Sunday, July 31, 2011

What I Learned from... Getting Someone Arrested

Author's Note: This entry is a continuation of my series, "What I Learned from..." It's a series on life lessons and experiences I've had. Some, like this installment, are more serious. Therefore, readers may want to use discretion before reading this entry. I will, however, do my best to keep graphic content to a minimum. With that, welcome to What I Learned from... Getting Someone Arrested.

Some people call high school the "best years of your life." I used to think, "If these are my best years, I'd hate to see what's ahead." For me, high school represented the hardest years of my life for a long time.

It started when I was 15 and my family moved to Michigan. Scratch that, when I moved to Michigan without my family. I lived with some friends from our church for several months so I could start 10th grade on time.

Before moving to Michigan, I had lived a sheltered life in Dallas, Texas, attending private schools and being home schooled. I had a core group of close friends, and the most exciting things we did were try to talk to the boys we liked on the phone or go to Mavericks games. I never got into trouble, mostly because I never had the chance.

When I moved to Michigan, I started public school. Talk about a culture shock, and the kind of learning experience you don't send your kids to school for. It was a completely different world than anything I had ever experienced, and I did my best to remain invisible. Better to vanish in the crowd than stand out as the girl who learned a few new words this week or didn't know that smell was marijuana.

Somehow I got through sophomore year, blending and going fairly unnoticed. It was hard though, who wouldn't want to be like the popular girls and actually have a guy ask you to a dance? That's why, when junior year rolled around, and the good looking guy in my economics class started talking to me, I was soaking it up.

But, not all attention is good attention, as I started to learn. And maybe I had a sign hung around my neck that said "vulnerable" or "easy target" because it didn't take long for things to go downhill.

I learned later that it's called "sexual harassment" when people touch you inappropriately or say things of that nature. But when it was happening, something in my subconscious wanted it to make sense, wanted to write it off, tried to reason it away. Maybe it was just an accident, it could've been a mistake... But something else in my subconscious knew it wasn't an accident, it was wrong.

It took a while for me to bring it up. Honestly, I don't know how I did, it was so embarrassing. But somehow, in the car at a stoplight, I managed to tell my mom. That was all it took to start the landslide. Not a bad landslide, a good one. One that I didn't have to work at to keep it going. It went on its own.

My parents scheduled a time for me to meet with the private detective who worked for my school. That's when it really sunk in that this was a bigger deal than I had first thought. I didn't want to talk about what happened, so my dad did the talking for me. I remember feeling sick to my stomach, but instinctively I knew I needed to do this. The detective started investigating the situation right away, and then I knew it was serious.

A day or two later he pulled me out of class to give me an update. He had talked to the guy, who admitted to doing everything I had said. I was sort of shocked that he wouldn't protest it or lie and say he hadn't touched me. But the detective had it scribbled on his yellow legal tablet. It was official. And he was filing a warrant.

After that things went kind of fast. He got arrested, his family posted the bond, we went to court. Court was probably the scariest moment of all because I knew that I would have to face him. All I wanted was to not have to testify. I remember getting to the courthouse and being taken into a room with a bunch of lawyers in suits. They kept me there for a while because he was out in the hall. Everyone was stone-faced, but somehow I knew they were on my side and would protect me.

In the hearing, the judge said, "How do you plead?" And when his lawyer said, "Guilty," I knew I had won. I didn't really pay attention to the sentencing or what was said after that. It really didn't matter to me. All that mattered was that I had done it. I had spoken up, someone had listened and I had won.

* * * * *

It's been a long time since that day. But I carry with me always the things I learned. The biggest is that I have a voice. In fact, everyone has one, but not everyone uses it.

I learned that a lot of women do what I first did, we try to reason away what happened. It's a gut reaction to try to mentally "fix" it, to try to make it make sense. But anyone will tell you, it never does quite make sense. And when you realize that, you have one of two options. You can bury it down deep, ignore it and pretend it never happened. Or you can speak up, tell someone, and do something about it.

I think a lot of women choose the former, and suffer in silence. It takes a special kind to do the latter. But I realized something else, in being one of the ones to speak out, I didn't do it just for myself. I did it for the other women who might have been harassed by this guy. I did it for the other women who didn't know who to tell, who were scared no one would believe them, who felt defenseless.

In speaking out and finding my voice just once, I have found it over and over again. I'm not afraid to be the one person who calls someone out, who reports a wrong, who faces injustice head-on. I am not afraid to listen to someone else share their story, and support them however I can. I learned that I not only had a voice for myself, but I had a voice for others.

I also learned that having a voice can be hard and scary. There were so many times I wanted to back down. I wanted to just be done with everything and not have to face it. It's hard to be strong when you're looking evil in the eye. But I also learned that if you can beat it, you can beat anything. And once it was all said and done, I was so glad I hadn't backed down. And so I learned that I'm a fighter, and that quitting is never an option.

Finally, I learned that I want to encourage as many people as I can through my experience. Whether they have gone through something similar, or are currently experiencing it. Or even if they never have and never will. Everyone can learn from my story and stories like mine. The biggest thing people need when going through situations of harassment and abuse is support. Someone to listen, to believe and to care. I learned that's what we all need, and that's the kind of person I intend to be.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Good for you and I agree no matter how it turns out, it strengthens you and helps you face up to trials and get through them. Too often running away is the choice we make. Mine was similar but I had a nagging feeling I caused some of it. Still I went ahead and reported it. My results didn't have such a positive outcome but it brought light to my own self awareness and strength. Good job reporting. I hadn't thought of this in years.

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