All in the same room.
She watches as people get up one by one; some had must-appear traffic tickets to contest, others were pleading for leniency for more severe mistakes, and there were even a few television appearances from inmates in the local detention center for criminal charges.
She looks around and sees familiar faces she knows, other women in Frederick who had most likely gone through the same experience, thankful they would not hear her recount her story of recent traumatizing events, surely she would be shuffled to a room to be questioned in private about the specifics of her case — until she heard her name and was asked to stand in front of the judge — and the rest of the courtroom.
The judge asked her why she’s pursuing a protective order as he looked down and perused her statement. She thought he would read it, then understand her hesitation. Surprisingly, he looked back up with a blank stare, slightly annoyed, motioning her to answer. To which she responded she was assaulted. He probed her to provide more detail, as he reviewed the documents in front of him. Do I really have to say it out loud?
“I was raped.”
It didn’t stop there. She felt like a spectacle: being poked and prodded with questions that would have nonetheless brought painful nostalgia in closed session, but now feels excruciating in public.
To tell a room of strangers that you are a rape victim — to detail the minutes of complete powerlessness, vulnerability, and physical torture to a sea of faces you hope to never see again, but probably will in such a close-knit town. You won’t know them, but they’ll know you. It was as if they were all in the room when it happened, looking, staring, forming their own opinions of doubt. Judgement is the entitlement everyone feels, but is not always deserving of. As she told her story, she could feel all eyes on her back, even if imaginary. A room of strangers was now privy to the greatest grief in her life — a story she had not planned on sharing and others should not have witnessed.
The courts show no mercy, even on those it should protect.
To survive pain and trauma is bad enough, to relive it in front of a callous, straight faced judge and outsiders who were never invited in your world is another kind of hell.
Why are domestic disputes in open forum in Frederick County?
Frederick County holds domestic disputes in the same courtroom as they do everything else: traffic, criminal…why?
Is there no other option? Looking for a resource, anywhere to relieve her of her anxiety, she called the Heartly House looking for answers because the court offered none. She was informed that this has been an ongoing fight between rape and domestic violence survivors and Frederick County that has so far been unsuccessful. She was also advised to prepare for discomfort if returning to the local Commissioner’s office, as they are known to become agitated with return victims.
She felt compelled to go back; she wanted to not only ensure her safety but to get justice as well. The Commissioner’s office didn’t do due diligence. She received paperwork to file a protective order but not to press charges — after requesting both. It was only after pouring her heart out to the graveyard shift commissioner, that she appeared to be half listening and told her to ring the bell if she had questions — then stepped outside for a smoke break.
But she didn’t return. Instead, she reached back out to the Heartly House, an organization that is understaffed, underfunded and the only resource in Frederick for victims like her. She was scheduled to be seen but the appointment was cancelled because they were booked. They asked her if she still wanted to be seen…as if the memories had faded that quickly.
Wait lists coincide with suicide.
Let’s be sure we can save you — if your insurance qualifies.
She calls 211: “We just gon’ sit and talk.” The robotic 211 operator is heard typing as she speaks, with scripted verbiage ready for tragic news:
“Oh I’m sorry to hear that…do you need me to refer you to…”
Her: “I’m on the edge…”
211 Operator: *typing* She’s on the edge…she didn’t use her name once.
But she took it. She needed to hear something than nothing.
The judge’s humdrum handling of domestic issues as if it’s the same as traffic and criminal paints a bigger picture of how emotionless and desensitized the system is to its victims.
Cases like these should be handled with delicacy, care and confidentiality. A public courtroom is punishment to a victim during a time of recovery and healing. Walking into a room wearing the scarlet letter R….could you do it?
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