“I reminded him that he was under oath and asked him similar questions over again. Did you ever strangle me? He said no. Did you ever kick me? He said no. Did you ever punch me? He said no.“
A lot of things were going through my mind. Would he show up? Would he deny everything? Would he attempt to discredit me? What will the judge decide?
My boyfriend picked me up from work and went with me to the hearing. I clenched his hand in the car and tried to keep my mind off of what was about to happen. As we pulled into the parking lot I frantically looked in each car as it was pulling in, praying it wasn’t him. We went inside and as I looked through the closed doors to the courtroom corridor, I caught a glimpse of him. I immediately moved out of view. My heart started to race. I decided I would wait for my Embrace advocate, Kendra to arrive. Luckily, she had been watching for me and came out through the doors. She said, “he’s here and he has a lawyer.” I felt a knot in my stomach, but Kendra was calm and collected and exuded support. She went to check to see if a room was available so we didn’t have to sit in the hall with him. One was and as we walked down the hall I didn’t even look at him.
While in the room, Kendra mentally and emotionally prepared me for what was about to happen. It wasn’t going to be an easy process. Not only did he show up, but he also brought a lawyer. I was going to have to testify, answer all of his lawyer’s questions, listen to him testify and then listen to his lawyer argue why my request should be denied. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle everything, but I knew I had to stand up for myself.
We made our way into the courtroom and during a short break, Kendra and I went up to the table. We rose for the judge and he called the hearing to order. The judge immediately asked me if I wanted to testify. I said I did. I was sworn in and took the stand. My heart was racing. My body was shaking. Initially, I had a hard time getting my words out. I kept my testimony short. I explained to the judge that during our marriage, Travis had strangled me three different times and that he kicked me, punched me, and threw me against a table. I told him that during one incident my phone was taken from me so I couldn’t call the police. He asked me if I wanted to add anything else and I said I did not.
Travis’ lawyer then had the opportunity to cross-examine me. The questions went on for what seemed like forever. To me, this was the easiest part. I knew I just had to tell the truth and let the rest speak for itself. He asked questions about how long it had been since I had seen or heard from Travis. He asked when was the last time he had been physical with me. I knew he was trying to make the argument that since Travis hadn’t done anything to me recently, he was unlikely to do anything to me in the future. He then presented to the court, various blog posts I had made as evidence against me. One post, titled “Therapy and Freedom” was presented. His lawyer asked me if, in the post, I described wanting Travis to get hurt by a group of several people. He had taken the post out of context. I explained to him that I was participating in Imagery Rehearsal Therapy, during which my therapist and I recreated a fictional ending to my dream (which consisted of Travis being hurt and powerless like I was) as a way to stop my nightmares of him hurting me. If you read the full post, I then go on to say how successful this treatment was in stopping my nightmares. Never once did I state that I wanted this to happen to him in real life.
Travis’ lawyer also presented my post called “Forgive Yourself For What You Needed to do to Survive.” Both Travis (later during his testimony) and his lawyer during his questioning of me and in his closing argument, stated this post was proof of my temper and violence. I stuck to my honest answers and again made it through.
The last post his lawyer presented was the post in which I revealed Travis’ first and last name. His lawyer made the argument that since I stated in a previous post that I wanted someone to bring Travis harm (which as was previously discussed, was untrue) and then revealed his name, I was putting him and his family in danger.
Needless to say, things were not looking to be going in my favor. I just held onto my truth and prayed the judge would see past the lies.
Finally, my questioning was over. Travis was sworn in and took the stand. I knew this was going to be the worst of it. He told the judge I was the violent one. He said he never had a drinking problem, but went to AA. I remember Kendra grabbing my hand and holding it – which was exactly the strength I needed – especially for what was to come. His lawyer asked him if he had ever hit me. He said no. He asked him if he had ever kicked me. He said no. He asked him if he had ever slapped me. He said no. I was stunned. Part of me assumed he might lie, but the other part of me thought being under oath would push him to finally tell the truth. It didn’t.
It was my turn to question him. I reminded him that he was under oath and asked him similar questions over again. Did you ever strangle me? He said no. Did you ever kick me? He said no. Did you ever punch me? He said no. I told the judge I had no further questions. The judge read over everything that was entered as evidence and then Travis’ girlfriend testified.
I saw myself in her as she spoke. I don’t even remember a lot of what she said. I looked at her and I saw myself years prior, believing him after his ex told me he was abusive to her – and blamed her for it. I believed him over her. That is the power of manipulation. I never thought he would do it to me. Our relationship was different. He told me she had a temper. He told me she was violent towards him. And I believed him. I believed him until it was too late not to. By that time I was so manipulated that I didn’t even see myself as a victim. Somehow during all of that, he had me believe I was the one messing up.
As I looked at her I wondered. I wondered if she ever felt scared. If she ever doubted herself – her thoughts, her feelings, or her character because of his words or actions. I wondered if she was starting to realize he was laying about everything or if his hold was already so strong that she couldn’t.
While on the stand she spoke about being scared of being targeted because of my post revealing Travis’ name. She spoke about having compassion for me and what I had been through.
The judge asked his lawyer if there was any reason why he shouldn’t grant the order. The lawyer spoke for 5-10 minutes. Again he stated no physical violence had occurred recently. Little contact had been made. I was the one with the temper. Everything was he said vs she said. He even referred to the definition of domestic abuse.
The judge then began to change the trajectory of my life. He stated that he looked up the definition of domestic abuse as well. He said that according to the definition if there is reason to believe abuse occurred in the past, he is legally obligated to grant the order. Time stopped. I was having a hard time processing what I had just heard. He then went on to say that he has reason to believe abuse did indeed occur in the past. He believed me. A second person who had the power to protect me showed through their actions that they believed me. I began to cry. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I felt so validated. As he read Travis all of his restrictions for the next 4 years, I knew he was finally being held accountable for his actions.
Kendra, my boyfriend, and I all went to a small room after court was adjourned. Kendra told me how proud she was of me and how much courage that took. She commended me for my strength and composure on the stand. We hugged, tears in our eyes. We did it. I walked in with no legal representation and walked out with a voice and validation. It was a monumental moment in my life.
I no longer have to worry about receiving phone calls, text messages, or any messages from him or anyone he knows. I no longer have to search the businesses I visit in Eau Claire for him. If he tries to contact me or doesn’t leave a place I show up at, he will be arrested. This is justice. He almost destroyed me. Yet for so long it was me who continued to walk and live in fear. No more. The burden has been placed back on him – where it should have been all along.
***Special thanks to Embrace and Kendra for their support and strength. I utilized Embrace’s Facebook chat and advocacy. Each and every interaction with this organization was phenomenal. I felt heard. I felt believed. I felt supported and I felt prepared. I couldn’t imagine going through this process without them!***
To learn more about Embrace in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and their services, please click here: https://www.embracewi.org/
Photo: Flickr – Karen Neoh