Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Looking Back and Moving Forward

The Issue of sexual abuse is a community responsibility and no single agency can do the work in isolation. It takes a co-ordinated effort between many different agencies and support systems to effectively assist an individual who has been abused.  Professionals who work in the field have an obligation to the individual to provide service in an ethical manner so as too not re-victimize the individual.The relationship between the victim and the police officer is paramount in preventing re-victimization. It can also be a catalyst for self reflection and personal growth.  The relationship needs to be fluid and dynamic with the goal to promote healing for the individual.

This paper will then be a personal exploration of my experience with the Durham Police Department as I close the final chapter of my abuse story. While this paper is about my experience, I believe that it shares elements which are common to victims/survivors. Also, it shares some elements which are specific to me. Each person’s experience of trauma is unique. Each step to their story is individual. However, closure occurs when the individual and the environment are safe to do so. Safety is individualistic to the person. For example, my opening paragraph deals with the process I took in making my decision to charge my offender. This paper will also focus on my feelings, thoughts and insights, responding intervention by the police officer and my comments as to the effectiveness of the intervention.  The conclusion will have recommendations for both the individual and the police department.

It is hard to say when I decided to press charges against my offender. I believe it was a process that began when I received my decision from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. At last I felt validated for the years of horror and abuse that I had suffered from my offender.  The committee told me that it was my right to prosecute him for what he had done.

Still taking an action that would eventually send a person to jail is hard. I needed time to think about this and I felt safe to do so as he was out of the province. The committee apologized on behalf of society for not keeping me safe from him. This statement had a powerful impact on me and I was moved to tears when I received their final decision in the mail. As I reflected on my life since the divorce, I realized that I was still frightened of my ex-husband. I felt this fear was hindering me form being the person that I wanted to be. I began counseling with my minister to explore ways to resolving the fear and taking back my life by holding him accountable for his behavior.  She helped me to explore my issues regarding charging him. Even though, I knew that effective treatment for offenders involved a term in prison, it was still a hard decision to make.

My minister accompanied me to my first interview. Andrea DeWitt, a police officer who had expertise with sexual abuse issues met with us. We were taken to a quiet office and I briefly described my reasons for coming to the police station. I explained that I was finally able to gather the courage to come forward and tell the police what had happened to me. She immediately validated me for reporting my abuse, completed the preliminary information for the file and explained the process for my case.

Later, while thinking of my offender’s methods of assault and grooming process caused me to be triggered. I felt that I did not have time for such nonsense thank you very much I had my life to live. Finally, I decided to process the triggering information using various stress techniques that I had developed to assist me. I was surprised that I was able to employ them as it had been more than eight years since I had been triggered with such intensity. The next step involved my cause being assigned to a police officer who was Detective Nick Lisi. He was trained in sexual abuse issues and had expertise with rape cases.

We spoke on several occasions with respect to my file to determine if my ex-husband could be charged with sexual assault. The first step in the investigation required me to give a statement. I choose to go to the police station to do this. This was important as it allowed me to be in charge of the process. I felt it was my responsibility to take an active role in the investigation. My first attempt at giving my statement was difficult. I was taken to a small interviewing room to give my statement. Detective Lisi told me that my statement would be video and audio tapped. I was very nervous about the process which made it difficult for me to tell the private details of my assaults to a stranger, whom I had just met.

The video tapping was a further trigger for my abuse. Detective Lisi tried to put me at ease so that I could give my statement but at this point I was too scared to speak. Wisely, he realized that I was having too much difficulty and shut off the equipment. We went to a quiet room which helped to put me at ease. I gave him a number of medical and legal documents which would support my abuse. We spoke for a few minutes and reviewed the information that he needed me to write. The method he chose is a three-part process called a gradual method of facts. Step one deal’s with dates, place and times. Step two involves relationship details and the final step was to include details of the offences. He asked me to write about my abuse starting from the year I was married and describe any details that I remembered regarding my abuse. He further added that we could stop the process at any point if I found it too difficult. This discussion allowed me to regain my composure and self respect. I was relieved to know that I was not being judged and that there were other methods of giving my statement.

In retrospect, it would have been more beneficial for me to explain to Detective Lisi that I had been triggered and that I needed to wait a few weeks before I made a statement. I set out to work on the project at my own pace and in the quiet of my home. Approximately, a week after my interview, Detective Lisi contacted me to discuss my case and during the conversation he explained that he believed me. This was a crucial step as it validated my experience. Subsequent conversations started out with him always first validating me before we discussed the file. Gradually, I was able to trust his judgment and started to talk of my abuse.

It also helped me to feel comfortable as I continued to complete my statement. While I was writing my statement, I decided to set two goals for myself. The first goal was to work through the experience of charging my ex-husband. This was important because I had been traumatized and silenced so effectively that I was terrified to go to the police when I was married. Secondly, I choose to work with a male officer to work through some aspects of my abuse. I knew that I could ask for a female officer but I felt that it would be more beneficial for me to work with a male police officer. I felt that if a male police officer believed me and acknowledged that the abuse I had suffered was not acceptable, this would allow me to re-process a portion of my abuse which aided in my healing.

Writing the first statement was a cathartic experience for me. I knew that the body has a natural way of protecting itself and would only allow the trauma to return when it was safe to do so. I knew that personal growth comes from walking through the pain and emerging a stronger person. Finally, I felt safe to be able to process what I felt was the final stage of my healing and to bring about closure to my abuse story. I realized that I was experiencing various levels of awareness which made many connections from my abuse to my present life.

