“Sometimes, victims want to take the case to court so that they can confront their abuser,” was what the officer told me as I sat in the unused room of our then-SoHo office taking it all in. We were discussing whether or not I wanted to file a formal complaint against my sexual assault case from when I was a minor. Silence crept in while I thought about what I wanted – did I really want to dedicate more time and resources to this than I already had? Did I even want to confront him after all these years? Even if a report was filed, there was no assurance that we would proceed to court.
“I don’t wish to proceed with a formal complaint right now. Let’s just have this person flagged.” The door still stays open on account of no statute of limitations, but rather judgment and discretion. When I think about my decision, my mind doesn’t unravel into a multitude of directions in which it could have taken; the choice was mine – one that I had say and ownership over.
But that wasn’t the case almost three years ago when I filed my complaint against the nurse practitioner who medically abused me, held her power over me, and dismissed me from her care while promising a transfer that she never put in. At the time, I truly believed that I had made a difference: I thought I was an aid in change; I thought I was in control of the conversation; I thought I was being courageous; I thought I was participating in dialogue. In actuality, I was just naïve and hopeful.
The report was filed on August 4th, 2011 in the morning to the Director, Counseling & Wellness and the Executive Director, Student Health Center. The stakeholders and I convened one morning some weeks later, but with one person missing – the one who was the centre of all this anguish.
“Where is she?”
“She declined the invitation,” replied the Director.
If there was one thing that could’ve provided me an ounce of empowerment, it would be that moment that the police officer had mentioned – seeing your abuser in front of you. Instead, I found myself castrated; gone was any sense of equality, only to be replaced by a diminutive feeling. The choice wasn’t with me, it was with her; this decision to be present wasn’t mine and neither was the decision for confrontation.
The discussion that ensued wasn’t one; the dialogue was more didactic, recapping to me their learnings from my case, and only when prompted by me did I learn what had happened to the nurse practitioner. This wasn’t a conversation about what happened to me; it was one that felt like a recap. And at the time, I was naïve, and still wounded enough, to not comprehend that there should have been more – that here should have been discussion, as opposed to a Q&A.
“And so what exactly do you want?”
“I want her to apologize to me.”
“You can’t force someone to apologize if they don’t want to… I, however, will apologize on behalf of the Student Health Center for what you went through.” It’s not the same, though. It wasn’t the lack of apology that bothered me as much as the lack of a presence. My abuser wasn’t there to bear witness to what she had done to me; there was no confrontation – only siphoned communication.
And that was it. The Director handed me her card, and said to contact her if anything ever arose and she would answer.
It wasn’t until after I graduated and someone had reached out to me, and noted similar abuse by the nurse practitioner mentioned above. An email of concern came from me to the Director, but silence reverberated. One could argue that I hadn’t followed up and that the onus was on me, but was it really? I had graduated and had my a new home now – this was just an act of keeping the nest safe. Even the plainest of acknowledgments would have sufficed to let me know that there would be consideration of what was witnessed. And so instead, it slipped through the cracks.
What you do matters, and how you do it matters even more so.
It took a lot out of me to relive the abuse and to formulate it into something accessible, but it was then taken away from me. It was as if the story would be catalogued and I had no say as to which shelf it would belong. The little grasp that I held on a sense of ownership over the trauma that had happened to me was taken away from me, leaving me without the ability to write its ending. And so I continue to write a chapter with only a beginning, a drawn-out middle, and multiple stopping points.
Photo credit: Flickr (user: walkingphotolife)