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Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Should I Speak Out About My Abuse?
I am a graduate student at a university. The department I belong to is a relatively small one. My ex-partner was also a grad student in the same department, and has since graduated and moved on to Doctoral studies at another university. I believe he maintains contact with several of our professors on a personal level. Due to the fact that his girlfriend (previous to me) committed suicide, he became something of a "department darling"; he has the good will and support of all the faculty, and I know that they have pulled many strings on his behalf. What they don`t know is that for the duration of his relationship with me (which lasted over two years) he abused me sexually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. When he couldn’t abuse me, he abused my little dog in order to hurt me (I think he may have been jealous of my love for her, as crazy as that sounds).
During those years I had a mental breakdown; I had always struggled with episodes of mild depression and anxiety, but since then I’ve been a mess. I completely lost my sense of self (at that point, if asked, I could not even have told you what my favorite color was; even my own name sounded strange to me). I did not receive much help other than prescription medications, as I was able to keep my breakdown fairly quiet and did not tell anyone the real reason for it, though my depression worsened to the point of constant suicidal thoughts. Over time I was able to pull the pieces of myself together somewhat, though I am a very different person today than the person I was before my breakdown. Not even my family knows the extent of what happened during those years. I am currently on a medical leave from my studies; I told my professors and the department head that I required it due to my struggle with depression and anxiety disorders, and that I would undergo an unrelated surgery during my leave (which I have).
I tried (unsuccessfully) to leave my partner several times. Things became especially difficult when he moved into the same apartment building as me – right across the hall, in fact. When I tried to leave him again, he was able to stalk me relentlessly and harassed me through phone calls and showing up at my door constantly. When the opportunity came to move with my family to a different state, I seized it. I didn’t tell him I was leaving until a week or two before the move (I couldn’t hide the packed boxes) and I arranged with my advisor and my department to continue my studies from afar (I had finished all of my course work, and only have to finish writing my thesis). My department didn’t get a very good explanation of why I was moving away, but they didn’t give me any trouble. I did hear that one of my professors told a friend that he didn’t believe I would finish my course of study after moving.
Even after the move, my ex followed me to my new place of residence as it was en-route to the university where he is doing his doctoral studies. He stayed in town for one night and spent it trying to convince me to rethink things and to re-enter a relationship with him. I held firm and his attempts were somewhat foiled by the fact that my family was around for most of the time. I was very glad to see him go. I have since then cut off all contact with him and have not responded to his emails, phone calls, letters, and the gifts he’s sent (it’s now been over a year).
As my medical leave draws to a close, I am still struggling with depression and anxiety, although living with my family helps me to remain optimistic. I still have a very hard time dealing with what happened to me, and I feel an urge to speak out; I don’t want to feel like a victim anymore. I know that my ex would never admit to any of it if he was asked. None of my friends know about the abuse that took place, because they were all his friends before they were my friends. And none of my professors know, because they were all his friends and mentors before they were mine. I am afraid to speak out because I am afraid that I will alienate them, that they won’t believe me. If I tell the truth, will the people who consider him a successful “son of the department” think I am lying or more than a little mentally ill? If I tell my professors and they don’t believe me, will it have an adverse effect on whether or not they pass my thesis?
I am desperate for advice, but have absolutely no one to talk to. Any help from an expert would be so greatly appreciated.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with me. I cannot tell you what to do, but I will state that given the circumstances of your encounter with this individual, it would be in your best interest and the interest of others to inform the public of his behavior. He has been a threat to your safety, and while there are no consequences for his behavior, others are at risk, as well. As you indicated in your story, he terrorized you for so many years, and you are now at a point where you want to reclaim your power and to no longer be a victim. I think speaking out and informing others is one way of empowering yourself.
There are, of course, risks associated with informing others. We cannot predict how others will respond; some may be totally understanding and supportive of your experiences, and there may be those who will have doubts and may even cast suspicion. You know the truth, and you know best whether you feel mentally prepared to endure the consequences of such a decision.
I feel that you are a courageous young woman. Be sure to surround yourself with supportive individuals who can help nurture your spirit as you begin the process of disclosing to others what you have endured over the past few years, and why.
Please feel free to contact me again in the future for additional support.
Cathy McDaniels-Wilson, PhD
Department of Sociology
The Ohio State University