Saturday, October 3, 2015

XXIX

I recently read through several of my older posts and realized how long it's been since I went through that horribly abusive relationship. For the most part, I think I'm slowly healing. Although I can recall things that happened years ago like they happened yesterday, I'm mystified sometimes at how I made it through: how I kept fighting and continue to keep fighting. Every time it rains, it calls to mind the Washington climate, adding another layer of gray to the already cloudy skies above. It's definitely harder the days it rains, but I can tell that it's not nearly as bad as when I first came home. My vulnerability is not something of which I'm proud. It's been hard to admit when I can't handle it, because I feel stronger when I can handle the anxiety attacks and stress on my own. I feel like I'm constantly learning how to approach different triggers and how to tell my current boyfriend, Tanner, about them, even when I don't want to do so. My son is growing up, his physical attributes more and more similar to mine than Theo Keyes. With Tanner as his father and my parents as my support system and his role models, I know he has a stable life and will continue to have one as I approach a time when I move out with him. I love him more than anything, and I can't imagine life without him. He will always be the single greatest blessing that came out of the tragedy.

People often ask me how I met Tanner, and I'm not sure if I've ever told the story. We've dated since June of 2012. He is the subject of many conversations I have with family, friends and coworkers, and it amazes people that he was willing to "take on" such a relationship. We met at school before I left, and despite his and my parents' protests, I left with Theo for Washington. I did think of him when I left. He had long, bleach blonde hair that almost reached his shoulders. The first time I saw him, in a public speaking class at college, he was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt and talked about his favorite band, Tool. We became fast friends after he heard my speech on Nine Inch Nails, but I think back then both of us weren't sure what we wanted. We tossed around the idea of starting a band, but after I left with Theo, I was sure he'd forget about me.

For whatever reason, the week I got back, I messaged him on Facebook almost immediately after I got back from Washington. We had pretty much an instant connection, but I was still so nervous and broken from Theo that I was scared to date anyone else. I remember one night, we sat in my backyard under the stars, and he leaned over and kissed me. I don't remember if it was a long kiss or a short one, but I remember telling him that I'd never had the guy make the first move. He replied and said something to the effect of "maybe you should start dating real men". Whatever it was, I fell in love and never stopped. Both new to the kind of depth this relationship held, it was hard at first. Communication was, ironically, one of our biggest problems (even though we'd met in a public speaking class), but we both wanted it to work so badly that we kept trying, and trying, and trying. I can't adequately explain the type of love and devotion I feel for Tanner, and the type of love and devotion he feels for me.

On Valentine's Day of this year, we had a romantic date-night-in, as is the case for most parents with a two-year-old, but after Matthew had been put to bed, I was sitting on the couch and he came to me with a little white box. It held a promise ring, the most delicate and beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and he told me that he wanted to marry me. Now, at the beginning of October, we face a new chapter in our life together. Tanner is my best friend, my soul mate, and I can't imagine how I ever deserved someone so amazing to come into my life, but he did. The greatest victory I've ever held over Theo is the establishment of my own family with a man who loves not only me but our son, Matthew. It's something sacred, untouchable, incorruptible and eternal.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

XXVIII

I had several people try to warn me away from Theo, warnings which I ignored because I thought I knew better. Theo had actually been in touch with one of these people before turning towards me, and oddly enough, she's the only person from Washington who I still contact. Theo had tried developing a relationship with this woman, Anastasia, and he ended up finding qualities about her that he didn't like, which is why he turned to me.

Although Theo had banned me from contacting Anastasia during the time I was with him, we quickly reconnected after I left him. I realized how strong she was during our countless conversations on Facebook, and she was one of the people I drew strength from during the long road of recovery. It was therapeutic for me to engage her in conversation because we'd both been down similar roads with the exact same person and both came to the same conclusion. Recently, when I was telling her about how I'd been contacted by the Bellingham police regarding Theo, she said she ran into him some months ago. Admittedly, I was initially startled. For three years I've tried to tell myself that I am not afraid of Theo and not haunted by demons of my past. It hadn't really been true until I read the message of her latest encounter with Theo Keyes.

