I’d gone to see her to talk about medicine for my post-partum depression, not a court case six years cold and yet in the process of taking my case history of psychiatric medication she stepped on that land mine. Immediately I felt that familiar cold, dead feeling well up inside me, squeezing my heart. No, no and double heck to the no. She looked as if I’d slapped her when I answered, “Actually that may be the thing in my life I am the least proud of.”
I’ve run into this before. It’s a singular experience, this courtroom drama that happens nightly on TV and so rarely in real life that I am often the first person they have met who has experienced it, and so I understand their curiosity. People assume many things about this process: that it provides victims with a feeling of power, of a wrong righted, of safety, of peace, of closure. I can tell you that, at least for me, it was none of these things. Which is why my psychiatrist probably looked so shocked when I added, “I don’t know that I could ever recommend to anyone else to do it.”
Having spent a whole year of my pre-assault life volunteering as a crisis counselor in the student center at my university where my most traumatic and memorable cases were rape victims, the irony is not lost on me that while I counseled them to press charges, to not let their attacker “get away with it”, to save future victims, when it happened to me I stayed silent for five years. Even then I only came forward because he’d done it again and the police were actively asking for other victims. That first phone call with the detective was where I got my rude awakening: just like the assault was all about my attacker at the expense of my body and soul, so was the court case. But this time the assault lasted nine months.
The first thing you should know is that in a criminal trial, it isn’t Charlotte vs. Very Bad Boyfriend but rather The State of X vs. Very Bad Boyfriend. You, the victim, are merely a tool of the state and the state can choose to press charges without your consent. In the end I chose to press charges myself rather than risk a subpoena but one of the other identified victims in the case – there were three of us – had charges filed by the state on her behalf. The State wants to win and you are just a means to that end.
I don’t mean to sound completely cynical. There are safeties built into the system for victims and from what I understand it’s 100 times better now than it was even just a few decades ago. I was fortunate to have a judge and a prosecutor who took the case very seriously. I am fortunate to live in a country where there are laws on the books that make this a punishable crime whereas in many countries it’s just business as usual. We also had a Victim’s Advocate assigned to us and while she was a very kind woman, her advocacy only extended as far as her offer to “throw a coat” over our heads so the media wouldn’t take our pictures and we could preserve our anonymity. It was a small town. They all knew who we were.
To this day, I have friends who don’t quite believe me. It’s not that they think that I’m lying outright but rather that I “misinterpreted what he meant” or I blew it out of proportion or they don’t want to choose sides or get in the middle of a private matter or even that they just simply can’t believe that about him. That was not the person they knew.
I can respect that but I’m not going to lie, it still stings. I wanted my friends and family to rally around me, to believe me (even when I didn’t believe myself, which was more often than not as courtesy of the PTSD my memories came out in a strange potpourri of smells, sensations, thoughts and visuals that didn’t necessarily make sense despite my attempts to string them into a logical story and feign a confidence I did not feel), to love me, to protect me and yet never in my life have I ever been more alone. If I thought people looked the other way when he abused me, they ran the other way when it came to legal action. Of course my memories are not going to match up with his. And if I did misunderstand him? If I did overreact? Aren’t I allowed my own feelings, my own interpretation of the events? He should have listened to me even if I was hysterical. Even if I was riddled with shame. It mattered, even if it could have been worse.