When I arrived on the scene, Kayla, the young lady pressing charges, was trying hard to be calm even though her tear-stained face told me she was one question away from breaking down. While sitting on her roommates’ bed and clutching a tattered teddy bear, Kayla told me about her boyfriend, Harry, and the fight they had just finished.
The Cliffnotes version of the event: Harry had a history of emotionally and mentally abusing Kayla since they started dating in high school. He continuously accused Kayla of being stupid, ugly, and too flirty with his friends. Whenever he was in a particularly foul mood, he demeaned her by saying that Kayla was lucky to have him since no one else would love her like he did. Despite her friends’ pleas to leave him, Kayla was unable to say goodbye, until tonight.
When Kayla told Harry, over Skype, that they were through, Harry rushed over to her room and demanded they talk about it. She refused to let him in out of fear that Harry would convince her to stay with him; however, Harry sounded devastated, and he promised he would change. Kayla slowly opened the door and peered at what she expected would be a remorseful Harry. Instead, a furious, red-faced Harry pushed his way into the room and roughly grabbed Kayla by the arms, shaking her violently.
By the grace of some almighty dude in the sky, Kayla’s roommate, Sasha, returned with her friend Brian—he immediately pulled Harry off of Kayla. Harry fled the room, but was promptly caught by University Police. Kayla agreed to file charges and she is considering an order of protection.
When I was no older than Kayla, I was in a long-term and abusive relationship. I began dating Ethan in the 10th grade. He never hit me. Although there were times when I wished he would just so I could show people the bruises as proof that I needed help. It would have been easier than trying to describe how nasty he got when he thought I was being too flirty with one of my guy friends or explain why he called me a “cunt” for accidentally closing his car door too hard.
Or when he nagged me for weeks to sleep with him and his two friends only to call me a slut when I agreed just to shut him up. Just like Harry, Ethan told me how no one would ever love me like he did and when I tried breaking up with him, he attempted to drive my car into a telephone pole. As he aimed, he said dramatically, “if I can’t have you, no one can”. In my mind, it was my fault; Ethan always blamed me for his outbursts.
Ethan may not have left physical scars, but like the lasting marks left by Harry’s harsh words, I carry these emotional bruises with me every day. Every time I confront an accused abuser, I have to ignore the anger boiling up in me as I envision Ethan standing in front of me. Every time I comfort a domestic abuse victim, I have to remember that it is not me sitting across the desk. I have to remember what the survivor needs—they need support, a sympathetic ear, and the resources to get out of the relationship. Sadly, all things I never had. As awful as my past is, it has made me a stronger and better hall director.
As professional staff, we are all trained (hopefully anyway) to handle myriad of situations, including rape, violence, and domestic abuse. No matter how prepared we think we are for these incidents, it can sometimes hit us unexpectedly hard, especially if we have personal experiences that mirror what we are presently facing. There are times when I wish hall directors received mandatory counseling just like firefighters or police officers after they are involved in a serious matter.
Instead, we are expected to be there for everyone else without falling victim to the intense emotions that can resurface in the heat of the incident. Hall directors are real people with real pasts and real mental anguish. As stated in my post awhile ago, please remember that hall directors need to take care of themselves or else we will be rubbish in incidents that call for us to care for others.We must identify our triggers, embrace our difficult past, and learn to live with them without it taking over our lives.