Anastasia was at a concert in Washington with a friend. They were talking with members of the band when Theo quite literally almost ran into Anastasia. "[H]e looked like a ghost, his jaw was wide open," she told me. I spent a few minutes trying to imagine him in that state of shock, reading through the rest of the message to find that she had actually a group of friends near her, and how small he seemed to her. He left immediately and she hasn't seen him since.

I remember staring at the screen after reading that and thinking back on all the anxiety attacks, all the nightmares, all the reoccurring physical problems I'd had over these past few years.  It sounds cliché to say, but it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For a fleeting second I wished it had been me there, standing in front of him, just to see him fall: to see him turn and run like the coward he is.

For so long I'd been traumatized by this image of Theo in my head. I put a lot of weight in symbols: my blog itself takes inspiration from the phoenix. I burned for a long time, but this blog has always been here to prove that I can and will "rise from the ashes". It was really important for me to read Anastasia's story and to pass on the message. Rapists and psychopaths like Theo get their power from isolation because it's really the one thing they can use to victimize a person, to make them weak. They are the ones that are truly small, weak and insecure. Without that isolation, they are nothing. I write this blog so that others that have been victimized don't have to feel alone: ever. It doesn't matter if you've been shunned by your family, if you've lost your friends, if you didn't have anybody to begin with: you'll never be alone.

I'm lucky to have a strong support system, but I also know that I can be a source of support for someone else. You might feel like a victim, but you're a survivor. We all are. If you can go through something like that and walk away, even with countless scars, you survived. It might not feel like it some days, but that's why we all need people to lean on and to reaffirm your strength. Don't hesitate to reach out and comment on the blog if you need it: before I started blogging, I was in a very dark place and didn't think I could really find anyone else who would want to listen to my experience or had been through what I'd been through. 28 posts and almost 2200 views later, I've been proven wrong. As survivors of abuse, we truly have strength in numbers.  I'm so grateful to everyone who's supported me through the bad times and the good, and I'm happy I finally found my voice and my passion.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

XXVII

Yesterday I pulled up my Facebook page to see something unexpected: a friend request from one of Theo's friends, Brian Thomas. I was startled at first, but I knew it couldn't be a coincidence. I'd given Brian's name to the police and provided them with his profile, which I'd blocked some years ago, on Facebook. Brian's new profile had no pictures whatsoever, so I couldn't necessarily confirm that it was Brian himself and not potentially Theo trying to get in touch with me, even after all these years.

Brian Thomas has tried to contact me in the past: to relay Theo's messages to me, and after I told him that Theo had raped and abused me. He found me on Twitter, months later, and reached out to see if I wanted to talk, assuring me that he wasn't friends with Theo, but I've grown up: I know better than to trust anyone connected with Theo. I blocked him on Twitter, and then ultimately ended up closing my account all together. I don't know what he wanted, and I don't really care.

The profile picture that's displayed on my profile includes me, my son Matthew, and my boyfriend of three years, Tanner Harris. It reflects how I'm currently living my life. I am happier than I've been in a while, and I've successfully completed not one, but two Associate's degrees. I graduate May 7th with a degree in Paralegal Studies and I'm just that much closer to pursuing my dream career as a paralegal in the District Attorney's office: or any criminal prosecutor's office, for that matter. Tanner is close to completing his degree in General Studies and we're discussing the near possibility of getting married. Matthew is almost two-and-a-half years old. I may not ever fully heal from what Theo did to me, but I intend on using my experiences to positively impact other people's lives. I think the biggest change that's happened this year is that I'm no longer afraid of the "what-if's". Theo is, and always will be a colossal loser, a scumbag and criminal, and if I've learned anything this past month, the law will catch up with him. And while he runs from the inevitable, I'm moving on from my past. I'm not afraid of him, and on a daily basis, the thought of Theo doesn't cross my mind. I'm focusing on better things, and even if I do cross reminders of what happened, I know that not only my family is ready to hear what's going on, this blog is always open, always ready to hear the next installment in the journey I've made so far.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

