episode 3: power
It has been a difficult week.
For those readers who are feeling triggered by the Kavanaugh hearings, I suggest that you do not read any further.
I also highly recommend reaching out for support. If you aren’t sure where to look for support, you can always call RAINN (the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization): 800-656-HOPE (4673).
How do I reflect on the magnitude of what transpired this week? How do I wrap words around the exhaustion, the rage, the fear, the shame and the isolation? To be honest, I don’t really know. I feel drawn, as many people have this week, to speak out about my personal experiences with abuse and harassment. I know that I am not alone, every single female-identifying friend of mine has experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse.
Every. Single. One.
In my life, much of the harassment I’ve experienced has been fleeting… an unpleasant comment from a passerby, a sexist message from some anonymous dude on a dating app, a gross one-liner from a guy at a bar. Then there are the times when it has gone further than that… the camp counselor who inappropriately and unendingly praised me when I was 12 years old, the family friend who wanted to “comfort” me when I was going through a difficult time, the ex-boyfriend who convinced me that I was sexually rigid, and that it was my fault that he chose to pay for sex.
A couple of years ago, I had a stalker who over the course of two years, left me a number of abusive, hateful and violent facebook messages, emails, texts and voicemails. Once, while walking home along my usual route, I passed by him. He turned around and started to follow me. When I started running, so did he. I wound up running in to a bar where I knew I’d be safe. He stood outside, pacing back and forth in front of the entrance for about 15 minutes before leaving. The next time I saw him, he cornered me in the grocery store. He called me some hateful things. I yelled at him to leave me alone, ducked under his arm, and ran outside.
Rage… how dare this man try to take away my power, my joy - how dare he make me question my independence!
Fear… what if next time is worse? what if he finds me at work or comes to my home?
Shame… this must be my fault? what did I do to bring this on?
Isolation… I can’t tell anyone, they’ll all think it’s my fault. there’s nothing I can do about it, I am completely alone.
I called the police after the very first incident. The officer I spoke with told me that the abusive emails and the fact that he (somehow) found my cellphone number and work information, wasn’t enough to file a report. But… “if anything more happens, honey, just give us a call!”
So apparently I’m just supposed to wait until he attacks me or rapes me and then the police will do something about it. Great.
After the second major incident (another barrage of violent messages), I didn’t do anything. What was the point in telling anyone when nothing was going to happen anyway? At this time, I had only confided in a few very close female friends about what had happened.
It was only after he followed me on the street that I told my mom. I’ll never forget how afraid I was before that conversation. I am incredibly fortunate to have an amazing relationship with my mother – I have always talked to her about everything. But somehow, this man and his actions drove a wedge of insecurity and doubt between us. I was afraid so she would blame me, I was afraid that by telling her it would somehow make it more real, I was afraid to admit that I was afraid.
In the end, my mom’s response was incredible; she was supportive, understanding, angry for me, and ready to stand by me in however I wanted to proceed. After speaking with my dad, the three of us went down to my local police station to file a report.
I filed a report with a white male officer. He told me that I should have been filing reports after every incident, because you need three or more incidents recorded on file in order to warrant further any protective legal action. … (insert long pause dramatic eyeroll)
When I asked him what I could do in the meantime to keep myself safe, he suggested I carry pepper spray in my purse. … Thanks for that, officer.
Then came the grocery store incident. I returned to the police station to file another report… two out of the necessary three before I could take actual legal action. While speaking with a different white male officer, we were interrupted by a black female detective who had overheard my description of the perpetrator. This incredible woman stepped in and took over. It turned out that she was in charge of an ongoing investigation of multiple incidents reported about this same man.
Her words to me: “If these officers had been doing their job, they would’ve listened to your initial report, realized it was the same man I was investigating, and sent you to me. We could’ve had him in court after the first incident.”
And so, with the guidance of this powerful detective (an absolute super hero in my eyes), I went to court. I filed for a restraining order. I stood in front of a judge, and 30+ strangers and recounted the entire story. I was told that I had to say the exact words the man and written or spoken to me. So I stood alone, in front of a room full of complete strangers and explained how this man had called me things I can’t even bring myself to write here because the words are so violent.
I finished my testimony. With great emotional and mental effort, I remained composed. I clasped my hands tightly together and waited for the judge to determine whether or not I was allowed to move forward with the restraining order.
He decided that I was not.
His words to me: “You haven’t experienced enough physical or emotional damage to warrant moving forward with a restraining order.” And when I asked him for a suggestion for what I could to protect myself, he said “I’m not allowed to give you any advice.”
I will never forget what that judge said to me. I will never forget the hollow shame I felt as I stood there, knuckles white, and vision cloudy. I will never forget the looks of compassion and empathy on the faces of the women logging my testimony. I know they saw my pain. I know they felt my fear and embarrassment and anger.
I went back to the court three more times until I was finally granted the restraining order. I then had to return for a hearing at which the perpetrator would be present. But, come the hearing, he didn’t show. So I had to come back for another hearing… and another… and another… I went back four times.
My harasser never showed up. But I did.
Each time I returned to that courthouse, I had to restate my testimony; I had to relive every single detail of my interactions with this man in front of a new judge and a new group of strangers.
It was exhausting. And it never got any easier.
Finally, the restraining order went through and that was that. It was over.
Except that it wasn’t. It is never over. Those experiences are inside me, they are woven into the fabric of my being; they are a part of me now. And though I’ve healed and grown and learned so much about myself since then, none of that changes the fact that every time I return the neighborhood where those frightening encounters took place, my heart starts to race. I still carry pepper spray in my purse. I jump when someone catches me off guard in the grocery store. I look over my shoulder whenever I pass someone on the street at night to make sure they’re not following me.
I am incredibly fortunate. My experience of abuse never crossed the physical line. I was not attacked or raped; I was not touched or taken advantage of. I cannot imagine what it is like live with that kind of experience written into the pages of your life. To those of you who have experienced abuse like that, I believe you. You are not to blame. I encourage you to reach out for support from a friend, a family member, a therapist, a counselor or an anonymous help-line like the one mentioned at the beginning of my post. What you’re feeling is valid. And you are not alone.
I am in complete awe of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I am inspired by her courage, her strength, her vulnerability, her self-awareness… and really, aren’t those all facets of the same multi-layered quality? … POWER. She is powerful.
Courage is power
Strength is power
Vulnerability is power
Self-awareness is power
Anita Hill is powerful. The women who confronted Senator Flake are powerful. The protesters are powerful. The people who came before us who fought against sexual-violence are powerful. The individuals and organizations who spend their energy, time and money quietly and often thanklessly fighting back against hate are powerful.
The collective power of the resistance reached a new level this week.
I can’t wait to send in my absentee ballot.