We often talk about the problems of the criminal justice system, particularly as pertains to unfair treatment towards minorities and marginalized groups. I sympathize with the plight of those for whom this is a daily reality, but I admit I cannot completely understand. Many times, violence against women goes unreported or is sloppily prosecuted. And it is for this reason that I share my own story, though one needs to reverse the gender in this circumstance. The system is designed to prosecute men who harass, physically injure, or otherwise harm women. When the reverse is true, the existing framework of laws and statutes is not easily able to respond. Men are supposed to be able to handle their own problems, but women are supposed to be sheltered from them. This doesn't mean that women aren't vulnerable in all sorts of ways, but that it's just as condescending to imply that women don't harm men.
I had been dating someone for a while, and, so far as I knew, everything was going extremely well. Her children from a previous marriage liked me. Her parents and other close family members seemed to like me, too. I was, however, working an extremely stressful job in a dysfunctional workplace. The daily strain was enough that I came home one night and angrily vented. It felt cleansing to let go of a month's worth of indignation. She saw it differently. Though I wouldn't know it for several days, simply observing that display of formerly pent up aggression was enough to make her decide to cut ties completely. In her mind, I was not the person she thought I was.
Accusations in situations like these can become very petty. I say this because I don't want this to become another instance of he said/she said. What happened is over and I've processed it adequately. Instead, I'll try to provide the facts objectively without the temptation towards bitterness. Nor am I seeking to assign fault now. But I did have to contact the police and I did have to file charges. Narrating that story is the intent of this post.
I did have a case, but existing statutes and laws would prove to be cumbersome. In short, I noticed a week or so after our breakup that I was not receiving any incoming e-mails into my account. This was odd, because I regularly received several e-mails a day. Examining the settings of Gmail, I found that someone had changed the configuration. He or she was having all of my incoming messages forwarded into a separate account, one with a very innocuous and nondescript name. I jotted it down and changed the settings back so that I could resume receiving mail.
That was internet invasion of privacy. Now, years later, with all the publicity surrounding cybercrime and the well-documented instances of similar offenses, I'm fairly certain laws have been changed. I'm sure divorce proceedings nowadays include similar accusations. I knew how she'd done it. At times, I had logged on to my account on her personal computer. Even though I'd been careful to not have a password automatically populate upon visiting the Gmail website, it is still surprisingly easy to figure out should someone have enough know-how. I understood what had transpired, now it was time to see if I could get the law to believe me, too.
I was encouraged to file an order of protection. An order of protection is not defined technically a restraining order in the state where I then lived. One must obtain the services of an attorney for that. If the both of us had lived in the same county, this would have been easy enough. However, she lived one country over. This required me to go to the courthouse of her country of residence. Once I arrived, I found the appropriate floor and department, neither of which were clearly marked. I then waited in line for thirty minutes, after which I was provided a twenty or twenty-five page long form which I was required to fill out in its entirety.
After completion, it required notarizing to be legally binding. I waited in line again. Next, one had to sign up to plead his or her case in front of a judge. Each step one takes, one is essentially confronted with the same question. Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you're sure you want to do this?
After signing my name onto the next available spot on a register attached to a clipboard, I waited once again. The process to follow was not actually conducted in a courtroom, but in what looked like a small office. The judge there looked bored and impassive. She wasn't altogether unfriendly, but neither was she especially engaged with much of anything I was saying. To her, granting a formal order meant one had to pass a particular litmus test. In this case it was evidence of physical violence or the threat of physical violence. Since I didn't meet this criteria, she refused to grant my request. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may simply have had to follow existing law as worded. I do understand that some orders of protection or restraining orders are granted for frivolous reasons. Still, anyone who wished to not just monitor, but steal my e-mails and who was willing to yell at me for three full minutes over the phone did not make me feel confident about my physical safety.
My sympathies were for those whom physical violence wasn't yet an issue, but could well be sooner than later. I spoke with a shaken, but resolute woman who had a horror story to tell about an abusive boyfriend. It is my hope that at least she was granted some legal means to prosecute him, even though the legal system alone works far more slowly than someone with an intent to harm or injure. That it takes something absolutely horrible to make the wheels of justice spin as they must is an absolute travesty. As members of a free society, I find it difficult to understand why we allow this to continue day in and day out.
My case was eventually scheduled to take place a month from the beginning of the process. This initial hearing was only the first step in a complicated series of subsequent court procedures, should future hearings even be necessary. The day it arrived, I was nervous and afraid. It had been over a month since I'd seen or spoken to her and I knew I'd see her there. Furthermore, I had no money of my own to pay for my own legal representation and counsel. No counsel was even offered to me. She, however, arrived with a close personal friend who was also one of the best lawyers in the city. So when the judge indicated that I was free to speak to plead my case, I walked up to the microphone, my knees knocking, and informed the judge that I wanted to drop the charges. The judge looked at me quizzically, surprised, as if to say, Are you sure? Sound familiar?
I left the courtroom somewhat disappointed in myself but also aware of the fact that my life could now return to normal. At least I stood up to her. I might have been able to read the writing on the wall once I arrived, but I proved that I was going to get her attention, for sure. In the whole of the process I found I was growing increasingly more weary and, paradoxically, bloodthirsty. To motivate myself through the process I had driven myself into emotional exhaustion. It was only the promise of some ultimate justice that sustained me and propelled me forward. Had I decided that day to speak my mind, I'm not sure how I could have tolerated an extensive legal fight. From that day forward, while I still pressed for justice, I knew that my encouragement to those wronged needed to be presented along with a factual representation of the process. Those who are victimized in the world outside the courtroom can be further traumatized by the process of obtaining closure.