Category Archives: ASSAULT

NOT ENOUGH

I heard the lawyers talking about 160 months – I can’t even believe that. It’s so unfair. It’s not enough. I have to live with what he did for the rest of my life. Why should he have the chance to ever be free? I will never be free. Believe me. I know. It was years ago and I live with it every day. Every day. It took me all this time to even be able to talk about it. It took me years and years even to tell my own mother! I am scarred, Your Honor. I don’t have words for this kind of betrayal. Why? Why did he do it? I want a reason. Can you make him tell me why?

When he moved in, he said he was our Dad. He acted so nice. So loving. Our Dad! We trusted him. But it was all a lie. How could he do that? I never did anything bad to him. I never hurt him. I only tried to help him. He had a baby with my Mom, and now I have that baby brother, with the Dad who is my abuser. How do you think that feels? I used to wonder – what did I do? What did I do to make it happen? But I didn’t do anything. I was ten years old, Your Honor. Just a little girl needing a father. I tried to be a good daughter. I did what he told me to do. He said he was our Dad!

He hurt my whole family. How did we deserve this? My mother fell in love with him. She trusted him. She felt sorry for him. She helped him. She took care of him and cooked for him. She knew he drank too much, but she wouldn’t give up on him. She kept trying to get him help. She let him move in. We had to help him, because he was our Dad now. He said so. He promised. He was our Dad. We encouraged him to go to his meetings. Go to classes. We took care of him. So how could he do that to me? How?

I am here to say what I think about his sentencing. Well, I don’t want him to get out of prison. I don’t want him to have a life. I don’t want him to be free. I see he has a new wife and a new baby and the lawyer says she has kids of her own already besides their new baby. Are any of them girls? Are they? I want to say to his new wife, I don’t wish you any evil, but how do you know – how do you KNOW for SURE that he has not done the same thing to your girls that he did to me? It is in him. It lives in him. He might have done it and they will be too scared to tell you for years and years. They will be too scared of him. Like I was. You don’t know him. Believe me. You think you do, but you don’t. My own mother didn’t know.

Your Honor, 160 months is not enough. It’s not enough. His lawyer was talking about mercy and compassion. Did he show me mercy? No. Did he show me compassion? No. So why should he get a light sentence? That’s like stabbing me in the gut. Please give him the maximum. Please. Because even if you do give him the maximum, it will not be enough. I hope he suffers every day of his life and I hope he dies in prison – the loneliest, most damaged person in the world. Because that is how he made me feel.

I

LEFT FOR DEAD

I just met someone who was left for dead, one of the thousands of victims of violence I have worked with through the years.  I am not going to repeat the details of her assault.  I celebrate her survival, yet her survival itself cannot eradicate the experience of her physical and psychic wounds.   Nor does her miraculous survival bestow any kind of healing upon the wounds of a society in which these assaults happen unimpeded and routinely.  Her survival, her bravery, her strength do not change the underlying situation.

Masked and unmasked hatred for girls and women, reinforced by their normalized oppression through the sex trade and marriage practices, make this particular crime survivor’s country of origin a veritable cesspool of corruption, violence and suffering. This deep well of suffering leads to an ocean.  And we are all connected, like it or not.  Even if only some communities show the more extreme face of violence, the underlying social injustices it are scattered worldwide, and affect all genders.  Not one of us is completely safe.

Here is someone who is “lucky to be alive,” or so she is often told.  Yet why should she feel more lucky than anyone else breathing on this planet at any given moment?  We each have just the same tentative and fleeting hold on our bodies, our health and our lives.  We are each walking on this same earth, whatever our particular struggles and whatever our sources of pain.  No matter how we compartmentalize or numb ourselves, no matter how many walls we build, these are the people we live among.  We cannot get away.

This young person has deep scars and has undergone multiple surgeries to remove parts of several organs and other damaged flesh.  Some of the internal scar tissue has fused together, causing infertility, intestinal blockage, and more.  She suffers from functional problems, chronic pain, and increased likelihood of future disease processes.  Her attackers may be happy to put their actions behind them and pretend this never happened, especially as the years go by and they move on, but this survivor has no such luxury.  She will never have a waking moment in which she is not painfully aware of her assault.  Her body’s permanent damage is like an alarm system calling out to her brain; an alarm that she can never shut off.

Yes, the attackers are scarred, too, in so many ways.  But they walked away at that moment, laughing as her very life blood flowed out of her.  That is the last thing she remembers before she lost consciousness.  And all over the world, the attackers are still walking away.  And here we all are on this speck of stardust, stuck together, grown together, fused together, in ways that stop us from functioning as fully wholehearted humans.  In ways that impede our progress as social creatures.  We are bound to each other, no matter what the behaviors of the people around us.

If only I had the steady hands of a surgeon, and that sharpest of razors, the scalpel that could separate and remove all areas of deep wounds and scars, leaving the healthy tissue vibrant and sustainable, life-affirming and whole.  But all I have are my words, my love, and my trembling hands.

 

 

RAPE

Was honored to interpret at a workshop for sexual assault survivors, and this phrase stayed with  me.  It was part of a guided meditation.  I think it can fit for other situations in which we are hurt beyond belief and it feels like a real death:

“Let your feelings roll over you like a wave and then release them back into the ocean of life.  Mermaids don’t drown.  You are wounded but you are not dead.  You are still yourself and you are going to get through this.”

IF YOU CAN’T GET FIXED

I was waiting in court the other day when I overheard a sentencing  hearing for an assault.  The young man being sentenced was very shaken.  He considered himself a pretty gentle guy.  He was as shocked as anybody.  But for whatever reason, at a pickup game, a casual sporting event, he lost control and punched an opposing player in the face.

