Sunday, February 2, 2014

standing out, leaping in

I once had to get a restraining order against my ex boyfriend. Let me explain. (No, there is too much. Let me sum up.)
I broke up with this guy and he was furious. He sent me angry emails and texts. I blocked his email address and phone number.
He stole my social security number and used it to call the cell phone company's automated system and get my phone shut off, multiple times. I changed my phone number and my social security number.
He sent me increasingly baffling and threatening emails, texts, and messages through his friends. I sent him one message, asking him to leave me alone.

He didn't.

His messages became even more more disturbing and bizarre. He threatened to make, and then actually made, a humiliating and vulgar web site about me. I filed for a restraining order. I was awarded a temporary order until the hearing, a few weeks later.
A couple days after I got the temporary order, but before he had been served, he showed up at my apartment late at night and pounded on my door. I turned on the shower and called 911, but he was gone by the time the police arrived.

I got a lawyer. He had me re-file the restraining order, listing every single event independently instead of just writing "he is harassing me." I paid a process server to track my ex down and serve him with the temporary restraining order, once it was awarded.

I went to court. Maximum restraining order granted. I celebrated, figuring he would leave me alone now.

He didn't.
It took two more court dates and a warrant for him to finally leave me alone.

Throughout all of this my lawyer insisted that I go to the police and file a report every time I heard from my ex, so that when we went to court there would be a clear paper trail and evidence that I was actively trying to get my ex to leave me alone.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I showed up at the police station to file a report, I got some serious pushback. I would show up with my folder of emails and they would roll their eyes at me. They would huff and sigh and begrudgingly give me paperwork to fill out. The said things like "How do we even know this is really from him?" and "He hasn't beaten you yet, so...." and "But do you actually think he's going to hurt you?" and "If he's not local he probably wouldn't come all the way here just for you." and "He probably has a new girlfriend and isn't interested in you anymore."

Not making this up. Those are things they really said to me.

I had gotten a restraining order because I was afraid that my ex would hurt me or rape me or kill me. I was the victim, dutifully following the law and trying to do the right things. The police were supposed to protect me and instead they doubted me, questioned me, and shamed me.

The same thing happened when I reported my rape.
I did all of the things that you say you'll never do. I didn't scream for help. I didn't go to the police. I ran back to the hotel and took a shower and then flew home a couple hours later. I felt confused and panicked. I didn't know what to call what had happened to me and it took urging from my loved ones for me to even report it.

I had a rape kit done the day after my rape, after I had already showered. I reported the rape to the police two days later. I told the detective my story over the phone, and then a few weeks later in person. They asked me what I was wearing that night. They asked me what "other" substances I had been on (besides alcohol). They asked me if I had flirted, if I had liked the guy. They asked my friends if they had heard me scream, if I "do this often," and if I'm a risk taker. They told me that my case would probably never go anywhere.

Somehow we live in a world where victims are questioned and doubted. It is enraging when it happens about something as clear-cut as a restraining order violation. It is downright horrifying when it happens about a rape.

After I was raped I felt overwhelmingly guilty and confused. I felt dirty and shameful, like I had brought this upon myself. I felt embarrassed and weak because I didn't fight or scream or go to the police straight away. I felt like my friends probably thought I was being too dramatic.

Fortunately for me I have had overwhelming support from friends, family, and even strangers. I had an advocate, a psychiatrist, and a trauma counselor. And everyone confirmed that it was not my fault. I was the victim. No matter what I wore or drank or whether or not I called for help or pushed him away, it was not my fault.

In my head I know this, I do. But here's also still a deep, dark part of myself that thinks "Well...."
From what I've learned, this is pretty common.

Our society does a lot of victim-blaming, victim-doubting, and victim-shaming. The thing about victims is that we often already blame, doubt, and feel ashamed of ourselves all on our own. That's what abuse and rape do to a person. Even if everyone I know tells me that they are absolutely sure that my rape wasn't my fault, and even if the law says that, and even if I intellectually know that, I still feel like it was. It comes with the territory.

That's why these public cases break my heart. Victims in high profile cases have their credibility dragged through the mud while their abusers are lauded and it makes me die a little inside. I am surviving on a daily basis. I am living as a victim of abuse and rape and it's not as easy as I try to make it look. What if I had to do that, and endure seeing the world at large adore my abuser and doubt, shame, and blame me? That, my friends, is a horrifying scenario and the reason I'm not asleep right now.
How can anyone sleep in a world where this is not only possible, but it is typical?

As much as I would like to close the book on my experience and let my successful completion of trauma counseling act as a benchmark for a new chapter in my life, I'm now sure I can't do that. I signed up for a program (at the same place where I did trauma counseling) to learn about being on their board of presenters who speak out against rape and abuse. I'm afraid, but I'm going to do it. Sometimes I collapse on my bed and say "I can't do this. It's too much for one little person," but most of the time I recognize how lucky I am to have had so much support and it makes me feel like this experience has made me feel stronger than other victims might feel. Like maybe I could even speak up for victims, or stand out for victims. But I guess if you know me you would probably agree that I'd prefer to say that I can leap for victims.