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Ellen Robinson
Sex + Relationships

Silence is How They Win

*TRIGGER WARNING* This article contains detailed descriptions and discussions of domestic violence, and rape and may be triggering to some readers.

For legal reasons I’ve only referred to my abuser by their first name. However, names have not been changed to “protect” the identity of my abuser. Veiling the identities of those who abuse is part of what allows the narrative to continue unharmed. 

 

As a writer, I have always maintained a certain level of vulnerability with the world. I live by the mantra: “If I’ll write about it, I’ll talk about it.” A lot of emotional and moving poems have come from this, but I’ve never talked in detail about what I have been through in the last year. I am ready to share that story now, and I also feel a need to. My story begins simply, innocently:

I had been working for a while as a bakery associate in a grocery store when I met Jaime. He worked a similar shift in the dairy department. As my eighteenth birthday passed and long summer days stretched before us, we began taking our lunch breaks at the same time and seeing each other outside of work. Each moment we spent together felt like a new and exciting journey. He wanted to be around me often and constantly complimented my appearance or personality. Our coworkers loved him, and he even shook my dad’s hand the first time they met. He shook my hand, too, the first time he formally introduced himself. He seemed perfect; he was respectful, understanding, and comforting. He promised me a life of stability and security. On July 4th, I was trying to build a desk, so he came to my house and helped me finish it. He held me when I got frustrated and ran his fingers through my hair to calm me down. Later that night, he invited me to his house to watch fireworks and meet his family. It felt like I had known him for much longer than I had, so when he asked me to be his girlfriend later in July, I happily agreed. I swore I could stare into his brown eyes for hours, eyes that now haunt the deepest parts of my nightmares.

Problems began early in our relationship. As we spent more and more time together, I began to fall asleep before leaving his house, which gave my dad cause for concern. My phone would often die, and I would miss a lot of my dad’s calls. My dad and I began to fight almost daily about the relationship; he felt like Jaime wanted to take advantage of my emotional state at the time, and I felt like my dad was taking away my newly earned freedoms. My brother called me a whore, and my dad threatened to kick me out of the house. With tensions at home at an all-time high, I began to seek even more refuge in Jaime. With Jaime bringing me so much comfort and support, my dad’s beliefs felt merely racist. On August 1, 2018, feeling like I had no other options, I moved out of my dad’s house and into Jaime’s and his family’s apartment in Reading. Jaime’s best friend helped me pack all of my things into boxes and move them into Jaime’s basement while my dad was at work. Sitting in her boyfriend’s car with the last of my belongings, we pulled away from my father’s house, and I said goodbye to my home, my car, and the life I had known for the last time. 

Jaime and I shared an air mattress in a small corner of the living room. All of my belongings except for my backpack and one small tote of clothing were stored and locked into the basement. The next day, Jaime and I went to AT&T and signed up for a phone plan. I put a down payment on a Saturn. All of my savings and credit card limit vanished. Aside from such a small living space and some financial struggles, life seemed better. Soon after leaving, I started to have regrets. I missed my dad, and I missed my room. Jaime assured me I made the right choice, and his dad began to call me his “daughter-in-law.” Jaime told me he loved me. My dad eventually contacted me at work, and we were able to piece our relationship back together. He agreed to give Jaime a chance. I got my car back, and life seemed great. I passed most of my nights with Jaime and his family. I cleaned for them, and they expressed constant gratitude, claiming I was the best girl Jaime had ever dated. The apartment was a little dirty, but it was bearable and seemed typical of those style apartments. Later in August, I transferred to a different store and began working full-time hours. His family was excited for the promotion. Tensions had been growing between Jaime and I, so I was excited too because I thought working in separate stores and spending less time together would ease those tensions. Despite our troubles, I was happy. I had a full-time job, a second family, and an amazing boyfriend. 