XXVI

On a beach in Florida during spring break, a 19-year-old girl was not only attacked and assaulted, she was gang-raped in public. The worst thing to me is that no one did anything: that they were totally indifferent and wrapped up in their own selves that they did not even think to help this girl who was being brutally victimized. It physically hurt and made me sick to think about what she went through and how someone could have helped but didn't. This isn't even half of the worst part, however: the attack was filmed. "Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen called the video "probably one of the most disgusting, repulsive, sickening things that I have seen this year on Panama City Beach, and I have seen a lot of them,"" says the article, which you can read in full here.

The video that was found was not even one of the first of its kind. It was found during an unrelated investigation, miles away, in Alabama and had to be sent to Florida from there. I can't imagine being the victim of such a brutal assault in such a public place and feeling the crushing desolation and abandonment, that no one came to her aid in a time she needed it. It disgusts me that it was filmed, and that no one even thought to call the police or jump in and help. It goes against basic human decency, that we would abandon someone who is clearly in trouble and need of aid. You wouldn't ignore someone who is drowning or having a heart attack, so why did no one come to the aid of this girl? The assault happened over a month ago, and while the disgusting human beings that did this were charged, the deep psychological and physical injuries inflicted upon the victim will probably affect her for the rest of her life. 

In one of my favorite movies, there is a scene in which a priest is giving a homily at a Catholic Sunday Mass. He relayed a story, similar to this one, about a girl that was attacked in broad daylight, while people looked on, heard and saw the attack, and still did nothing. The priest went onto say that while there are several evils in the world, the one that we should fear most is the indifference of good men. This is a statement with which I strongly agree: one that was echoed in the article I read today online.

I couldn't believe this story when I first read through it. I've often been told by quite a few people that I am sensitive and wear my emotions clearly for all to see. For a long time I've felt that sensitivity was a bad thing, that it made me weak and vulnerable. But reading about this unspeakable attack on a young girl, who was about the same age I was when Theo abused me really got to me. When I read the comment feed below the article I was shocked to see so many people validating the indifference of the people on the beach, watching this girl be victimized, standing by because they were afraid of being arrested. Several comments echoed the fear of being arrested: like it was not worth it to help someone so clearly defenseless, so clearly abused. I hate hearing about the level of sexual violence that runs rampant in our society, the number of men that think it's okay to take advantage of women, but it's these articles that only make me more passionate about fighting for the voiceless, the victims of sexual abuse and violence.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

XXV

On Wednesday, during a debate in Ohio, a representative of the state became angry during a debate over a bill that would ban most abortions, not including cases where the mother's life is in danger. She revealed that she was a rape victim, became pregnant, and subsequently had an abortion. For anyone that has been following my blog, you know that I have a son, Matthew, because Theo Keyes chose to rape me. He chose to abuse me countless times and one of those times, I ended up impregnated. So, in a way, I am similar to the Ohio representative.

However, she took the stance that victims like her should have the right and choice to abort their unborn baby at will. But let's not mince words here: abortion is the choice to take a life--and when it is not done to save the life of a mother, which is a deeply hard choice I know some mothers have to make, it is a selfish, thoughtless, conscious action to end an innocent life. The bill in Ohio suggested charging doctors with a fifth-degree felony for performing abortions when a fetal heartbeat is present: approximately at 8 weeks of pregnancy. Week 5, however, is when the heart of the fetus starts pumping blood and arms and legs begin to grow. Although I believe that life begins at conception, which is a statement that draws a lot of debate, I think most people can agree the fetus at week 5 of pregnancy sounds like it's very much alive.

