When she asked me and another couple of friends to go over to her place immediately, I thought it was just some juicy gossip that we needed to hear. Instead, we found her crying helplessly on her bed, torn and broken. She began throwing around words in a disoriented fashion, like police, record, abuse and the end, covering her face with her hands in despair. And when she finally managed to articulate a coherent narrative, we gasped and sat in silence, for a really long time.
She was one of my closest friends, and the “he” in the story, was not some supervillain-looking, manipulative stranger, but her loving boyfriend and another great friend of mine. She recounted multiple episodes of being pushed around the room, off the bed, getting bruises and visiting the emergency room, incidents we could have never fathomed. That night, we didn’t know how to process any of it. We were forced to somehow reconcile the image of a perfect couple with occasional minor fights, with one filled with long-term physical and mental violence and constant fear. We were forced to somehow blur out the grounded perception of him as a kind, genuine and mature guy, and replace it with that of an abuser. Her reactions almost constituted an archetypal response in a case of domestic violence. She didn’t want to report him because she didn’t want to bother any one, she said. He truly loved her, but somehow could not control himself, she said. On a happy day, they could have the most wonderful moments together, she said. It was her fault for not being the most understanding and mature girlfriend, she said. Taking institutional action would hurt his future, she said. It seemed futile to fight against the ingrained, indestructible system anyway, she said.
And finally, we wouldn’t win, she said.
During the first two weeks in Miami, there were at least a dozen times when I was instantly brought back to this memory. On our third day of work, we were brought to the Domestic Violence court in the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. In front of all parties in the courtroom, the petitioner was visibly shaking, constantly on the verge of a total breakdown. In the most specific manner possible, she detailed the threats that the respondent has made to her, including holding a gun to her head anticipating that her brain would be smashed into pieces, and pointing to the place where he would kill her and chop up her body, when a court-issued temporary restraining order was already in place. Although she obtained a permanent injunction at the end, everyone including the judge knew, very well, that nothing was over.
Two days later, in an attorney’s office, we were exposed to more graphic details of cases that he has taken on: long-term child sexual abuse by fathers, relentless stalking, multiple clients filing for action against the same perpetrator. I interpreted his conversation with us as an assertion that, even though he had negligible capacity to topple over the system overnight, he still found fulfillment in changing individual lives. Although frankly, for a brief moment, my inner evil twin wondered if he in fact derived some secret personal joy in playing a hero for women, I still admire from the bottom of my heart all the work that he has done for over a decade, defending victims and engaging in advocacy. He talked humbly about the rewards of his battle, and for a second, I had the intense urge of becoming him. At least some version of him.
Everything that I have lived as a female in this world, from being groped as a child, slut-shamed by parents and my internalized misogyny, listening to other women’s accounts, growing up ashamed of and ignorant about female sexuality, to living on a campus of rape culture, made me realize the striking accuracy of Wilde’s quote in every sense possible: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
But we will win.