His family moved into the upstairs apartment, leaving the downstairs apartment to Jaime, his best friend, and me. Jaime was the only person on the lease, and we paid the rent in cash to his father, who would give it to the landlord for us. I trusted the arrangement because I held a lot of respect for his dad; he had given me a home when I had none and promised to protect me like his own. Jaime and I shared the living room until his family moved all their furniture upstairs. Once they left, I was excited to deep clean, paint, and decorate the apartment. In cleaning, I realized how nasty the space I had been living actually was: gnats covering the entire ceiling of the bathroom and every part of the kitchen sink; roaches, dead and alive, littering the fridge; piles of dirt, dust, and laundry with an odd odor piled in corners. I had contracted lice from his mother and little sister. A three person team and a few bottles of bleach did little to diffuse the situation. Jaime’s dad began asking for more and more money. He claimed we didn’t pay him or bills went up when in reality, he had spent the money on drugs. Jaime made me pay the first few months of rent, claiming he didn’t have money or would pay a different bill later. Any time I got paid, Jaime’s dad asked me for more money, and Jaime asked me to buy him expensive clothing. We went to the mall every few weeks and he bought $100 or more worth of clothes, while I continued to wear the same three things. He fussed every time I asked for help to clean or to get some of my things from downstairs. He started throwing fits of rage. He would disappear for long periods of time. I started buying him more things. I paid for half of his PS4 as a birthday present. Nothing helped. We fought about money constantly. His dad demanded more, which Jaime tried to get from me, but I often had nothing. Even with working full time, all of my money went straight to gas, bills, or things Jaime wanted. I couldn’t even afford food. The only food in the house was from my dad, and Jaime ate most of it. His family promised to share their food stamps if I told them what I wanted, but they never bought anything. They offered me meals sometimes, but they wanted me to sit upstairs with them, and Jaime’s ex-girlfriend was always up there. She had tried to fight me before, and I was uncomfortable.

I fell into a deep depression. I was unhappy with my relationship and had known I made a mistake, but I felt like I didn’t have anywhere else to call home. I began missing a lot of class.  I tried to have conversations with Jaime, but it only escalated the situation. My dad started to worry about how skinny I was becoming; I looked sickly. Jaime, of course, never took notice.

One night, Jaime and his father got into a fight about money. Jaime told me to wait in the car. When he came back to get his stuff, he was screaming. He fell going into the apartment, and cheesecake flew all over the steps. He threw his backpack across the porch. I sat in the car in silence for a long time, terrified. He texted me to get him Sprite if I was going to “take so long.” I still didn’t move. I asked if I could come inside, and he acted like nothing was wrong that I wouldn’t be able to. When I walked inside, there was shattered glass all over the kitchen. He was still screaming. He threw a chair at the ground until it snapped in half. He threw a bike at the wall. I curled into a ball on the mattress and covered myself in blankets. Outside of my blanket world, he still screamed and more things broke. I realized I had left my phone on the other side of the room, and when I went to go grab it, a shoe flew past my head. I cried. I decided to go get his Sprite, and when I went outside, he followed me. He was still screaming. Every instinct in my body told me to run, so I did. He chased after me for half a block and then stopped. He texted me that I was the reason he was so angry. I ran until I got to the corner store and completely broke down. I texted my friends in a panic. The owner of the corner store kept asking me why I was crying. I stayed there for a while until I was ready to walk home. When I got back, his mother was waiting for me. She held me and convinced me that he didn’t mean it, that I was safe, that everything would be okay.

The next night, I got locked out and had to sit in my car for hours until he decided to let me in. His birthday rolled around, and I took him and his little brother to GameStop for the midnight release of the new Spiderman game. I waited outside on the phone with my friend because I didn’t want to be around him, and Jaime told me I missed one of the most important moments of his life. Jaime began insulting me regularly. He told me I was no longer pretty and I had lost too much weight. He said I didn’t treat him well, and he no longer loved me. I still had no home and no money. My friends and coworkers started worrying about me, and my friends called me often to check in. They took me places to get me out of the house and paid for activities I couldn’t afford. One night, Jaime started choking me. He wrapped his hands around my neck so tight I couldn’t breathe. I tried to pry his fingers from my neck, but he tightened his grip. I almost passed out. 