Courts throughout the U.S. have generally allowed abortions up until 24 weeks. I have a close friend, Sami, that was born at 23 weeks. She was so tiny that her dad could literally slide his wedding ring all the way up her leg. Her twin died shortly after birth, but my friend survived. She is one of the most amazing women I know. When we were young she participated and excelled in dance, writing and in school, and is going on to continue her education through college. Sami and Matthew are both living testaments to the argument against abortion.

When I was pregnant with Matthew, I admit I was beyond scared. I remember the moment I definitively found out I was pregnant: it was in a hotel room in Oregon. I was with my parents and we had booked the room to rest for the night, but we all wanted to know if I was really pregnant. I cried when the test came up positive. I was upset and scared, but abortion simply was not an option. I was carrying a life, a baby, inside me. I made the decision to adopt, which later became giving my parents legal guardianship of Matthew so I could remain "Mom" and receive support from my family in several aspects of raising my son. I could not have imagined anything that would bring me more joy than that little boy has, and I can't imagine life without him. When my parents take him on vacations, I wonder what I did before I had a son. He is the most beautiful thing ever created and I have absolutely no regret for keeping him, no matter the trials I've been through during the course of both the pregnancy and the continuing learning experience of raising my first child.

I wish women considering abortion could be around mothers like me--girls who have been through similar or exact situations of horrible abuse. I felt tainted for a very long time, and I felt that nothing would ever change that feeling. Even though I felt tainted, though, I knew Matthew was so innocent and sheltered from everything that had happened to me. He was the best thing to ever come from such tragedy, and I wish the representative from Ohio could hear this. Defending "women's rights" when regarding abortion is selfish and weak. I've never loved anyone the way I love my son, and that love would never have been known if I chose to terminate my pregnancy and end his life.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

XXIIII

Last Monday, March 9th, 2015, marked the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the relationship I had with Theodore Aaron Keyes that would turn into the most violent two-month period of my entire life. It was also the day that something else happened: something that reaffirmed my belief that my struggles were not in vain. At around 1:30 PM that Monday, I received a call from a long-distance number. Usually I ignore these calls because they are more often than not telemarketers, but for some unknown reason, I picked up the phone, and the person on the other line almost made my heart stop: it was a police officer from the Bellingham Police Department.

I sat in the car, next to my mom as she drove home, my beautiful 2-year-old son in the backseat, and told the officer everything I could about Theo. She told me that they were investigating an "assault on a woman" and that he wasn't an official suspect, they had no leads, but his name kept popping up. I re-told my story with dates and events, the memories almost as vivid as the times I actually experienced his abuse. I told her of the deep-seated hatred he had for women, that it was beyond hate and had transfigured into something much darker than that. I was on the phone with the officer for almost forty-five minutes, giving her every piece of information I had, but I left out the address of this blog.

I don't know why I did it. I thought about calling back that entire day and most of the next day to give the officer the last piece of damning evidence, hoping that Theo actually was involved. Around 5:00 PM the next day, I called the police department and offered the address of my blog as well as the name and contact information of a woman who Theo had harassed before moving onto me. The officer told me she had already read my blog, which shocked me, because in the scope of things, two-thousand views didn't mean nearly as much to me as it should have. I didn't think it would reach people, but it ended up falling into the hands of law enforcement, exactly where I wanted it to go.

In previous posts, I've discredited law enforcement, because the police chose not to investigate my case. I realize now that even though they didn't, it was the right thing for me to do to file a report and write this blog: both things that were a struggle at the time I did them. The information I gave to the police three years ago is now helping them catch Theo, even though it's not for the abuse inflicted upon me. I will continue to fight for those who are current, past or future victims of sexual violence and this most recent experience with the police makes me even more dedicated to the cause.

Friday, March 6, 2015

XXIII

Recently I have found inspiration from the fictional character in House of Cards, Claire Underwood. In the show she pushes a very controversial sexual assault bill through Congress and tries to get it approved and her determination on the issue made me want to start blogging again. I realized that this isn't just for me to get my thoughts out onto this blog: this blog is a tool and gives me a voice to speak up against the growing, omnipresent problem of sexual violence. This post deviates slightly from the trend of my past entries, but I feel it is important all the same.

