When I was 23 years old, I held my right hand up and took an oath to protect and serve my community. I take a tremendous amount of pride in the badge I display on my chest. I stand for those in need. I protect those who can not protect themselves. This job is a calling that I answered years ago and I’ve never regretted a single moment.
Since the day I took that oath, I’ve responded to countless of calls from women in need. Sometimes those calls come after the fact. There has already been a terrible trauma, and now the woman is counting on me to make it right.
Sometimes the call comes from a woman reaching out in a moment of fear. She fears for her safety, possibly her life, and she feels like she has no other choice.
Sometimes when I arrive, she pretends she doesn’t know why I’m there. “There’s no problem here,” she’ll say, though I can see how much she’s trembling as she says it.
Sometimes she won’t say anything at all. The other party will answer the door and she’ll stand in the background, nodding in agreement with whatever line he tries to feed me about the TV having been too loud.
Sometimes I can find enough reasons to intervein in the situation on my own. Sometimes I can help.
But sometimes I have to leave, knowing in the back of my mind that there was more going on, but knowing that legally there was nothing I could do.
Sometimes I don’t have a choice.
When I sit in my cruiser after a call like that, I worry. I worry because I have a pretty good idea what’s happening inside that house, behind that closed door. I know because I’ve been there. And as a police officer, that’s not an easy thing to admit.
In college, a guy I was dating sexually assaulted me. At the time, I didn’t know what happened to me was sexual assault. But the event still changed me. I didn’t consider myself a victim because I honestly didn’t consider it a crime. After all, the guy was my boyfriend. But this event effected me on levels I didn’t even realize and I struggled with it unconsciously for years.
I had already been sworn in as a police officer when the man I thought I would love forever came to live with me. I thought I was living in a fairy tale. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
Except my fairy tale wasn’t going to end happily ever after.
I was embarrassed to admit it, but my fairy tale was turning out to be written by the Grimm Brothers. I tried to portray my life as being perfect and I allowed other people to think it was. But in reality, everything was falling apart. I came home from work, where I spent ten hours a day trying to protect others, to a house where I was unable to protect myself. A house where I felt like I was going insane.
I was living a nightmare punctuated by moments that allowed me to convince myself everything was fine. I refused to admit there was a problem. After all, I’m a police officer. There’s no way I could become a victim of domestic violence.
It was a long time, and I mean a really long time, before I recognized that I had become a victim a second time. I didn’t want to believe that it was possible, but the sad truth is that anyone can become a victim.
Being a police officer didn’t make me special. It didn’t make me immune. All it did was help to blind me from the truth. If anything, my status as a police officer kept me trapped in the situation even longer. I was ashamed to admit I was being victimized. I was afraid my coworkers would no longer trust or respect me. How could I protect them if I wasn’t even capable to protecting myself?
So even after I was finally willing to admit what I had become, I hid it from the world. I pretended life was perfect. I posted smiling pictures on social media. I did a lot of lying. I made a lot of excuses. I put on an act.
Then one day, I broke down to a friend. I admitted everything. I asked for help. I spent hours pouring my soul out to this friend, who was also a police officer. I expected him to call me a coward. I expected him to tell me I was stupid for not dealing with this earlier. I expected him to tell me I was weak. I had been telling myself those things for months. My ex had conditioned me to believe them.
But my friend didn’t say any of those things.
My friend didn’t tell me I was a victim. Instead, my friend told me I was a survivor.
Referring to myself as a survivor instead of a victim gave me a new view of my situation. I had survived my ex’s abuse. I had survived living with him. I was taking charge of my situation. It took strength and courage to leave. I wasn’t a weak victim, I was a strong survivor. And after I survived, I thrived.
What I learned from this experience is anyone can become a victim. No one is safe from an abusive relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, what color skin you have, young or old. It doesn’t matter what you do for work. Anyone can become a victim.
I didn’t choose to become a victim, but I chose to become a survivor.