Please Note: Potential PTSD trigger warning, particularly for those victims of domestic violence, emotional abuse, childhood assault, sexual abuse
‘Hope I don’t set off the metal detector. I wonder if the courthouse guards have ever seen anything through that x-ray machine that’s actually dangerous.’ She walks through the metal detector without setting off the alarm. Picks up her things from the x-ray tray and continues into the courthouse lobby area.
‘Where’s the Law Library?… I’m pretty sure that’s where they told me to go,’ looking up at County Courthouse Directory board. ‘I never realized there were three floors in this building… Looks like I’m heading up to the second floor. Think I’ll take the stairs, don’t need my butt getting flabby.’
Runs into a few people she knows from yoga and makes small talk about how they miss yoga and want to get back into it. Gets hugs and exchanges good-byes, heading up the stairs to the second floor.
‘So, where’s this Law Library? There’s a bunch of court rooms up here. Looks like those people are waiting to go into their hearings. That must be nerve-wracking… Uhhhhh, what the heck?! I’m almost to the end of the hall, where’s the… Oh! There it is. Looks like I can just walk in.’
‘Is there actually anyone here? There’s a desk, but nobody’s there… I see a few closed doors. Hmmm, sounds like there’s someone in there talking. Should I knock? Maybe they’re with someone in there.’ Looks into another room with an open door marked Attorney Lounge. Room is empty.
‘Maybe I need to keep looking. Think I saw someone in a room before this one. Let’s see if he’s still in there.’ She walks out of Law Library to the next room down the hall and looks in. ‘Oh, wait, this guy’s on his lunch break or something… maybe I shouldn’t bother him. But, I’m just going to ask if there’s someone who can help me… but he’s on his break. That would bug me, maybe I’ll just keep looking.’ Man in room looks up, briefly making eye contact, she quickly walks away.
‘Maybe this is just a sign that I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I should just turn around and go home. Just forget about doing this…’ She’s beginning to feel anxious. ‘No, I’m supposed to do this. Spirit told me to. I NEED to do this. Don’t get scared now, just find someone to help you.’
She goes back into the Law Library, see’s door marked Victim/Witness Services. This is the room she heard the voice from earlier. Knocks on door. “Come in,” the voice from inside calls. She opens the door and walks in. ‘Great, he’s on the phone. I shouldn’t have knocked.’ Waits for him to finish.
“How can I help you?” he asks politely.
“I’m here to file a PFA. Is this where I do that?” Bites bottom lip, feeling nervous. Just talking about filing the Protection From Abuse churns her stomach.
“Yeah, follow me,” he says and walks through the door past her and rounds the corner. “Ashley should be able to help you with that,” and points to a girl walking around behind the once-empty desk.
‘NOW there’s someone there?! Of course. As soon as I ask for help.’
“Thank you,” she says and walks towards Ashley who is now looking at her. “I need to file a PFA. Can you help me?”
“Sure,” she says. “Sit down. You’ll just need to fill out some paperwork.”
She sits down, takes off her coat and fidgets with her shirt while Ashley pulls a folder from a drawer. They have a brief conversation about any pending charges against the person she’s filing the PFA against. Then Ashley gets up to make a phone call while she begins paperwork.
Standard basic info to start: Name, address, phone number, etc. All listed under the heading of Plaintiff. Then the same info under the heading of Defendant. Some questions about children: names, who they’re living with, etc. Makes her think of her babies and puts her at ease. Thoughts of her children always have that effect.
Then, the second page asks questions about History of Abuse. First question: Which type of abuse describes the most recent event? Circle the One that Best Applies. She skips over the first two more minor forms of abuse and then circles number three out of the four options: “Verbal abuse with physical abuse that resulted in cuts, bruises and/or minor pain or injury.”
‘So glad I don’t have to circle the next one.’ It reads: “Verbal abuse with physical abuse that resulted in broken bones, stabbing or gun shot wound and/or major injury which required hospitalization or surgery.” All following answers to questions are to be either Yes or No. ‘That should be easy enough.’
