I was told by other survivors that the legal process would not be easy. I knew that it would involve reliving my assault again and again, as I shared my testimony with police, advocates, attorney’s, judges and juries. I knew that I would have to face my assailant throughout the proceedings, even have to coexist with him in the same room, and worse still that he’d be present at hearings and trials where my testimony was required, watching and listening as I recounted the worst night of my life, the night he is responsible for. I had heard countless times that the legal process could often be re-traumatizing for the victim and considered all of the above reason enough for this to be the case.
What I couldn’t foresee were the ceaseless times my hope of the light at the end of a very long tunnel would be thwarted by delay after delay. Believing the end was near, so near I could touch, taste and smell it, only to have it ripped from my hands. Most recently, I traveled the eight plus hours north for my rapist’s plea hearing. At which, we complied with several of his requests, in hopes of avoiding the trauma of a trial. After stringing us along for the day, he rejected the plea and trial was set for a few weeks later. Days before the jury was to be selected, another delay, he’d hired a new attorney who’d requested and received a 3 month continuance on the case.
Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the system. That every time I’m able to get my head above water and catch a breath, I’m called on to be present for a hearing or to give my testimony or to be told that things have been delayed, and down I go again. Just when I think I’ve found my footing, a way to live my life in whatever stage of the process I’m in (waiting for a hearing, preparing to give my testimony…), the ground shifts, everything changes and I must begin again, finding a way to move forward in the new circumstances I find myself in. Each time having to ask myself, “Am I strong enough for this?” “Can I do this?”
This last time, having the trial, which was days away delayed another three months, potentially more, was perhaps the hardest blow yet. I felt so beaten down. “Why would anyone put themselves through this?”, I thought. I can’t answer for anyone else, but I can answer for myself…
I will continue to take whatever suffering this process brings because while at times it may feel like my rapist is yet again in control, at times it may feel like I’m reliving the worst night of my life, at times it may seem this darkness will never end, HE IS NOT, I AM NOT, AND IT WILL. Unlike the night he held me in his car for three hours in an abandoned location, yielding total control over me; through the legal process, I am free to say No More and be heard. Unlike that night when he exploited my weakness; through the proceedings, I can utilize my strength.
Are there times I want to quit? Yes. Undoubtedly. To just walk away from it all and move on with my life. But, to do so, for me, would be the hardest blow yet. Throughout the assault and throughout these proceedings, my assailant has attempted to wield his power over me. The first time, there was nothing I could do to stop him. This time, there is. This time, through my persistence in spite of his delays, my steadfastness in spite of the pain, my commitment to the truth in spite of the risks (that he may never be convicted for his crime against me), I am given the power. The power to defend my dignity as a person who was violated and the power to be a sacrificial lamb for the victim(s) who would likely follow after me were I not to continue.
For these reasons, I will continue to seek whatever help I need to gather the strength to see this through. I could never make it through this alone. I am grateful to the advocates, counselors, pastors, family and friends who continue to walk with me through this darkness. And I am grateful to the One who is Light.