Sunday, December 21, 2008

Every Little Red Haired Girl

The following two posts are comments that were recently left on "A Further Response to the Red Haired Girl." Since the post was over a week ago and is no longer on the main page I'm posting these both here, because I think it's important that as many people have the opportunity to read them as possible. This Discussion began with the two part post "The Sad Strange Tale of the Girl with Red Hair" Part 1 and Part 2. It led to the following two responses - here and here. These are both continuations of that discussion.

The first is from my friend John Ozkirbas, a victim's advocate and former member of SAFER at UMD.

"There's a lot in your response that needs addressing. But, I suppose the most constructive response is to tell a story of my own. I don't normally tell survivors' stories for them and I've certainly never posted one to a public forum like a blog before. However, this particular survivor speaks openly in the public about her personal experiences, and so, I think it'll be okay. The is a domestic violence story of a woman who did everything right. I'm going to call it "451 degrees."

(Disclaimer: The name of the parties have been changed to "Tom" and "Sally" out of respect. I should admit, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I remember the main crux of it. I, also, encourage any survivor, or friend and family thereof, to seek out their local Victim Advocacy or Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis/Resource centers)

"451 Degrees"

Sally was a strong, independent African-American woman living in Baltimore. Like most people, she lived paycheck to paycheck. She sold cellphones for Verizon and was able to support her two children doing so. Her history with men was sordid; her prom date raped her back during high school because she "owed it to him and was being a bitch". Trusting men became a little problematic for her after that. She dated a little, but it wasn't until she met her future husband when she started to feel safe again.

Tom was a great guy. He was charming, handsome, romantic even. He liked sports, thoroughly enjoyed Sprite (tended to carry one around with him), and seemed to be a godsend. Things were great. Sally felt safe, secure, even blessed. But, after the wedding, things started to go downhill. Tom would tell her things, subtle threats when she didn't do what he wanted or do things exactly how he wanted them. Phrases that, if anyone else had heard them, they would think nothing of it. But, Sally knew what he meant and it scared her. His behavior escalated, as it does in such cases, from subtle threats to direct, verbal assault. Fearing for herself and her children Sally called the police. Of course, they couldn't arrest him yet. They wouldn't even leave the station. Their words, "There was nothing they could do at this point". This would happen often; He'd provide a little threat with a little subtext and it would slowly evolve into something horrible and she'd call the police, and they would do nothing. She tried to separate and went to court for a protective order. The judge, believing that his behavior didn't justify the effort to obtain one (of which, as I understand, is an outstandingly simple process in comparison to other proceedings) declined. And then one day, he hit her.

He smacked her right across the face, left a huge welt. Luckily for her, she was able to get to a phone and call the police pretty quickly after. My state has a police requirement to arrest on DV cases, as well, you see. And that's what they did. Of course, bail was low and Tom had a few friends on the force. He was out soon there after. Back. He called frequently just to threaten her. Sally kept a log, documented everything. But, his threats were still too subtle. She tried to keep up a social life, but she'd go out and there he'd be. Just to say hi, see the kids, "catch up". And whisper another threat that meant something to them, but to no one else. It was something along the lines of "We'll see what my boys have to say about this". She knew that when Tom said "Boys" he meant "his crew" and when he said "have to say" he knew he meant they'd do something she didn't like. To Sally or her kids.

Sally filed charges, the model citizen that she is, and attempted to take Tom to court. Their case was weak, despite documentation and his arrest - Tom still had a substantial amount of support to keep him out. Sally filed for another protective order, the judge still turned her down. The case was coming up soon, and it seemed that the Prosecutor had covered substantial ground and the case was going to be a success. Tom called with more threats again, telling her to drop the charges. She told him no. Tom's last words to her were "Last Chance" and he hung up. The next day was a work day, so Sally went in to sell cellphones to support her kids. Tom came in at about midday, assumably to talk. She was busy at work behind the register and didn't see him until he was very close. He was carrying a Sprite bottle, as he often did, open as if he was just drinking it. Without saying a word he walked over, dumped the clearish, artificially flavored lemon-lime beverage that is Sprite all over her. Except, it didn't smell like Sprite. Didn't smell like Sprite at all. In fact, it kind of smelled like lighter fluid. And, very quickly, he took out a lighter, lit her on fire, and walked out. No one stopped him, everyone was stuck in shock because, in a matter of seconds, a tall, well dressed, seemingly nice looking man just set a friend and co-worker on fire. Sally suffered 3rd degree burns over 70% of her body. But, she survived. Her kids were traumatized, probably for the rest of their childhood, from seeing their mother that way. She may never date or experience sex again.

Tom was convicted and found guilty. Of course, he was a model inmate. He might be out again this year on parole. He's been incarcerated a total of 5. Sally is still doing what she can to keep him in prison, but nothing is guaranteed. Sally fears distinctly of what Tom will do if he's released and understands that there's a substantial chance that he will.

