Some things take time before I can talk about them. Sometimes I need to mull things over and kind of digest them before I open my mouth. In my ‘old age’ I’m starting to gain a bit of wisdom regarding when to speak and when to remain silent. Well…sometimes.
When we escaped our abuser and began to tell close friends and family what had happened, we got mixed reactions. People were shocked at the abject depravity of my now-ex-husband, but not surprised that we were living in an abusive situation. Many, many people knew he was abusing us long before I was able to see it for what it was.
Now, if you’ve ever been a victim — any kind of victim — you’ve more than likely dealt with ignorant people who chose to blame you, instead of blaming the criminal who victimized you. It’s a horrible feeling. I know that when I experienced it, those people made me feel tiny, insignificant and dirty. Although I know I never did anything to warrant the abuse, I still choose to be very selective when I speak of my past. I don’t need inaccurate judgments by uninformed individuals messing with my head. I’m three years out of the marriage and I’m doing pretty well — I don’t need triggers to set me back — so I live my life and pretty much keep my past to myself, unless I know a situation where I can really help someone.
There were a few people who went way beyond blaming. When a few months passed and my ex wasn’t arrested these people actually told me I was lying about everything because he’d be sitting in jail if it were true. These are people who claimed they know criminal justice inside and out because they watch crime dramas. Let that soak in for a minute — go ahead…read it again…I’ll wait….
Someone I had truly thought was a very close friend — for years — turned on me viciously claiming that if my ex had actually done what we were alleging, he would have been arrested the day we left him. I was floored at her ignorance and tried my best to explain, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She was absolutely positive that I was pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone involved and offering up an innocent man to be sacrificed. It didn’t make much sense but there was nothing I could do. I was incredibly hurt to have someone who was so close to me saying the horrible, untrue things she was saying. She did not understand domestic violence, nor did she want to. It came down, I suppose, to needing to blame someone and not understanding the dynamics enough to place that blame where it belonged.
I call this having a Law and Order mentality. When people think life works like TV shows. Many criminals — especially of the domestic violence penchant — do not get arrested by the police as soon as a victim gives a statement. I was asked countless times by countless people what was going on in the year before his arrest. I want to share the timeline from that year — in a nutshell, of course — so that people can truly — finally — understand. It was a grueling time for my kids and me. We lived in fear of him finding us before the law could do what needed to be done.
We escaped him at the beginning of December, 2009. We immediately gave statements to the police and then they took us to a domestic violence shelter. They transferred us to another shelter the next day so that we were out of the county and harder to track.
While at the shelter I contracted a battery of lawyers who immediately went to court and secured a Civil Protection Order that kept him from contacting us in any way. During our three-month stay there, we worked with social workers, police, investigators, lawyers, detectives — you name it. It was grueling to have to tell strangers of the depraved and humiliating things my ex did to me. I would spend hours with them and not even scratch the surface of all he had done.
A detective was assigned to our case and he talked with anyone he could who might be able to give him facts or testimony about my ex. He investigated everything we told him. He verified. He was thorough. He wanted to make sure that when he eventually arrested our abuser, he wouldn’t again see the light of day.
By late spring most everyone was asking me why he was still walking the streets. Concerned citizens in the town where we had lived — where he was still living — had set up a watch to keep general tabs on his whereabouts. Detective Baeker had submitted his findings to the county prosecutor and informed us that from there on out it was a waiting game. I didn’t understand, so he explained that the amount of cases that pass through the prosecutor’s office were vast. We had to wait for the file to be read, but our Detective was confident that we had a good case.
In the summer of 2010 we were contacted by victim’s advocates from the Prosecutor’s office and we began the horrendous process of again telling every detail we knew. It took a long time — many meetings. Several times the Prosecutor sent us back for more interviews with Detective Baeker — to get more details or go over things that were difficult for us to discuss.
By late summer Melody and I were slated to appear before the grand jury. I think it was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point because I had to give such personal testimony to strangers. When I finished, I was crying. When I looked at the grand jury members, there was not a dry eye in their midst, either. Still, I was afraid I had not been clear enough in my testimony. As I left the room, Detective Baeker and the Prosecutor both told me my testimony was outstanding — very well-spoken.
And then we waited some more. It was nerve-wracking waiting to hear whether my ex would be indicted — and for what — even though the Prosecutor was confident that he would be charged. When we finally got word that he had been indicted, my victim’s advocate read the long list of charges and I was so grateful that things were finally going to start moving. I thought he would be arrested immediately, but it took a week for the police to even receive the warrant. They were trying to decide on the safest way to approach my ex — at home or to wait and arrest him after he left the farm and wasn’t as likely to have a weapon — when he called the county sheriff and asked to make an appointment. He had no clue that any of this was transpiring — he had actually been telling people that nothing had come of our allegations and that there had never even been an investigation. So that’s when he was arrested — when he walked into the sheriff’s office for an appointment. That was at the end of August.
He was given a pretty high bail, but his mother and brother found a bondsman who was willing to post the bail. I knew if he was released, we were sitting ducks, and the shelter we had stayed at knew it, also, because they called me and told me to pack bags and come back so we would be safe. We did, although I hated leaving our home.
My ex was fitted with an ankle monitor and was waiting to be released when the Prosecutor asked for an emergency hearing with the judge. It seems that my ex violated the Civil Protection Order and had not surrendered all this weapons to the sheriff all those months ago. The judge revoked bail and told my ex he could sit in the county jail until trial.
We moved back home and I soon learned that my abuser was facing three life sentences, among other things. Trial was set for late October. We geared up and worked hard — going over evidence, being questioned by the Prosecutor — again — because she wanted the facts solidified. No mistakes. She wanted to see him behind bars permanently for what he had done.
While all this was going on, trouble was brewing at home. The pressure of the trial and testifying got to be too much. One of my children tried to harm themselves and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. The prosecutor immediately backed off and reassured me that my child’s health was paramount, not the trial. He was so afraid to be in the courtroom with his abuser that he begged to be dismissed from testifying. The prosecutor agreed because he wasn’t giving any key testimony. But after that I realized the toll it was taking on the family and I asked if there was a way to make a plea deal in order to keep my kids out of court. The prosecutor agreed to make an offer and after considering for one night, he accepted. Fifteen years, no early parole, no contact with his victims.
The sentencing was in November. I wrote a statement to read. It didn’t make me feel any better. I listened to the judge sentence him and I watched my ex’s cocky expression through the whole ordeal. He spoke, too, and said he was sorry only for the things that his wife perceived as abuse. He never truly apologized, but I hadn’t expected him to.
And then it was over.
I wrote all of this to help people understand that the wheels of justice turn very, very slowly. Of course we want things to move swiftly and for criminals to be off the street. We want our children and loved ones safe and protected. It takes time, sometimes, for that to happen. I wanted him in jail so that we would be safe from him, but I’m thankful that Detective Baeker worked the case and did his job so that there is one less criminal walking free.
I’m sorry that the woman I thought was my friend couldn’t understand that. But I hope that in sharing, it might save the relationship of someone else who is going through a similar experience.
Many thanks to the friends and family who stuck with us — there were so many times that you all carried us and I love you.