Justice.

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I took this photograph today.   I lived in this city most of my life and I’ve never been drawn to look at this sculpture before.

Justice.

This statue embodies exactly how my life feels at this moment.

Grey. Solemn.  Frozen in time.  An unknown, robed figure holds a sword over me, about to make decisions that will alter the course of my life and the lives of my family members.

I feel like one wrong move and the sword will pierce my heart and all will be lost.  I’m walking on a tight rope, on egg shells, on the edge of where the ocean meets the land, on a wire at a circus…fill in the metaphor or analogy of your choosing.  I’m barely breathing.

Justice for who?  How is this justice?  Years of my life spent trying to prove things that seem self evident.  Years of him being believed and me seen as crazy, or potentially crazy.  Years of my privacy being breached and shattered to the point I’m hardly sure what privacy means anymore, except to trust no one.  Is this justice?

Interpersonal violence doesn’t end the moment she walks out the door.

Domestic violence doesn’t end when she leaves.

Family violence doesn’t stop when the relationship is over.

She might be physically safe now, but she still looks over her shoulder.  She still watches herself.  She still fears that anything she says or does might get her or her children into trouble.  She lives in fear of SOMETHING happening, even though she doesn’t always know what that vague threat might be.  She rarely sees him, but he impacts almost every aspect of her life.  He calls her crazy.  He tells her kids she is crazy.  He tells anyone who will listen that she is crazy.

But if she is crazy, than every survivor is crazy.

I don’t think we are crazy.  I think the entire system is broken and set up for us to fail.  We don’t have a justice system, we have a legal system.

Wake up.  Justice doesn’t exist for women like me.

Why Women Don’t Leave

If I knew  what leaving meant, I probably would have stayed.

I was naive, and I’m glad.  I’m glad that I left and that I’ve been forced to fight, but nobody should have to fight this hard to be believed.

As I walked into the court house yesterday, over three years after leaving, my first step was to check with the information desk to find out what court room my matter was being heard in.   I checked the list and realized that we were scheduled in a small motions room, rather than a full sized court room.

Why does that matter?  Why does the size of the court room matter so much that I’m writing a blog post about it?

I rode the elevator, arrived at the correct floor and met my lawyer.  My anxiety grew and grew as I thought about the room.  I could feel panic starting, my body was tensing, all the preparations I’d done for the day were quickly flying out the window.

I opened the door of the courtroom just a crack and peered inside.

It was as I’d feared.  A small motions room, a large conference table filled the room, with the judge’s dias at one end and a small witness box to the side.  The whole room was not much bigger than an average sized dining room.   A conference table, with 3 chairs along each side, spoke of mediation, settlement, concord, agreement and discussion.

All I could think about was this:

This is the reason why women don’t leave.  Women don’t leave because they don’t want to spend two days, trapped in a tiny court room, sitting face to face with their abuser, unable to speak or move, except on the judge’s schedule.

What could be more triggering for a survivor of violence?  Not only do I have to sit in the room with him, I have to sit in an assigned chair (no choice), I have to sit quietly (I can’t speak),  I can’t stand, move or stretch to ground myself and I have to listen to various people speak about traumatic experiences in my life as if I was not there.   If I react emotionally in any way, he will see me and he will have power over me.  If I cry, he will have power over me.  If I get angry, he will have power over me.   It’s a situation of power and control and lack of options and I have no choice but to stay in it.

Luckily today I have support person with me, otherwise I feel like I wouldn’t even be able to sit in that room.  Every part of me screams NO!  I don’t want to go in there.  I want to rebel!  I want to fight! I want to yell at everyone that this system is unfair, unjust, unhealthy and re-traumatizing.

But that isn’t an option.  Instead, I sit in the room.  I clench my hands together as tightly as I can underneath the table.  My whole body is shaking, as it does as I’m trying desperately to process trauma that is overwhelming me.  I try to tremble in a way that is not noticeable, or could be interpreted as shivering from the cold.  I try to breathe.  I write notes and doodle continuously.    I try to tune out and disassociate enough to be able to stay sitting in the room, but not so much that it’s obvious, or that I can’t stay focused.   I listen to what is being said, but I try to detach myself emotionally from it.  I try to put myself into a frame of mind where I’m observing someone else’s life.  But it doesn’t really work.