While many internet and social media users were (and still are) obsessing over the color of the dress, something came to my attention via Facebook that made me sick to my stomach. Admittedly even I got caught up in the debate over the dress and I was embarrassed that it distracted me from a real issue that I should have written about months ago: the "re-homing" of a six year old girl and her three year old sister.

Arkansas Representative Justin Harris and his wife Marsha adopted the two girls in September 2012, taking them out of a household that exposed both girls to a sexually abusive older male relative. This is a noble gesture by any means, but it obviously didn't last. The Harris family gave the two girls to Eric and Stacey Francis in October 2013, citing irreconcilable behavioral problems with the girls. Harris knew the Francis family because Eric previously held a job at Harris' family business, Growing God's Kingdom Preschool, from November 2013 to January 2014 and was fired for "poor work attendance".

Harris said that "[w]hen our adoption became final, we went to the court, the whole family, exchanged teddy bears and everything -- and it was like a light bulb suddenly flipped on for the girls. They knew, suddenly knew, that this was their forever home, and they were no longer ever going back to Mom's house...[t]here was anger and an instant behavior change."

The Francis household then gave away the two girls to a third family, unbeknownst to the Harris family and the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). A hotline, operated by Arkansas Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) exists specifically to report child abuse. On March 28, 2014, an anonymous caller contacted the hotline and revealed the children were in a third household living with a couple that were not their legal guardians. CACD subsequently reached out to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and conducted an interview with the six year old girl, who revealed that Eric had raped her while his wife was out of state in January of 2014.

Eric Francis was around children constantly and after the truth of the sexual abuse was exposed, police immediately interviewed parents of the children who attended the preschool, but no one had anything incriminatory to say about Eric Francis, although there were two other incidents of sexual abuse in the outside community. Francis was arrested April 4th of 2014 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Justin and Marsha Harris have been claiming to be victims ever since the news of this horrendous situation was revealed to the public. Rep. Harris has been dodging questions and interviews and has said little about the situation. A statement released late on March 5th, 2015 stated that the children had "reactive attachment disorder" and "[d]ue to threats of possible abandonment charges, they were unable to reach out to DHS for help with children who presented a serious risk of harm to other children in their home. Upon the advice of both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician, they were forced to move the children to the home of trusted friends[.]"

I am horrified that the practice of "re-homing" children is acceptable. Utah has no statute regarding the practice of re-homing, but I found that several states have tried to limit, as best they could, the practice of placing children in another home after they've already been adopted (see here for a full list). Children aren't animals and shouldn't be treated as such, and certainly should feel loved and cared for in any home. I'm disgusted that the Harris family chose to abandon their adopted daughters and put them in a home where they were once again exposed to abuse. The trauma that the six year old will have to endure is beyond my comprehension and I think the Harris' choice to do something like that to children they promised to parent is inexcusable.

Articles Cited:

A Child Left Unprotected

Daily KOS

Raw Story

Monday, February 23, 2015

XXII

Tonight I'd like to blog about a seemingly controversial issue in the domain of sexual-based offenses: consent. While I have not been blogging recently, I've recently reopened my account on Yahoo! Answers and stumbled across the following question:

