Dating Violence, Do Not Call Me a Victim

Trigger warning: this post contains a graphic description of dating violence.

I am sharing my story because as I navigated this terrain it became clear that I was not alone. I’m sharing this to raise awareness that, although we have come so far as a society, we still have so far to go about dating violence.  I am sharing this because I dated this guy for six weeks, was not even technically “in a relationship,” ended it due to his anger and behavior, but none of that was enough to protect me from his violence.

I am sharing this because no one goes away to school thinking that this will be the result. No one thinks when they are given a student teaching assignment, that they will end up bruised and battered at the hands of a teacher who they met during that assignment.

Almost half of college women report experiencing dating violence and abuse in their relationships.

Dating violence and young women

 

This is my story:

I’ve been waiting for the “right time” to come clean about my experience because I don’t like feeling like I have a secret because I don’t. But I’ve finally realized that there’s never going to be a “right time.” As an eventer (equestrian who participates in dressage, cross-country and show jumping), I thrive on being tough. I fall off one horse, get up, and get myself back together for my second horse. But for the first time in my life, my toughness was given the ultimate test.

I never thought this would happen to me. I graduated high school early and I’ve lived on my own since a month after I turned 18. I carry copious amounts of pepper spray, I graduated college in the top 5% of my class. I have a dog and I work with 1,500-pound animals for fun. I am successful athletically with those 1,500-pound animals. I consider myself aware, perhaps naïve, but definitely aware.

My resume includes organizations such as Alpha Chi Honor Society, Philomathes Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society and 2018 Teachers of Promise. I’m a nice person, but I don’t let people mess with me and I call them out on their BS. I’m a normal college graduate getting ready for the next chapter. It’s not a secret that I haven’t had the best of luck with relationships: your usual college problems of being cheated on, being led on or blown off with no explanation, or being ghosted when things were seemingly fine. But nobody was ever aggressive.

During my placement this past August, I met a guy who was a teacher at the school where I was placed. He seemed nice, apparently loved the kids as much as I did, and coached football at the high school so we always had something to talk about. We didn’t become involved until after my placement finished because I didn’t want to be perceived as unprofessional.

Things started off great. He was easy to talk to, he was nice, he wasn’t afraid to act like he was interested in me, and everything was easy. Unfortunately, things disintegrated faster than I could get a grip on. Perhaps I excused behavior that shouldn’t have been excused, but I had just become so accustomed to accepting it. No, I shouldn’t have accepted the way he spoke to me when he was angry at me or the way he accused me of talking to my ex behind his back (the irony of which I was about to find out). I shouldn’t have accepted how he never apologized when he was in the wrong, or how he would disappear for days at a time.

It was always my fault. I wasn’t understanding, I was making him pick between me and football (anyone who knows me knows I would NEVER do that), and I was being high-maintenance. He did nothing wrong. I did everything wrong. We ended the relationship. But he kept coming back.

His “ex-girlfriend” and I figured out that he was seeing us both at the same time. I found this girl and told her what I knew. We both stopped seeing him and we became friends. One night she and I went out to dinner. He was there. After about 20 minutes, he left, and I thought we were in the clear. I was wrong.

He had been sending his ex-girlfriend threatening texts as we were sitting at the bar together and they began to escalate. He started threatening that he had made a copy of her key and he planned on using it to break into her apartment. I decided to stay with her at her apartment just in case. I thought I was being paranoid.

I heard an aggressive pounding on the door. I ran to the door and looked through the peephole. It was him. I whipped around and stood with my back against the door and my hands on the doorknob behind my back, my body lurching forward from the impact with every bang as he continued to pound on the door. For a second, the banging stopped, and my entire body tensed up and I squeezed my eyes shut.

Then, to my left, I heard him fidgeting with the windows that were thankfully locked. We screamed for him to leave but he wouldn’t. She asked to open the door to tell him to leave in person. After repeatedly saying no, I relented, but I took my phone out to be ready to call 911 if something happened. She stepped out onto the landing and kept telling him that he needed to leave. I stood in the doorway.

