Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Predators

I had a gorgeous cat.  She was the bane of all mice, spiders, and flies.  She was brutal and merciless.  But she was also beguiling and beautiful.

It has been very difficult to write this post.  This portion of my life was one I thought I had put behind me and no longer needed to relive.  I had warned those I thought it pertinent to warn.

Recent conversations about who's to blame when a predator continues preying on a community have compelled me to retell my messy story. 

And the long and the short of it is this:  If you wait for the one in power to do something, you have waited too long.  Scapegoating does nothing more than relieve others of their shared guilt and teach those who are watching that they have no share in the responsibility. 

In the end, it was my community that saved me--ten to twelve tenacious peons who wouldn't take no for an answer, who didn't know it wasn't their business, and who didn't wait for the authorities to do something when there was something they could do themselves.  They were students, mainly freshman and sophomores, who just didn't give up.  If they had believed the kinds of theories of responsibility swirling around today, my story would have had a very different ending.

* * *

By all my recollections, he was charming—a little socially backward, perhaps, but charming nonetheless.  He seemed harmless, so very sweet and harmless.
 
I should have known better.  As one of my very best friends once told me, “Beware, Beth.  No guy is sweet and harmless, and if he makes himself look that way, he has an agenda.”

And he did have an agenda.

He stalked me.  Like my cat, he was a good predator, and he relied on my weaknesses.  He knew I had short-term amnesia as the result of a concussion sustained in a recent car accident.  I forgot things a few hours after they happened without reminders to help me eventually encode them.  He knew that I was a freshman who had only been on campus a couple of weeks so that I had no firm support system or good friends.  He used these to his advantage.

Wherever I went, he would appear.  He was everywhere.  He used his access as a lab assistant to see when I logged into the local computer lab, and he would materialize there moments later.  He would tell me I told him we would do something together, and I would believe him even though I didn’t remember. So we would do it. 

Later my friends would ask, “Why did you go out with him?” 

I would answer, “He told me I promised to.”

“The h*** you did!”

He would do something scary—hurl things at me which missed narrowly and shattered against the wall.  Then he would apologize profusely, make it up, say it wouldn’t happen again.  Perhaps he thought I would forget.  Perhaps he didn’t know that I was writing things down or that I was relying on the collective memory of the hall residents to keep me in check.

I was aware that there had been a girl before me, that she had not had a good time with him either.  But they said it was her fault.  They said that you couldn’t trust her.  They said, “Judge for yourself.”

I went to my University Scholars Assistant and Resident Assistant.  They were unsure of the right course of action and sent me to someone with real authority in Student Housing.  After I told my story, they told me I had no proof.  If we took action against him, we would be infringing on his rights.

My friends didn’t wait though.  They took action.  One friend would wait while I took my medicine for the concussion—meds which made me confused and sleepy—watched out for me as I prepared for bed, then lock me into my room, and slip the key under the door.  When I needed computer access, other friends let me use their computers in their rooms to complete my assignments so I never needed to log into a lab.  Another acquaintance used his authority as a lab assistant to try to block the stalker’s ability to find me (not sure how he did that).  Other girls on the hall would magically show up when the stalker did—witnesses so he couldn’t make up things that I had said and protectresses who escorted him back down to his room.

He claimed he was my boyfriend.  But I had another boyfriend. 

Eventually, he gave up.  My memory was coming back.  My friends were like armor which had no chinks.  And my boyfriend, from whom I kept all of this madness, was an island of sanity.  Okay, well, he has his own issues and so do I, but it was certainly an island of more sanity.

Aside from that, the predator thrived on looking good, looking like the one wronged, looking smooth.  I was ruining that for him.  I was no longer good prey, and he moved on.

A year later, on move-in day, I met his new girlfriend.

I am not sure what I said to her.  I remember trying to word my comments very carefully, to warn her but also to recall that I had not really been totally in my right mind.  I tried to give her the facts but not slander.

It still haunts me.  I met his girlfriend, but I doubted myself.  I didn’t take much action.  I didn’t grab her by the shoulders, shake her, and scream, “Run!”

I think I was giving him room to change, an opportunity for a second chance.  He had said he was sorry.  He had claimed to want a new start, another try.  Maybe he was different now. 

But then again, maybe second chances should come with caveats.  There was no reason that I shouldn’t have told his girlfriend what had happened to me, no reason that knowing would have hurt her.  In fact, there had been all the reason in the world to prepare her, but I wasn’t confident enough to take that step.  And that’s what he was counting on.

She later came to me with specific questions.  Yes, he had done the same things to her but worse, so much worse.

How did it happen? 

He was a predator.  I want to be clear.  Predators are beautiful, and they pick prey well.

His first girlfriend had a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one.  To the best of our knowledge, she did two things only: exercise and have sex.  You could hear it, at all hours, in the adjacent girls’ room (they were my friends) and the study hall.  I am told you could hear it downstairs as well, but I never tested that report.

She was also largely asocial, rarely talking to anyone but her sex partners in a social setting, and I’m not sure that you could call what they normally did talking.  Don’t get me wrong—she was brilliant and could be articulate and entertaining.  It just wasn’t like that most of the time.