Hopefully the text is readable. This question is still live and has had over twenty answers, including mine. I was disgusted, however, to see that some people (mostly, if not all men) have posted responses detailing why she was NOT raped and that her lack of struggle and surrounding circumstances all implied that she wanted to have sex with him. Here are some examples of the responses I read:
  1. "I wouldn't consider that rape because it sounds like you didn't object very much. You said no, but you let him continue. He didn't force you, he didn't threaten you and you let yourself be persuaded. And then you had sex with him additional times. But you were right to break up with him because he was disrespectful."
  2. "NO, this is NOT rape. Rape means that you were FORCED to do something you didn't want to do. That doesn't seem to have been the case here. You could have pulled away when he started to enter you, but you admit that you didn't. Bottom line, if you don't want to do something you might regret, then don't put yourself in a positIon where you might be tempted, such as ENGAGING IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND IN HIS CAR. The guy might have been a douchebag, but judging by your description of what happened, this was not rape. Take responsibility for your actions. "
  3. "Then why did you had sex with him. This is not consider raping... "
  4. "Shouldn't have led him on to be honest, you don't go that far and be like "no i don't want to have sex". You have only yourself to blame. "
  5. "you provoked it. blame yourself "
  6. "No not if you had sex with him again later"
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) posted this article on what "rape" actually means and what defines consent. The link is here if you want to read more, but here it is paraphrased:
  1. If you're not old enough or mentally incapacitated in some way, it's rape.
  2. If you say "no" or "stop" even AFTER sex has been initiated, and your partner keeps going, it's rape.
It also goes on to answer common concerns such as what happens if you don't physically resist, what happens if the perpetrator was your significant other, and so on.

This next quote is actually straight from the Utah Criminal Code. I picked it specifically because the girl states that her boyfriend told her he would not have sex with her, but did anyway, a situation that would easily meet the terms of this statute:

"Without consent means (whether or not the victim is married to the actor):
...The actor is able to overcome the victim through concealment or by the element of surprise."

Victims are constantly blamed and picked at, making the trauma of a sexual attack exponentially worse. If you'll remember from my previous post, a police officer up in Bellingham did everything but outright tell me I was lying because it was "hard" to pursue cases against those who have previously been in a relationship with a victim. Let's go through each of these statements and find out why they are wrong, and what consenting to sex actually means. I will highlight important phrases from the quotes above, and I've omitted some due to redundancy.
  • Response #1: "I wouldn't consider that rape because it sounds like you didn't object very much. You said no, but you let him continue. He didn't force you, he didn't threaten you and you let yourself be persuaded. And then you had sex with him additional times..."
    • An objection only needs to happen once for it to be enough.
    • He may not have forced or threatened her, but men are physically bigger and stronger than women--a physical presence alone is enough of a threat. When I was with Theo, I was afraid to object merely because I knew if I did, he would hurt me.
    • In a court of law, rape is a single act and there are rape shield laws to protect the victim's sexual activity. While it was not a wise decision to stay with the abusive boyfriend, if this had gone to court, we are only looking at the one incident, not anything before or after that could be considered irrelevant.
  • Response #2: "...Rape means that you were FORCED to do something you didn't want to do. That doesn't seem to have been the case here. You could have pulled away when he started to enter you, but you admit that you didn't. Bottom line, if you don't want to do something you might regret, then don't put yourself in a positIon where you might be tempted, such as ENGAGING IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND IN HIS CAR. The guy might have been a douchebag, but judging by your description of what happened, this was not rape. Take responsibility for your actions. "
    • Rape, as defined by the FBI for its Uniform Crime Reports, is "[p]enetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." (emphasis added) There's that word consent again! In her description of the events, she said she told him "no". Again, once is enough to establish that she doesn't want to have sex.
    • To further my point, it really doesn't matter if she was with her boyfriend, making out and fooling around. The second she said no and the second he decided to go ahead anyway means he raped her.
  • Response # 4: "Shouldn't have led him on to be honest, you don't go that far and be like "no i don't want to have sex". You have only yourself to blame."
    • Consent was established to specific things, but when it came to sex, she put her foot down and said "no". When that verbalization is ignored, or if the perpetrator pressures or coerces their way into having sex, that becomes rape.
  • Response #5: "you provoked it. blame yourself "
    • This is a response I unfortunately hear a lot from those who shame victims into thinking the rape was actually their fault. If the girl had consented to sex, we wouldn't be having this issue. Rape is never provoked. It's the conscious decision of the perpetrator to ignore a protest or lack of consent.
Giving consent is a crucial part of trust in a relationship. California has even gone so far as to enact a "yes means yes" law, and I've taken a quote directly from the law, summarized here on NPR:

""Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent," the law states, "nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.""