Soon after, I was at school, and my friend took my phone. He told me that Jaime didn’t deserve me, and I needed to leave him. He texted Jaime for me and told him we needed to talk. Jaime immediately got angry and texted me over and over until my friend got annoyed and replied that I was busy. This angered him more. I tried to diffuse the situation by telling him it was my friend, but it only made it worse. I left work early because I felt so sick to my stomach, and Jaime called me on my way home to tell me we were done. My world fell apart. I didn’t want to be with him anymore, but I couldn’t afford to move out, and he was one of the only people I thought I had had left. When I got home, he locked me out of the apartment. His dad took me for ice cream, and I cried. He told me his son was stupid, but we would be back together soon. Later that night, Jaime and I agreed to work things through. He continued to demand that I buy him things, and little got better. He answered my texts less and less and seemed annoyed whenever he did answer. He told me I was a burden and that he wanted me to leave but wouldn’t let me hang out with my friends. He told me I wasn’t allowed to tell my dad anything, but he constantly blew off plans with my dad to see his ex-girlfriend. He made me skip class to bring him drugs while he was working. He would leave weed in my car and yell at me if I took it out. His dad sold molly and other drugs in the front stoop. His sister asked me to drive her to sell drugs sometimes. We still shared a bed because I couldn’t afford one myself.

Then, September 17, 2018, happened, a day forever embedded in my brain. I wore my yellow Kutztown Orientation T-shirt and purple shorts to go to bed. Jaime had gotten home late, and we were lying beside each other to go to sleep when he climbed on top of me. Sleepily, I asked him what he was doing, and he responded, “What do you mean? I’m raping you.” I told him I did not want to have sex, and he said that he did not care. I struggled and squirmed and kicked my legs to no avail. I tossed and turned, but he grabbed me by the wrists, and I could not get him off. He said that he takes whatever he wants. I fought for what felt like hours, but nothing I tried worked. At one point, I threw my right palm forward in an attempt to push him off, and my hand hit the left side of his ribcage. My wrist bent inward to my arm, and the right side of my body went numb with pain. “See, you’re not strong enough.” I stopped fighting and laid in silence, crying. Eventually, he rolled off, and said, “Thank you for the crocodile tears. They really helped me get off.” I replied that I was legitimately crying, and he laughed before falling asleep. I stared at the ceiling. 

 The next day, I left to go stay in my friend’s guest room for a few nights. I told no one what happened. I wanted to pretend it didn’t. I didn’t want to call it rape. I didn’t want to believe I wasn’t able to stop it. The days at my friend’s house were peaceful. I felt safe sleeping each night. My refund came through from school, and I used it to pay down my debts and buy myself a laptop to complete schoolwork. I bought a bed. But the time came when I had to go back. By the time I returned, his best friend had moved in. She took the living room, and he took the back bedroom. I was left with the middle room where his family had piled all the trash they did not bring upstairs yet: a plunger; dirty laundry; broken lamps. His best friend and I had grown very close, and I often drove her to and picked her up from work. One day, while she was at work, Jaime’s siblings were waiting for him to play a game, so I went looking for him and found him in the stoop with his ex-girlfriend. He screamed at me, and I walked outside, barefoot. I walked in circles in a six-block radius, stepping on glass, with no idea what to do. He blew up my phone, but I would not tell him where I was. Another night, we were getting ready to leave when his ex approached the door as I was talking, and he ran to her. I took some of my anxiety medication which I kept in my car, and he took the bottle so he could take them all. 

His best friend, now my best friend, and I started planning to move out together. She hated how dirty he lived, knew he was cheating on three people, and did not want to be his friend anymore. Before we were able to save enough, he brought his ex-girlfriend into our apartment, the one thing I asked him not to do. After so much pain and so much silence, I had completely broken. I locked myself in the bathroom with a razor. To this day, I still have 3 scars on my right thigh. He banged on the door and demanded to be let in, refused to comfort me, and then mocked my wounds. My best friend came home and pulled me from the bathroom. She helped me dress the wounds on my leg and took me for pizza. After that day, she never left me home alone, and not home alone with him. Every time I was home alone with him, I shook to the point where I could not hold anything. My best friend pushed me to download Tinder to help me “cope.” Everyone thought I was upset over him, but I still could not tell them the horrible things he did to me. A different day, he tried to have sex with me again but saw a Tinder notification on my phone and decided I wasn’t worth it. I finally told my best friend what he did to me. She watched over me as we saved enough to move out.