She notices her heart rate is elevated and her cheeks are slightly flushed. As she continues to answer either Yes or No to the following list of questions, her palms begin to sweat and her brow furrows. She is noticeably agitated and anxious.
Ashley returns to the desk stating that there isn’t any reason why the PFA shouldn’t be filled out. “There isn’t currently any other better protection available through the Defendant’s bond notice. So, this is going to protect you now.”
‘This courthouse clerk is so kind and understanding. I can see why she’s the one who helps people fill out this kind of paperwork. I’m glad she’s here to walk me through this.’ Returning to her list of questions, she’s realizing that her answers to many of them are Yes and it’s a bit alarming. ‘Was the abuse I was suffering really that bad? How did I manage to convince myself that it wasn’t all that bad? Maybe because they were all spread out and I’m looking at them now on a single sheet of paper… but this looks really bad.’ Her nerves begin to take over.
She finishes the questions and hands the forms to Ashley. “I’ll have a few questions that I’ll need to ask and then enter them into my computer,” says Ashley. “Just answer them the best that you can.”
Ashley begins with simple questions. Mostly just verifying the basic information regarding names, addresses and so forth. Then the questions about the abuse come up and she feels her heart racing again. She takes a deep breath or two to try to calm herself down. It helps a little, but her nerves are really getting the better of her now.
“It says that the last event happened over a month ago. Why did you wait so long to file the PFA?” asks Ashley.
“I wanted to talk to my lawyer first. I’ve never done something like this and was afraid of filing. I’ve heard of people filing for PFA’s and then having them denied. I knew it would make him angry if I filed one. I know that if it was denied, the backlash would be horrible. I didn’t want to take that chance. But my attorney said that I would most likely be granted the protection. So, now I’m here.” She is anxiously fidgeting with her fingers, her knuckles turning white.
“OK,” Ashley says. “We’re going to go through an entire history of all the abuse you’ve suffered with the Defendant. I’ll type it up in my computer, but this is supposed to be in the first person. So just tell me your story. Try to go slowly so I can get it all typed. OK?”
“Sure,” she says. She had come prepared with some dates and written accounts of past situations to help her remember as many details as possible. She started with the first major physical altercation that came down when she was seven months pregnant with her first child. Reliving the experience through her thoughts and words brought back a flood of frightening feelings. Her hands began fumbling nervously.
From there she went on to relive the many accounts of the most severe situations and began to realize the gravity of what she had experienced over the last three years with this person who claimed to love her. ‘Why did I let myself stay for so long? What’s wrong with me? How could I let these things happen over and over?’
When she got to the experience that occurred when she was nine months pregnant with her second child, her emotions got the better of her and her voice started trembling. She finally realized that her hands were shaking. Ashley offered her a tissue and she started to feel tears welling up in her eyes.
‘Just breathe.’ And she took a long, slow breath and finished each of the horrific accounts of abuse that brought her up to the most current situation. As soon as she completed her history report, the tears began to fall. She couldn’t believe how much she had remembered and the horrible feelings that came to surface that she had been burying down deep in an attempt to remain strong for her children.
“That’s a lot,” said Ashley, looking at her with sympathetic eyes. “Do you need a minute?”
She shook her head yes and took a moment to collect herself. Ashley printed out some pages and explained that the judge would take a look at them and then decide whether or not to approve the temporary PFA. Then, Ashley explained the process that would follow if it was approved.
Ashley walked her to a bench just outside of the judge’s office and sweetly said good-bye offering to help with any questions she had. “Seriously, come to me if you need anything. Be sure to contact Women’s Services about getting an advocate to be with you during your hearing.” She nodded her head and graciously thanked Ashley for all of the help. Then sat down on the bench to wait for the judge.
A few minutes went by before the judge called her into his office. He asked the same question about why the long wait before filing and she replied with the same answer. That it was the fear of not getting the PFA established and that she didn’t want to “poke the bear.”
The judge looked at her and said, “Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing here. You realize that?”