As the day wears on, the oxygen in the room starts to disappear.  I feel like I can’t breathe.  I have a harder time sitting still.  My leg starts to shake,.  my body trembles again, almost imperceptibly.   I try to fidget just a little, but in a way that doesn’t come across as anxious.   I start to feel panicky, like I need to run out of the room.  All my muscles start to hurt from holding them tense, from shaking, from sitting still, from being unnatural and on edge for hours at a time.   The time that goes too slowly.  I feel like I’m in a place where I will never escape back to reality.    I’m stuck in court world, no windows, no escape, it’s own set of rules and rituals.  I’m a stranger in a strange land.

And right across the table from me.   Emotionally nonreactive, as if this whole ordeal is uneventful and ordinary, sits my abuser.  Calm and collected and emotionally blunted.   And I feel a sense of confusion.   Who is this stranger?

How did we get here?   It’s a blur of months and years.  It’s a blur of “just get through this next few months.”  It’s a blur of “just keep going for the kids.”  It’s a blur of coping and surviving.

This is why women don’t leave.

Because the process of leaving doesn’t end the day she walks out the door.

Survivors need compassion when they can’t leave because it’s too hard.

They need help to leave because it’s too hard to do alone.

And they need help, patience, compassion and validation long after they leave.  Because the process of leaving can be as traumatic as the relationship itself.   Because it’s too hard to do alone.

Smash the patriarchy!

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Sometimes the systems that exist in society just seem nonsensical to me.  I am bewildered on a regular basis at how poorly systems work to protect the rights of marginalized folks, children, women, trans folks,  People of Colour, Indigenous folks…I start to wonder who or what the systems do support and uphold.

I believe the answer is that they support privilege and privileged people.

When a man accused of sexual assault has his views and ideas on the situation treated as equally, if not MORE valid than those of the survivors, the system is broken.

I’m feeling angry right now and this post may be somewhat cryptic because I can’t write about everything I’m coping with until a later date.

I just wanted to say that not all opinions are equally valid.

Some opinions are based on facts, lived experience, research, expertise or some combination of these things.

Other opinions are just plain lies, untrue and not supported by anything.

Yes, you have the right to think anything you want, but you don’t necessarily have the right to state all those thoughts out loud in every circumstance.

Some opinions are actually oppression and bigotry, cleverly DISGUISED as valid opinions.

In some cases there is an absolute truth, something that exists outside of opinions and is just real.  In some cases, people only have their lived experience and they must be believed that their lived experience is valid.

But what happens when an abuser states that his lived experience, opinion and view is that he didn’t abuse anyone!?  That the survivor is seriously mentally ill and making up accusations to damage his credibility?

Who do we believe?  Where does the absolute truth lie?

I’m willing to concede that for outsiders it can be difficult to tell what is truth and what is fiction.  But when an abuser says that he didn’t abuse anyone, shouldn’t we take this with a grain of salt?

That’s not what I have observed.  In my lived experience, abusers are believed outright.  They are rarely challenged.  Their views on the situation during the time of the abuse are considered true and valid.

Survivors are doubted, questioned, berated, accused and treated like they have every motivation to lie about the abuse.  The system gaslights them and confused them, mirroring the way they have been treated by the abuser they are escaping from.

I don’t even see equity or equal treatment.   It would be easier for me to accept if the systems (police, hospital, court, child protection) viewed both the abuser and the survivor as potentially biased.    Trust no one.  Believe nothing.

But that isn’t what I see.  I see the systems used against the survivor to benefit the opinions, rights and preferences of the abuser.  I see the system used to dismantle the credibility of the survivors who are brave enough to come forward.

Why do we accept to live in a world where abusers are innocent until proven guilty, but survivors are treated as guilty of lying from the start?

I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I want to change the system.  I want to smash all the institutions I see around me and rebuild them from the ground up, grassroots style, with the input of marginalized communities highlighted and validated.

Smash  the white supremacist,  capitalist, cis-heteropatriarchy!

I’d like to see a revolution. I’d like to wake up tomorrow and build a whole new world.

The worst part of it is, that the only thing worse than a woman coming forward to speak out about sexual violence, seems to be a woman survivor advocating and agitating for changes to the systems that have continually failed her.

Silence is the enemy of change.   I’m willing to bet that the majority of “average people” out there still believe we have a justice system, police and child protection systems that are impartial and unbiased.  People speaking out and telling their stories is the only way to shatter this misconception.

I refuse to stay silent.  The systems have failed me and my family, over and over again.