His speech was slurred, and he wasn’t making sense; he wasn’t even forming complete sentences. He was in her face, yelling at her, and my internal alarm went off. I told him “You need to leave NOW” and put out my arm to stiff-arm him if he tried to get in the apartment. He snapped.

I had been standing in the doorway to prevent him from rushing into the apartment, trying to make my 5’9” frame as big as possible compared to his 6’1”. As soon as he heard my voice, he mumbled “your dumb bitch,” pushed past the other girl, and grabbed me. To be more specific, he grabbed me by my throat. He pulled me out of the doorway and pushed me backward with his hand around my neck until my body was hanging over the second story railing. He was trying to throw me off a second story balcony by my throat.

I couldn’t breathe; I frantically tried to remember what was below me, what I would land on if he was successful, and was fairly sure that it was gravel and an assortment of rocks. I felt the railing start to give away against my left hip thinking that we were both going to go over if it snapped.

Then what would he do? Run away? Keep after me? Finally, the only thing I could think was, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, but if I don’t get my body back on the other side of this railing, I’m going to die.” That thought is what I remember most clearly out of everything that happened that night. His ex pulled him off of me. I don’t know how, but she did. He ran past us into the apartment, still obviously intoxicated.

She followed him into the apartment and I followed after calling 911, but he still wouldn’t leave. After further altercation within the apartment which was recorded in the background of the 911 call, he sprinted out of the apartment, across the parking lot, and climbed into his SUV that he had left running the entire time. I don’t know what made him finally leave. He sped off at about 50 mph through the apartment complex. Yes, he was so drunk that he couldn’t speak, but he drove.

They say when you experience something traumatic, you’re in shock. I never believed it. I didn’t understand it. But I was; that’s the only way to describe it. I was numb. I didn’t cry right away. I took care of business, talked to the cops, gave them his information, and hoped for the best. They promised they would bring him in as soon as they found him.

After the cops left and the other girl went to clean herself up, I walked out onto the balcony where everything had happened, sat down on the steps, and sobbed. I sobbed like I never had before. I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do. So I just cried. I don’t know what possessed me to go outside as now in hindsight I can see that wasn’t the safest choice at the time in case he decided to come back. But at the time I just needed some air and some space.

I never thought it would happen to me. Things like that don’t happen to people like me. Things like that don’t happen to my friends. Things like that just don’t happen. But, they do.

He left me with deep bruising on my left hip that took over 6 weeks to heal as well as red hand prints around my throat where he had grabbed me and held me over the railing. Every time I put my hand on my hip or pulled my jeans on for a month, the immediate pain reminded me of what he had left behind.

He eventually pled guilty to assault and battery which was reduced from the original felony charge of strangulation with wound. He is serving a 12-month suspended sentence, is on one year supervised probation, two years unsupervised probation, has to take a 13-week domestic violence class, and serve 60 hours of community service in addition to the time he spent in jail awaiting bail to be set and paid. At last check, despite committing a violent crime he still has an active teaching license.

In addition, the judge extended my protective order from the original one year to two years. I know he’s not sorry for what he did. His lack of remorse was obvious in his decision to immediately return to work as a teacher and coach without disclosing his charge after he was released on bail, in his decision to stare my family down in the courtroom, and in his family’s blatant and rude treatment of me in court.

What makes his family’s behavior even more alarming is that a 911 call was found where the defendant’s father was allegedly drunk and allegedly beating the defendant’s mother demonstrating that this may be a family dynamic and learned behavior. The alleged pattern of behavior and lack of remorse is what scares me the most.

I could go on forever about my court experiences; being picked apart by his defense attorney as if I was the one on trial, having to answer embarrassing and irrelevant questions. The questions ranging from fairly acceptable (how many drinks I had that night) to mildly questionable (the prescription medications I take daily) to flat-out unacceptable and embarrassing (my sexual history with the defendant). All these questions were asked in a public courtroom.

I fought with everything I had to prevent being portrayed as a drunk, blonde slut or a crazy ex trying to seek revenge. They tried to craft the story that he had strangled me in self-defense because I had attacked him first. Really? Then where was his bruising and why did he run away when I called 911? However, that was a wake-up call to me that if I had successfully defended myself that night, I may have been charged as well and his self-defense story may have become plausible even though it was entirely false.

