[February 16, 2021] I spent two years with someone who frequently abused me, both physically and emotionally. Each time I would try to leave, my abuser would physically restrain me within the apartment in which we lived. When I reported the abuse to police, he would be arrested but was typically bailed out on the same day, returning back and continuing his abuse. At the time, I had nowhere else to try and flee to.
In my experience, the criminal justice system did not do enough to protect me as a survivor on my long path to freedom. When victims try to escape an abuser, they can be put at greater risk during their attempts to flee. This was true for me, and to me, a restraining order felt like just a piece of paper.
Upon his first arrest, my abuser was told he needed to vacate the apartment we shared. In the months that followed, there was a lot of back and forth with various court dates and further arrests for him violating the No Contact Order that was in place and continued domestic violence. He would consistently send me texts or call me in an attempt to fix the relationship, and eventually he started just showing up.
Then one day, my abuser broke into my home. He still had a key to the apartment since my landlord refused to change the locks. I called 911 and he ran. When he was arrested, he was charged with 4 counts of violating a No Contact Order, disorderly conduct/domestic violence and breaking and entering. After attending 3 court dates to have the matter continued, the prosecutor presented a plea deal - he pleaded “nolo contendere” to one violation of the NCO in addition to willful trespassing, and the rest of the charges were dismissed.
Throughout the legal proceedings, I had countless court dates to attend, many of which I couldn't even understand why I had to appear. I would sit there and listen, only to be told the case was being continued. It was emotionally draining. I would lose sleep over trying to prepare for court. I’d sit there thinking for hours, “What’s going to happen? Will anyone believe me? Maybe I shouldn’t go at all. What if the abuse wasn’t bad enough?” The thought of going to court was daunting to me, but in the end I still went.
I felt as though the plea deal was made to shorten the process, and while the prosecutor asked me for input, it felt like in that moment I would agree to anything so I didn’t have to come back and face this man again. I wasn’t given time to process all the information. It felt like I had to provide a response immediately. Not only was I dealing with the anxiety from being at court alone, but I still felt controlled by him, so I jumped on whatever would help me get out of there faster. The plea deal allowed my abuser to maintain control. He was ultimately still getting away with the crime he committed, and the abuse was diminished in a sense. I felt as though my abuser was still silencing me.
The criminal justice system is also where I experienced the most victim blaming. In the beginning, the prosecutor looked for any flaws I might have, including health conditions, because the defense attorney might have found something to use against me. They asked who I was working with for mental health support to verify what I was saying. Their concern was that a defense attorney would take what I told a clinician and find holes in the story. At one point in preparing for a grand jury, the prosecutors hired an attorney who convinced me it was in my best interest to plead the 5th (not testify at grand jury, which ultimately resulted in no grand jury happening) because I hadn't gone to one for the previous assaults and that could make it seem as though I was lying because I continued to accept him back, despite the abuse. At one point my abuser was at the ACI and he was able to call me, but when I attempted to report the violation of the No Contact Order, I was told there was nothing that could be done as he was already locked up.
We live in a society where all the pressure to prove the abuse happened and to ensure our safety is put on the victims. So few people believe and support survivors, and those that do are a saving grace. Going through the legal proceedings can be a scary route, especially without support. For me, the criminal justice system didn’t give me the protection I needed, so I stopped making reports of the abuse. At the end of the process, all it did was bring me more pain and I navigated my escape on my own.
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