Sally's story isn't an anomaly. Issues of DV, Rape, and the like are issues of control, predominantly of which survivors and victims have a fairly minimal amount. Because, that's kind of the point of it. I could go on, but this post is long enough already and I fear I may have already lost many of you. I'll close with a final comment:

Rape and Domestic Violence is a complex issue where survivors of such do what they can with what they have. Stories may have similar facts, but each story is inherently different and unique. Over half of women will be in an abusive relationship and abuse isn't always physical. Nationally, 1 in 4 women will either fend off a rape or be raped at sometime in their lifetime. Between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 men will too. 86% of the time it will be in a safe place where they feel comfortable (ex: at home) and 84% of the time the offender will be a friend, family member, or someone trusted (at Univ. of MD, it was about 98%). Be respectful when you discuss this subject in public with your friends; you never know when a survivor is standing just within hearing distance or whether or not one of your friends may have gone through a similar situation and simply hasn't told you about it. I encourage any and all survivors and friends and family there of, or if you simply have questions, to contact your local Victim Advocacy or Crisis centers for support.

I hope this post was constructive and I look forward to posting more in the future."

The second is by a poster named Jinx, and this is her personal story -

"This is going to be a bit hard to type. I don't know how I can get it all out without thinking about how for years of my life I was a punching bag for the piece of crap that I married when I was too young to make a decision of that magnitude. I am not saying that no women are capable of making a decision like that at 17, but most are not, I was one of those that was not ready.

There were many reasons that I got into that relationship. Most are typical of abuse victims. I had been hurt by those that were supposed to protect me, abandoned by my father, *insert a bunch of whining and teenage angst here* I made a rash decision and paid for it, I did not see a way out.

Let me say that there were no signs of abuse until our wedding night. That night he had friends over playing games. I made constant errors (in his eyes) that night. I didn't know company was coming, I cooked for him and me, nothing for the guys he had over....and then when I was cleaning up the trash bag ripped. I giggled and made some comment to him about how I told him we shouldn't have bought the cheap brand, supposed to be a joke, but he took it as me attacking him....then I was hit for the first time.

I cried, I felt like a part of me had died. I knew at that moment that I had to get out, was thinking about how our marriage should be able to be annulled. Then he apologized and swore it would never happen again. Yes, following the typical reaction of the abused, I believed him, it was just stress that made him do it. Heh.

I lived with the abuse for quite some time. One day I tried to hint around to my grandmother and get some support, but her reply to me was "You have to do all you can to keep your man happy."

We had a child, he quit working. I could mention tales that would make your head spin. Raped only a week after giving birth, given a broken nose when I tried to breastfeed my child for the first time out of the hospital (was a preemie & I had worked on my supply by pumping).

I went to the hospital countless times. He was always right there, playing the part of the concerned husband. I asked once when he left the room for them to call the police, but no one ever showed up, we left the ER about an hour after me asking.

Help is not as readily available as some might think. Some states and counties turn a blind eye to it. Mine certainly did. They weren't helping me. I went to see about a restraining order....I was told that I would need to have proof, they couldn't just mark him down as an abuser without any proof. There was no help. I spoke to many people. I'm from a little podunk town in the middle of the bible belt. Maybe this is what made me remain a victim all those years, but there are more places like that in this world than you may know about.

He went out to a strip club one night with his friends. Like I said earlier, he wasn't working. He saw this as a new way for me to support our family and talked me into starting to work at the club. I am shy, I was terrified by this, but I did see it as a bit of an escape....and it did work. He couldn't hit me as much. My whole body was out there for the world to see and I have a very pale complexion, bruise so easy.

The abuse then turned into pinching and hair pulling. It was always emotional. "You're so f***ing ugly I don't know why people pay to see you naked." "You had to have screwed someone to make this much money in one night, it's not like you have much to shake for tips."

I made some great friends at the club. Those girls gave me the strength to finally stand up to him when he raised his hand to me. One day we got some sweets from Dairy Queen. Walking in the house I dropped his. His face turned red and I just knew I was going to get hit and I fought back. He didn't have a chance to hit me, I grabbed his throat and slammed him against the fridge and told him he would never touch me again, in any way. I'm a bit ashamed at how violent I was, but only a little. I headbutted him and broke his nose, I hurt his manly parts so much that by what I was told in court he urinated blood for a week.

The police were called. I was the one that was arrested for domestic abuse. I do not care if that is still on my record. The night I spent in jail was the first good night's sleep that I had in years, I was bailed out by my stripper friends and I felt like I could finally walk with my head held high. Charges were dropped after 2 days in court, he was a bit embarrassed about having the whole town hear about how his wife got the better of him.

Now I spend most of my free time as an advocate of women's rights. I speak monthly at women center's, trying to get them the help the deserve. Help is not always out there, for many women in many places. It does seem like they are stuck. I know that many women try and try for help. Yes, it is true that nobody can render a victim any assistance of any kind until they decide that they won't be victims anymore, but just deciding that you don't want to be a victim is not enough. You do still need help. Many women are not offered that kind of help, even when they search for it. Even when they KNOW that their life depends on it.

Many people just say "Just leave, pack up, run away." Do you know how hard that is? To leave everyone and everything you know? Many people find the bruises easier to live with than leaving behind everything and everyone that they know.

Five years ago...after being away from this for five years I found out that he was in prison for beating his sister half to death. I spoke on her behalf about my life with him. I got a formal apology from the Police Department about how my situation was handled and was asked to work with them. I travel to my hometown frequently to help make sure that other women don't slip through the cracks like I did. Many women asking for help are ignored or neglected daily. It's sad.

Signed, a little red headed girl~"

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