been a "very, very ugly" legal battle.
A statement posted on the MommyCon Facebook page said Kevin Higgins' role in MommyCon was "limited in scope to being a dad speaker and as an assistant during load-in at some venues between the years of 2013-2018."
Xza Higgins said she was advised not to speak about the case but, as a single mother, she wants to protect her "only means of survival." She has two children, one of whom is autistic. She said they rely on Kevin Higgins' health insurance for that child's care, but access to that is now uncertain.
MommyCon's Facebook page has more than 92,000 likes, and many people are standing by the founder. But others posted that they still feel betrayed.
Higgins said she understands why vendors and attendees are concerned and hopes trust can be rebuilt.
"I fully understand that these companies have obligations to their shareholders and customers," she said. "They are being put in a very difficult position.
"I am confident that they will see and understand more now that I’ve been forced to share this information."
According to Xza Higgins, Kevin Higgins was 36 when they met.