In October, I could no longer bear the burden, and I told one of my professors what had happened. She reported everything to the dean who called the police. The police urged me to file a report of the incident, seek care for my still injured wrist, and file for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order. The night of Friday, October 12, 2018, I drove to the Reading Police Station at 11pm. I waited until midnight because of a shift change. I sat in the station, shaking, alone, and terrified. Two officers approached me shortly after midnight to take my report. After, I drove to the courthouse, where I sat in front of a judge and explained why I needed a PFA. Three faces stared back at my shaking body, but I was granted an Emergency PFA and received a hearing date for the following Tuesday. I returned to the apartment around 3am, and thankfully, he was not home. I gathered a weekend’s worth of clothing and went back to my friend’s to stay for the weekend. The police had trouble serving him, so he had to go to the courthouse to pick up the order, but he called my phone in succession and texted me angrily until it was served. His family said they were going to kill me the second it expired. Safe Berks provided me with free representation, and our lawyers settled the case out of court. We were able to get him to agree to a year-long order. That was the last time I saw him, and I squeezed my father’s hands and cried the entire time I sat in court. 

That PFA expired on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, just shy of 2 weeks ago. The year since then had been rough, but I was able to move back in with my dad and seek counseling services. I had regained control of my money and my time. I started smoking but was otherwise coping well. I travelled to Ireland and was able to rediscover the parts of myself I thought he had taken from me. I went into this fall semester excited and ready to perform better, but the anniversary of the abuse rolled around, and the PFA expired. I fell apart again. I had breakdowns, nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. I feared for my life. I locked myself in my room and did not come out for hours on end. I had to recount the events to all my professors, to police, to different on campus resources to ensure I would be safe if he came looking for me. I learned he had moved but returned to the city days before the expiration. As I write this, I am still trying to bounce back from the sheer horror I felt when my PFA expired, from the pain of the abuse. I inspect my car every day before driving. I look out the window to look for suspicious vehicles on a constant basis, but I am no longer as afraid. My life is beginning to return to normal, and I am beginning to feel safe again. It is a slow process, but one I will be around to finish. I am starting to talk about my experiences as a means of coping and letting others know that we are not alone.

Silence gives abusers power. As hard as it is and as much as we may blame ourselves, we must use our voices to disrupt rape culture and the narratives that surround abuse. Abusers often have two sides to their personality and are well-liked by those around them. Others’ perceptions of them do not minimize or dismiss any claims made against them. In today’s society, it is hard to come forward, but we cannot let abusers or fear silence us.

My name is Ellen Robinson, and I most likely suffer from PTSD as a result of domestic violence. There are days when my body feels too numb to walk, but I am still surviving, and my abuse does not define the entirety of who I am. I am a poet, a student, a dreamer, a leader. We are not victims; we do not have to be complicit in this; we are survivors. 

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there are many on and off campus resources available to provide support and legal advice at little to no cost. Please seek help.

On-Campus Resources:

Off-Campus Resources:

  • Safe Berks: 610-373-1206, www.safeberks.org

  • Safe Berks/HEART Hotline: 610-372-9540

  • Turning Point of Lehigh Valley: 610-437-3369, www.turningpointlv.org

  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape: 1-888-772-7227, www.pcar.org

  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 1-800-932-4632, www.pcadv.org

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, www.ndvh.org

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673, www.rainn.org

  • National Dating Violence Hotline: 1-866-331-9474, www.loveisrespect.org 

  • Student Access Management (SAM) 24/7 hotline: 877-236-4600 

Ellen Robinson

Kutztown '21

the most notable thing about me is my leslie knope level waffle obsession, but like i have a book too ig. Kutztown University, Class of 2021
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