Once my statement was completed, I arranged for Detective Lisi to come to my house to pick it up. He returned the documents that I had given him and we talked further about my file. At this point he indicated that he would go at a slow pace as he wanted to take care that I was not re-victimized by the process. He asked sensitive questions in a respectful manner.  These questions were valuable as they allowed me to examine myself in a meaningful manner. Detective Lisi explained that he felt he owed it to me to do a good job. This was a moving experience for me as I felt honoured. This was further validation of my experience.  I felt that setting the pacing and timing of the questions and so forth was a reflection of the ethics and integrity of Detective Lisi.

We had further conversations in which Detective Lisi asked me to confirm specific details for him which included things such as addresses, telephone numbers and so forth. I was still being triggered from the questions and decided to purchase a day timer which would help me. I wrote down questions that I had and information that he required. I used the book to record any further details that I happened to remember. Detective Lisi and I again met at the police station to sign various police consent forms. I noticed that he was wearing a gun and explained that it made me nervous.  He heard my concern and addressed it as best he could, considering policing policy.  Detective Lisi explained the documents to me before I signed them and then briefly described the types of charges. More questions were asked. Detective Lisi seemed to know intuitively that I was being triggered and would modify or change the question. He also wrote a list of information that he needed.

After this was done, we talked about going to the houses I had lived in to take pictures for evidence. Next he asked my consent to go to the houses and to ride in the police car. I gave my approval to each question. This was important to me because it was an example of respect and recognition that I had been violated by my offender. As we were leaving the station, he reassured me that we could stop at any time I felt it was too difficult.  This prompted me to voice my anxiety about visiting my home in Cherrywood as it was where most of the horrific violence had occurred.  Detective Lisi chose a gradual integration to town and then residence, which was an effective tool as the transition was more comforting so I did not feel traumatized. He knew that I attended the church in Whitevale and so this was the first house that we would visit and then go on to the house in Cherrywood. He stopped to buy me a coffee and then we proceeded to the houses.

We had a general conversation which helped to put me at ease. This was significant as it allowed me to be in charge of my experience and ensured that I would not be re-victimized. A well known theory concerning sexual abuse mentions taking the “child within” back to the abusive scenario and then describing the journey into the future where one can view the scenario in a different perspective. This was my experience in returning to the scene of my assaults. I felt more in charge of my situation. I was given one last task to write a statement of consent. This statement of consent is used as the first line of defense which lawyers use to defend their client.  The first line of defense addressed the credibility issues of his word against hers or he said --- she said. I felt that I needed to do some research on this issue and reviewed documents that I had acquired from the sexual assault centre in Newmarket, Ontario. I started my statement of consent by using the definition consent from Webster’s Dictionary.

I choose to emphasize my points by ending each act by saying NO, I did not consent to the act.  I ended the document with a powerful statement saying that I had handled the assaults correctly that I had to make life and death decisions in an instant and that my survival was evidence that I had handled the assaults correctly! This document served to solidify my experience. I was able to reflect on what had happened to me during the time I was married. I was able to integrate the experience, to make sense of it and to put it into context within my life. I began to develop a deeper sense of awareness about what had happened to me, how I must have felt being dragged across the floor knowing that what proceeded next involved me being sexually assaulted. I realized the horror I must have felt.  Remembering that I had the skills to deal with these feelings and that I was in charge of what I was remembering, helped me to further integrate all of the experiences connected with these feelings and memories.

I noticed some further changes in myself as I continued to take back my life. I needed to contact the Victim and Witness Program for support. This was an interesting experience because I had difficulty using the word victim to identify myself. I had a five minute conversation with the staff person before I was able to say that I was a victim.  This document of consent was given to Detective Lisi. At this point, I met his partner Detective Constable D’Amico whose was receiving training in skills augmentation. I learned that both officers had questions for me regarding my file. Detective Constable D’Amico made me a tea before we proceeded with the questions. Careful attention was paid to my responses and when it was evident that I was being triggered, Detective Lisi intervened and changed the focus.

At this point, I reiterated my fear and anxiety involving my offender; they reassured me that I would be physically safe. Both officers discussed the legal aspects that were available to keep me safe. The last step involved the method that the officers would use to lay the charges. At the end of this process, I felt an incredible sense of support and validation for my experience. I felt further empowered and that a richness had been brought to the experience through the relationship between the officers and myself.  In conclusion, there were many elements which came together to ensure that I was not re-victimized.

Recommendations:

 1) One officer handling the case provided continuity of information so I did not have to repeat my story to a number of strangers.

2) Validation of my experience – Saying I believe you

3) Setting the pacing and timing of the questioning, listening to my responses and observing for signs of being triggered or traumatized.  Collection of information for the file.

4) Using skills to collect the information that did not traumatize such as gradual integration

5) Respect for my experience and boundaries

6) Creating a safe and comfortable environment

7) Asking questions that were thought provoking – assisted with reflections and self growth.

I’m glad now that I had this experience. I know that this was the right thing to do and I am no longer afraid of my offender. I feel at peace and I have gained new insights which will help me in the present and will help me in the future.

The author of this piece blogs at SurvivorsandHeroes.wordpress.com

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