She shook her head yes.
“OK,” he said. “I’ll sign this. Now you have to realize that he will receive this and probably try to contact you. He’s not allowed to, but you will probably get a call or a text message or something. He may even decide to file a PFA against you. Do you understand? He’s not allowed to contact you though. So, simply tell him that and then you’ll come back for the hearing next week. Good luck.”
She thanked him and got up to leave his office. He directed her to go downstairs to the Prothonotary to get the paperwork filed and notarized. She took the stairs again. A woman at the Prothonotary took her paperwork and told her it would be about ten minutes. So, she sat down on a bench in the office waiting area.
A little girl looked up at her from the floor beneath her mother’s legs. She was about a year and a half old and was obviously bored from waiting. Her mother looked impatient. So, she started talking to the little girl, who responded with a smile. The interaction with the little girl reminded her of her own two children and put her at ease again for a while. It was nice to have a reason to smile.
Then, the woman who helped her in the Prothonotary’s Office walked with her to the elevator and took her up to the Sheriff’s Office on the third floor. She explained that the Sheriff would be the one to deliver the temporary PFA. Before entering the elevator, the woman looked at her and asked if she was OK with elevators.
‘How kind. She’s so considerate.’ She answered that she was fine with elevators and proceeded to thank the woman for being so thoughtful. It made the woman smile and she happily took her to the third floor and through the doors to the Sheriff’s Office where the paperwork was handed over to the woman standing behind the counter. “Thank you,” she said as the woman walked away.
More waiting while the woman behind the counter filled out some forms and asked questions about the Defendant’s job, address and vehicle. The forms were stamped and she looked on knowing that this was really going to be delivered to him… there wasn’t any going back now. She swallowed a hard lump in her throat.
The woman behind the counter told her it would be delivered by the Sheriff that day. She gave the same warning as the judge that he may try to contact her. But, that she would be protected. She thanked the woman behind the counter and walked out of the office. She took the stairs again, because, well, you know.
Walking to her car, she knew she had done the right thing, but couldn’t shake the thought that he would be angry and disappointed about it. ‘Why do I still care so much about his feelings? He clearly didn’t think about mine…’ She recalled the horrible history of abuse list she had created with Ashley only less than an hour ago. It was after noon. She had been there for over three hours, but it was finally done.
She spent the next 48 hours nervous about the backlash. Would he try to contact her? Every time her phone sounded off a text message or phone call, she jumped. She nervously locked all the doors in the house and her heart skipped a beat every time she heard something that sounded like a thump on a door.
But, nothing happened. No calls. No texts. No reports from friends that he had even posted anything to Facebook. Nothing. Two days later, she finally felt relief. She felt safe.
Darling heart, if you’ve read through this and something resonated with you on some level, then let me be the first to tell you how sorry I am.
I’m sorry that you had an experience that made you scared or anxious. I’m sorry that life has brought you to a place where this happened. I’m sorry that you are afraid. I’m sorry that you may not have any fight left inside of you. I’m sorry that you feel like you are somehow less than what you once were. I’m sorry that you’ve suffered by someone else’s hand.
But now, you need to go forth and BE BRAVE. You must love yourself enough to make a stand. To protect yourself. Your children, if you have any. Or any other loved one who is affected by the abuse you are suffering from. Trust me, there is always someone else who is affected and it’s usually those who care about us the most.
Find the strength to go out and save yourself. Whatever that means for you. Seek help, it’s out there. Start with an organization like your local Women’s Services. You can get the help you need. You can’t do it alone… I wish I could tell you that you can, but you WILL need help. You know this. GET HELP. Don’t wait, love. Start IMMEDIATELY. Waiting only opens the doors to allow something else bad to happen. You can do this. You are more than what your abuser has let you believe you are and even more than what you think you could ever possibly be.
LET LOVE BE YOUR GUIDE. LISTEN CLOSELY. THE ANSWERS WILL COME.
If you want some help and just don’t know where to start, contact me. I will work to get you connected with the right people. <3