“He knows I’m here. I am about to betray him. He’ll be furious. He will find me. I stand no chance against him.”
Fifteen years after the abuse ended, I arranged a meeting with the police. I was determined not to let my life be ruled by fear anymore. I felt brave and strong. Strong enough to finally, for once and for all, stand up against the man who ruined so many things for me. Or, that’s what I thought. Two weeks later, in a small office facing two female police officers, I don’t feel strong or brave at all. “He knows I’m going to betray him”, echoes in my head. The blonde officer, the friendly one, assures me again and again that nothing will happen. That this is just an exploratory first meeting, nothing more. If, after this meeting, I do not want to file a report, that’s OK. Ever so slowly my body relaxes. I want to get rid of my past so badly; I want so badly to be strong now. And so I take a deep breath, and tell my story.
I tell them how it all began when I was twelve; how he offered me a lift and started flirting, and how I didn’t know how to respond. How, at first, I even felt honoured because I thought he fancied me. I tell them how angry he could get for no reason whatsoever, and how scared that would make me feel. How he once put his big arm under my chin and crushed my little body until I lost consciousness. I talk about ‘he’ and ‘him’ and ‘a friend of my parents’. When I have nothing left to say, the blonde officer takes over. She explains what will happen if I do decide to file a report, and what role the police, the prosecutor and the judge will play. I’m trying my best to focus and consolidate as much as I can. Finally, she hands me a thick information booklet and asks whether I have any questions. I have none. I feel empty, tired, guilty and I want to go home. Suddenly, the other officer, who throughout the interview was sitting back and looked at me austerely, speaks. “I do have a question. Why are you still protecting ‘him’, after all he has done to you?” I honestly can’t think of any good reason. My head is spinning. And so I say his name. The kind blonde officer briefly squeezes my hand. “You’ve done well”, she says.
Four weeks later, I receive a call from the same friendly officer. I had decided to not press charges against ‘him’. The fear and guilt after that initial meeting were so intense, that I realised I’m simply not ready yet. One can’t always be brave and strong. The officer on the phone, however, explains that the prosecutor has decided to launch an investigation anyway, that is, despite me not filing an official report. “After what you’ve told us, we can’t just sit back and nót investigate”, she says. Her words roll over me. I knew this could happen, technically, but only in extraordinary circumstances, right? At the other end of the line, the officer talks about “extreme violence” and “protecting society at large”. Clearly, they misjudged my situation. Or maybe I did? Did I fully explain exactly what had happened? Am I absolutely certain I lost consciousness, or could I have been dissociating? Maybe I just fell asleep? Yes, he put me in a position where I couldn’t breathe, but was it really strangulation? What if he just held me tight so I wouldn’t move away from him? “We will be questioning him as soon as possible”, the officer says. “You stay put, OK?”
In the months that follow, I don’t feel safe anywhere. “I betrayed him, and he knows”. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and I’m afraid to go anywhere by myself. Any moment now he could be standing at my doorstep. I would let him in, because that’s the effect he has on me. I will beg for forgiveness, do everything I can to make it things right with him. I’m not brave and strong anymore; I’m scared, weak and crushed like that twelve-year-old body. When the police finishes their investigation, I’ve been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and he lives happily ever after. He doesn’t even remember who I am, he told the police. Once again, he brushed me off indifferently, without so much as sparing me a glance. Twelve-year-old me hangs her head and takes the hit. The sturdy police officer was wrong: I wasn’t trying to protect him, but myself.
My experience of almost filing a report against my abuser was difficult, but not futile. For one, my abuser is now ‘on the radar’ of the police. Because I spoke up, his slightest faux pas in the future will be noticed and acted upon. Second, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned, for example, that I am now surrounded by an army of family and friends who will will always support and protect me. I’ve also learned that it doesn’t matter whether I lost consciousness or dissociated or even fell asleep during the abuse; what happened was wrong and not my fault, regardless. Finally, although my abuser continues to deny everything, he did hear me. He heard that I am no longer his, no longer small, and no longer willing to remain silent.
This blog is by no means intended to discredit the Dutch police or justice system. All people involved did their job with good intentions and to the best of their ability. I’m truly grateful to live in a country where the police and prosecutors stand firm to fight child abuse. I just wanted to share how I experienced the procedure as a victim. By all means, please don’t hesitate to talk to the police if you think they may be able to help you.
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image source: Ladybird Books