“I’m a domestic violence survivor”

I had to speak those words in a courtroom yesterday.

I was called for jury duty for my county. The last time I was called, I didn’t even go through a voir dire process. This time, I did. And there came a point when the judge asked people being considered for a spot on the jury if any of us had ever been the victim of a crime, or if anyone close to us had been.

He said, “Please raise your hand.”

For a split second, I thought about keeping my hand in my lap. But I couldn’t do it. I’d taken an oath.

So I raised my hand.

The rest of the prospective jurors left the room, and one by one, each of us victims had our turn with the judge, in front of the defendant, his lawyer and the prosecutor.

“So, Ms. Johnson, what is your story?” asked the judge.

Wow, what a loaded question.

“I’m a domestic violence survivor,” I said. “My daughter was also sexually molested by the same man, my ex-husband.”

The judge seemed startled, frankly. He didn’t say anything for a couple of beats. A man in his late 50s, slight, with completely gray hair — I figure he’s probably heard everything. His reaction actually startled me.

“Did these events happen simultaneously?”

Odd question.

“Well, they happened while I was married to him, and the sexual abuse continued after I divorced.”

“So you don’t know if these things happened at the same time.”

“They might have, sure. But I don’t know.”

“And did you contact the police?”

“Yes,” I said. It was true that the police got involved in my daughter’s situation. But not mine. I was always too terrified to call the police for what he was doing to me. Too risky.

“And were any charges filed?”

“No, your honor.”

“Why was that.”

“Insufficient evidence.”

And with that, it was over. I was not chosen to serve on the jury.

But the thing is, it’s not over. I did have to go back to the jury room today, but I was not called; I was released. My jury service is over, but my stress about that experience isn’t. I don’t say those words out loud very often — like, never. I don’t talk about that part of my life with many people. Almost no one except my family and my closest friends know the truth about me. Saying it out loud to people I didn’t know — I don’t care what their societal roles ¬†were yesterday — was anxiety producing and horrible. Not to mention the fact that just stepping into a courtroom makes me want to throw up.

I’m going to bed early tonight to sleep off this stress. Hoping I’ll feel better in the morning …

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