I didn’t attack anyone that night. He did. Yet I was the one subjected to harassment by his lawyer because I didn’t know that it would have been a good idea to have a lawyer at a protective order (restraining order) hearing.

Well, now I know and now you know too.

Even without a lawyer, I was still able to come away from that trial with what I wanted. And with every court date that I “won” and he “lost,” my confidence began to build until there was no doubt in my mind that he would pay in some capacity for what he did. I noticed that his family began to realize the same thing. His parents who originally had no problem glaring at me in the courtroom, stopped looking at me altogether and refused to make eye contact in court.

Things like this happen. They happen closer to you than you realize, more often than you realize, and you are more vulnerable than you realize. Someone attacked me. Someone who knows where I live, that I live alone, and my basic schedule. He knows my truck, my school, and where I hang out. He knows how to find me. He owns three guns and the court didn’t order him to surrender them since it technically wasn’t “domestic violence” as we never lived together. Instead, he handed them over to a family member who he also happened to live with.

I couldn’t sleep for months, I wouldn’t leave my apartment for months, and I lived with paranoia. I woke up screaming from nightmares that he was chasing me, and I couldn’t get away. I slept with the lights on and bought a special door jamb that protected against break-ins. The sound from the ice machine in my freezer would cause me to wake up in a panic. I scanned parking lots for his car or signs of him as soon as I would leave or arrive at a destination.

One-night walking to the gym in my apartment complex, someone dropped a car seat in the parking lot and I immediately hit the ground because my first thought was that it was a gunshot and it was him. I wouldn’t even go downtown to get a beer because I was too scared. But the moment that I knew I had a problem was when I answered the door to a delivery man with pepper spray ready at my side because I couldn’t see anyone through the peephole. I was in survival mode.

The trauma is starting to subside, but I’m forever changed. Sometimes I feel like I have to talk about it. I was told that talking about it helps me let go of it and move on. Other times I don’t want to talk about it and will snap if someone brings it up. I wouldn’t have made it through these last few months without my family coming and staying with me for extended periods of time, my professors reaching out to me as friends, and the few friends that I told.

I am grateful to everyone who wouldn’t let me give up during this time; to my friends who checked in on me via text with supportive messages and to my family for supporting me through the court dates, not letting me give up on a conviction, and helping me figure out the world of court dates and legal personnel.

Dating violence happens. This happens. Anyone can be a perpetrator. I am extremely lucky to be in a relationship now that has made me realize how much shit I took that I didn’t need to in past relationships and just how much I put up with. Women (I purposefully use “women” because I was tired of being called a “girl” in court while he was called a “man”):

Watch out for each other, trust your gut, do not excuse behavior that you know deep down you shouldn’t excuse, be honest with yourself about the reality of your relationship, and don’t be afraid to report violence if it happens to you. Most importantly, do not tell yourself that it will never happen to you. These are not isolated incidents and if someone does it once, they will do it again.

Do not call me a victim. That is the one thing I asked for throughout this entire process. He tried to take my voice away; instead, he made my voice stronger.

I don’t want sympathy; I want to spread empowerment. Help me spread the word.

For More Information and Help:

Love is Respect

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Related:

What to Do If You Suspect Your Adult  Child is in an Unhealthy Relationship 

Rape in College: What Parents Need to Know

Sexual Assault on Campus: 7 Tips for Parents

Amelia BayerAmelia Bayer is a recent graduate of Bridgewater College where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a major in English, a minor in Equine Studies and her grade 6-12 teaching certification. She lives in Virginia with her dog, Stella. She has accepted a position teaching 6th grade English at a local middle school beginning this fall. During her time at Bridgewater, she was involved in three equestrian teams, ranked 5th in the country on the individual collegiate leaderboard for Preliminary Level Eventing, and was involved with the Future Educators of Bridgewater College. She continues to compete nationally with her horse, Roadie. She enjoys spending time with friends hiking in the mountains, going to the local swimming spot, or exploring local breweries and wineries.

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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