content warning: domestic violence
“Do you want an order of protection?” asks my advocate at the Compass Center after I spend some time ranting about how a year should be enough time for my abuser to calm down and leave me alone. Of course I want an order of protection. Of course, after everything I’ve been through I want a court to order him to leave me alone–after all, he wouldn’t listen when I told him. Of course I want deadly weapons out of the hands of a dangerous person–a person who jokes about curb-stomping people for minor transgressions, about killing the neighbors (and the neighbors’ dog, too). Of course I want the reassurance of not needing to look over my shoulder in public.
And having that carrot of perceived safety dangled in front of me, I chase after it. There’s an exhausting few hours of paperwork, including a statement of some of the behaviors that support my complaint.
I’ve spent a substantial amount of time at the Compass Center. I’ve been kindly supported when I’ve been so upset I didn’t trust that a friend could handle it. So upset that I can’t even remember the names of the people who’ve helped me, to my chagrin. My advocate whose name I don’t remember begins by reading me the NC statute:
§ 50B-1. Domestic violence; definition.
(a) Domestic violence means the commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship, but does not include acts of self-defense:
(1) Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury; or
(2) Placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party’s family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, as defined in G.S. 14-277.3A, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
(3) Committing any act defined in G.S. 14-27.21 through G.S. 14-27.33.
(b) For purposes of this section, the term “personal relationship” means a relationship wherein the parties involved:
(1) Are current or former spouses;
(2) Are persons of opposite sex who live together or have lived together;
(3) Are related as parents and children, including others acting in loco parentis to a minor child, or as grandparents and grandchildren. For purposes of this subdivision, an aggrieved party may not obtain an order of protection against a child or grandchild under the age of 16;
(4) Have a child in common;
(5) Are current or former household members;
(6) Are persons of the opposite sex who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship. For purposes of this subdivision, a dating relationship is one wherein the parties are romantically involved over time and on a continuous basis during the course of the relationship. A casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context is not a dating relationship.
Yes, I affirm to myself, that is what happened. The law is supposed to protect me.
While my advocate checks boxes and populates a computer form, I write a personal statement about some of the abuse I have endured:
In 2016 Bryan repeatedly physically obstructed my exit from our bedroom and/or my office while he was angry despite my protest.
In 2016 on at least two occasions Bryan punched his large metal gun safe until his knuckles bled and fingers swelled.
On Feb 12, 2017 Bryan threw my clothes, personal effects, and gifts I’d given him into the hallway of our house. He then threw a glass-framed wedding photo at the wall next to me, approximately 2 feet from my head where it shattered.
On Feb 18 Bryan antagonized me verbally until I did not feel safe and abandoned our home in fear.
On or around Feb 18 I received hand written and text messages that caused me to fear for the safety of my cat.
On Feb 19 Bryan followed me and the friend escorting me to gather personal effects. He video recorded us and repeatedly came within two feet of my person despite requests to stay out of my personal space.
Between Feb 19 and March 21 2017, Bryan harassed me by phone and text message, repeatedly asking for my physical address.
On March 21, 2017 Bryan cornered me on the road side. I was so frightened I could barely speak with the 911 dispatcher as I frantically attempted to pull into traffic until he gave up.
On May 12, 2018 Bryan parked down the block from the yoga studio where I teach. He had the parking receipt sent to my phone. I have never received a receipt from his credit card like that. I have been carrying scissors in my purse and a baseball bat in my car because I know that he is around and I am afraid of him.
I’ve done this before–I had a temporary order of protection in 2017 after the roadside incident. That first time, my hands shook and my writing changed as I wrote. A childish, erratic scrawl appeared on the page. This time, I am steadier and angrier. We call the organization that sent a lawyer last time. They look at my case records and tell me there’s no guarantee of an outcome, but the judge should consider the facts of my case before this point.
The next day a friend sits with me in the Sherrif’s office. I know I am safe, but I’m nervous anyway as we sit on an old couch in a basement office. Amber enters my information into her computer and an officer leans into the doorway. I know he’s a law enforcement professional but I eye his sidearm warily. His hair is short and he’s wearing a uniform. A second officer sits at the other desk. He stands up and jokes about something. He’s armed too, of course. I hate guns now. I gasp quietly as he passes by me and feel overwhelmed by my distrust for these men. Amber leads us upstairs. There’s a scissors in my purse. I know it and I suspect they’d take it away if I’d gone through the metal detectors at the front door. I want my scissors. I say nothing as we ride the elevator up a single floor. I startle at the ding when we reach our destination.
Amber open the door and we follow her into the courtroom where I’ve always been reliably terrified. I ball my hands into fists and follow her. She explains that she’ll go find the judge and let her know we’re here. She flips the lights on. The courtroom is empty, and this way it’s certainly less intimidating. We sit at the back of the room and wait quietly for some time. As minutes pass, the courtroom strikes me as increasingly benign. I notice the dust in the hanging lights and the architectural awkwardness. Slowly, courtroom staff filter in and joke with each other.
Judge Scarlett appears happy when she enters the court. There are a few criminal cases for her to deal with before she will hear me, and I notice that she’s kind responding to the lawyers and the inmates appearing by closed circuit video. When I stand before her, I am nervous. I press my fingers into the Bible as she asks me to swear to tell the truth. “Yes,” I whisper. She asks me what happened and I tell her, my forehead pinched in distress. I look, trembling, into the face of this woman and mentally beg her to help me. She grants my order. My deep sigh of relief comes out; “thank you”.