And just as I knew the predator’s next girlfriend, so too, his previous girlfriend knew me.  But she probably also had her doubts.  She likely knew what people said about her.  She probably wondered what I would think of her if she told me.  In any case, like me, she was nearly silent.

The victims I know of were located in a coed dormitory, one that “had” to be kept coed on the basis of equity.  It was the scholars dorm, complete with visiting professors who roomed there (an Oxford professor would occasionally help me with my calculus) and special programs designed to benefit the residents.  Limiting the dorm to men or women only would be tantamount to denying the other gender an equivalently enriching academic experience, or so the Scholars Program and Student Housing staff argued.

As a result, it was very hard to say that he was up to no good roaming the halls and trolling for new victims.  He did, after all, live there.

He relied on the fact that no one would believe the first girl.  He relied on the fact that I couldn’t remember and hadn’t had time to build a social network.  He relied on the fact that the next girl was depressed and people tuned her out.  He relied on the fact that many (maybe even most) women would rather believe that the victim brought it on herself than that they themselves are largely powerless and that the same thing could happen to them.

Three years later, I refused to cooperate with campus police when they investigated him.  Well, maybe that’s not the best expression.  I asked them if what I said could be admitted as evidence.  They said they doubted it.  I asked them if, like the investigation with which I had so recently misfortunately been involved, I would be asked to keep quiet after giving my statement.  Yes, that would probably be so.

Then how, I wondered, could I possibly help?  If I gave the statement, not only could it not be used in court, but I would be asked to be silent.  At least, without the gag, I had been able to warn the next girlfriend a little, enough that she came to me later.  At least toward the end, I had been able to give her support as she tried to get out.  And she had been able to do the same for the next girl, and that was why, finally, we were sitting with the authorities.

I hope that they were able to stop him, but I realized that my best weapon was my voice.  Not against him, per se.  I couldn't do anything to him, and he, I hope, has been long dealt with.  But against others like him, against those who look lovely but are deadly.

And I hope those of you who are so fortunate never to have dealt with a predator, and whom I hope will remain fortunate enough never to do so, will realize a few things.

First, predators are beautiful.  They are experts at blending in, at being believed, at confessing to a small thing so that you believe that they have told you everything without realizing the depths which lie beneath their story.

Second, going to the police is not what it seems.  They don’t update you after you give a report.  They sometimes (I say “sometimes” only because I certainly don’t know about all police officers or investigations, but this has ALWAYS been the case in my experience) ask you not only not to speak about it but to pretend that you don’t know it has happened at all.  Due process takes time.  It does not happen overnight.  During that time, you have no idea what, if anything, is being done.  But most of the time, you are asked NOT to follow up.  And, of course, the real crux of the matter is that the police often only punish, not protect.  AFTER it has happened, they can do something, often not before, and even when you know that the offense is being repeated, the police may not be able to stop it.

Finally, you can try to do everything you think is possible, but you might just not know how.  Or you may think something was innocent only to later find out that it was not.  You may think to yourself, if only I had intervened, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened.  And the only thing you can really do at that point is forgive yourself, peel your eyes, and take that step the next time.

But two things I have found to be true, that I don’t expect anyone to recognize but those who have, unfortunately, traversed this road.

One is that nothing is gained by judgment. 

Keep going. 

You will be embarrassed, ashamed.  You will second guess yourself repeatedly, first for going to the authorities too quickly and then for not going quickly enough.  You will remember how lovely the predator was, how charming he could be, and wonder if you have misinterpreted what happened.  Then you will remember the horribleness of it all and wonder how you let it get that far.  You will wonder if you did enough to stop it, if there was something else you could have done, if there is a way now that you could keep it from happening again.  You will condemn yourself for your gullibility, your inaction, and even your own condemnation of the perpetrator.  But it won’t do any good.  It won’t make it go away.

Forgive yourself and forgive the others who were blinded with you. 

That doesn’t mean pretend you don’t see.  You have every right to say, “This has to stop.  I am not blind, and I can see what’s happening!” 

Forgive (not CONDONE) the perpetrator and push them toward appropriate penance (be that penal time or simply a change in direction), and forgive those who didn’t speak up or didn’t listen as well with the same caveat.  We all need to speak up and we all need to listen or no one will believe us.  Predators are that good at what they do. 

Unless you are the judge with all the information and evidence, do not judge.  You are not in the position to.  You do not know, nor can you.

The second is that there is no need to give up because you failed this time. 

Just because we have been a victim once does not mean that we have to give up and die.  My life is not over, and this incident will not define me.  There are lessons to be learned.  I’m not saying we should blame the victim.  But I am saying that I could have stopped giving second chances after I recognized a pattern of behavior, and it would have saved me heartache.  I am not saying that everyone has that opportunity to do so, but many of us do.  We can change to be better prepared.

We don’t need to use our shame as an excuse to hide.  Instead, let us use it as a reminder that shame only shields the predator.  As my friends can attest, community can make changes, even if authorities refuse to act.  Don’t hide behind your own limited power and refuse to make a difference.  Be the person you wish had helped you.

The chance to help does come again.  Decide now to do what you know how to.  There may be times that you can’t do anything.  There may be times when you fail.  But you can’t go backwards.  Learn and remember.  Move forward and act.  That is all anyone can really do.

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