It’s never you until it is
This is my story of abuse inside the courtroom
It’s been over two years and the idea of him still infuriates me.
It makes me want to go against everything I believe about kindness and forgiveness.
I’ve been thinking of him more often lately.
My sister told me it’ll feel good to forgive.
And I know it will, but every part of me still seethes when my mind wanders to the madness.
October was Domestic Awareness Month, so I decided to pull out the folder labeled ‘BULLSHIT’ in black Sharpie.
It was 5 a.m. on Apr. 20, 2018 when I called the police on my ex-fiancé, David*. He had been taking my Xanax prescription recreationally, but for the last few days, he was popping them like candy.
He was angry because I was supposed to keep him awake, but I was exhausted after his week-long bender. David smashed my phone against the door and once I escaped the apartment, I ran to a stranger’s place upstairs to use theirs. When the cops arrived, they spoke to me for a minute, then went downstairs to see David. I called his father, a Monroe County sheriff, clouded with the false idea that David could get treatment and that his dad would help. I still loved him and wanted him to ‘get better’ as if there’s any such thing for abusers. I went downstairs with my mom and saw him being escorted out by a few officers. I later found out he was taken to the police station for a mental hygiene arrest. I went to the emergency room for my countless bruises, especially from the ones around my neck from strangulation.
I was served with court papers a few days later. I had never heard of an Order of Protection, and I didn’t understand — why was he filing an order against me? With his knowledge of the legal system, David’s dad knew that making this a ‘he-said-she-said’ case would be David’s best chance of escaping any consequences. I filed my own order because I couldn’t let his side of the story be the final truth.
I was summoned to appear before Family Court Judge Kristin Splain on May 23. My public defender, a woman with a loud set of heels, quickly flipped through the textbook of photos of my body after the attack and screenshots of his abusive messages like they were nothing. We walked into the courtroom and there he was, 6-foot-8, 300 pounds. My attorney pulled me to a separate room and told me he had videos of me ‘doing drugs’ and that my best bet would be a dual Order of Protection. We ended up receiving mutual orders for four months.
I received a hospital bill for $195, along with moving costs, items for a new room since I moved into my grandma’s house, a new iPhone and a new windshield from his kicking it while high on Xanax. The Office of Victim Services (OVS) of Monroe County grants a maximum amount of $500 to victims even though it’s clear my costs were much higher than that. I didn’t receive my check from OVS until Nov. 16 and had to pay the hospital from my own pocket so the bill wouldn’t be reported to a credit union. My reimbursement from that didn’t come until Dec. 10.
I wrote a letter to Judge Splain months later and hand-delivered it to her assistant. I don’t know whether she read it, but now you can read my story. Survivors like me are indirectly punished for speaking our truths. We’re told to shut up and take what we can get in the legal system.
After he wrapped his hands around my neck, pressing his thumbs into the thin-skinned space between my clavicle; after he smiled, looking down at me while my eyes rolled to the back of my head; after he kicked each side of my body, the left side harder than the right — he still managed to get away with it.
There needs to be change rather than adjustment. It’s clear that survivors suffer abuse long after we escape our domestic violence relationships through the court system. For me, the judge had a choice to make – regardless of either lawyer’s word. There were multiple instances of poor lawyering in my case. I am not an anomaly. Most people in my position aren’t financially capable of hiring a personal lawyer so we merely get processed and stamped by the judge in the matter of a few minutes.
As an English major at UB, I want to write about my experiences with domestic violence to offer support for other survivors, victims or advocates. I’m fueled by my anger, even now, as I tap my keyboard. Putting my thoughts out into the world is personally cathartic, but I don’t know if I’ll ever stop getting angry or stop crying when I think too hard about my experiences with David. I only hope that my voice will benefit the rights of survivors of domestic violence because I’m only one of millions.
* Name has been changed
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