He didn’t mean to.  He has no record.  His private lawyer sent him to get an evaluation, and they determined that he did not need any services such as Anger Management, Moral Reconation Therapy, or other kinds of batterer’s treatment.  It was a one-time incident that will never be repeated.  The young man is just as distraught as anyone else – filled with remorse. He has learned his lesson.  He is taking responsibility, your Honor, and will have this felony conviction on his record.  So he has suffered enough.

Okay.  But the problem is that the person he punched was so injured that bones were broken – and he has undergone several surgeries to his face.  So what do we do?  It wasn’t an accident.  It was in fact intentional, even if all the consequences were not.  And the assailant’s remorse does not heal the damage done by the assault. The harm remains.

The prosecutor and defense attorney negotiated an agreed recommendation that the young man would pay fines and fees.  He would do some hundreds of hours of community service.  He would pay restitution, as part of the criminal case, to the crime victim.  This means that he could go to jail if he doesn’t keep up with his payments, and the crime victim does not have to sue him in civil court for damages.  The lawyers agreed he would be on probation for two years as well.

The judge, as always, has the authority to accept or decline any agreement made by the parties.  Except in the rare case that a judge sentences the defendant to something outside the state sentencing guidelines, the defendant cannot appeal his sentence.  Nor can he withdraw his guilty plea.  In practice, most judges follow the agreed recommendation most of the time.  This time, the judge did not.

“I understand that both sides have reached an agreed recommendation, and that there were extensive negotiations involved.  My problem, sir, is that you had an evaluation that says you don’t have any problem with anger, or impulse control, and you are not a danger to anyone.  Yet you hit someone so hard, in a fit of rage, in a game – a simple pickup game, playing for fun – that the person you hit needed surgery to his face.  Several surgeries.

“So what I have to say is this.  I am all about rehabilitation.  But you say you don’t need services.  So I say if you can’t get fixed, you need to get punished.  More than paying money.  More than volunteering.  You need jail time.  And I understand this isn’t what your lawyer wants, and this isn’t want you want, but the crime victim didn’t want to get punched in the face so hard that he needed surgery either.

“I feel strongly that I must punish you, because you need to understand that this behavior is not okay.   And if we make it okay, that makes a pretty bloody world for us to live in.  And I don’t want to live in that world.  I want to have a rule of law.  So I am going to give you jail time.  And I hope you will use it to think about what kind of a world you would like to live in, and I hope it does you good.”

PREA

When you get back from a vacation, it is common to have a pile of paperwork, or at least some emails, to respond to.  Maybe something to sign or approve, something to read over, or a form to fill out.  For me, the first thing I found in my pile was a form to sign.

Its purpose was to swear that I would not use my hands, fingers, other body parts, or any objects, to touch or penetrate the groin area, genitalia, or anus of any prisoner, in order to abuse that person, or to arouse or gratify my sexual desire.  Of course I signed and submitted it, as part of my annual paperwork to permit me to work inside jails and prisons.  It is based on PREA – the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

My first gut reaction was geez, what a tough job I have!  This is ridiculous!  Other people come home from vacation and see something like – I don’t know, lab reports, or coding language.  While I have to come home and read about rape and sexual abuse.  It’s just f#*king depressing!  I wonder what the rate of alcoholism and drug use is among court interpreters.  I wonder if more of us are depressed and anxious than “normal” people.  I’ll bet our life expectancy is lower.  We have it so tough!

Before I had time to whine about this issue, I started to rethink it.

It is actually pretty great that there is something explicit to tell people like me who work around vulnerable adults, or children for that matter, that we are NOT allowed to grope them, molest them, or touch them to abuse them, or for our own gratification.  People like me, who have privilege and are entitled, for example, to enter the jail and sit on the “right” side of the glass, or be with a prisoner in a small private room, should be reminded that we have to respect the person and personhood of the people we work with.  Especially those who are particularly vulnerable.  But really everyone.

As harsh as it was to face that reminder of some of the less savory aspects of my job, like going into jails, and dealing with society’s violence and injustices, it is a good thing.  It is an improvement over pretending nothing is going on, and having the silence that acts like a cover and permission for abuse.

Maybe more workplaces – maybe all workplaces, schools and churches – should have forms like this that people have to sign.  Maybe we need more reminders and not less, as uncomfortable as it is.  As depressing as it is.  As sad as it makes me to think about it.

Of course, I would like to live in a world where all this could be taken for granted, and no one would need to be explicitly told what their common sense of decency should tell them.  Where everyone would understand that we treat each other with respect, and honor each other’s boundaries and physical integrity.  Where we wouldn’t need forms and reminder signs: Please don’t beat your family members!  No pussy grabbing.  No child molestation allowed.  No sexual harassment permitted.  Commercial sexual exploitation of minors strictly forbidden.  Hands are for helping, not hurting!

But until that day comes, as depressing as it is to read those kinds of forms, and remember why we need them, we do need them, and it is better than the silence of complicity.  So shame on me for feeling like argh, I don’t want to think about this!  I want lawn daisies and sunshine!  Because it is incumbent upon me to acknowledge that there are a lot more people – besides me – who would love to have the luxury of not having to think about, not having to live through, this kind of abuse.  But they don’t have that luxury.  So any small act I can take, such as signing the PREA form, is no more than my duty.

 

HEARSAY

It is a generally understood legal concept that testimony in court should be firsthand – what the testifying witness herself saw, heard, and knows.  That witness can then be cross-examined to determine their veracity, memory, reliability, etc.  With few exceptions, witnesses are not allowed to come in and say what someone else said or saw, because there is no way to  cross-examine the original witness when the jury hears the evidence second-hand.  In general, it is considered unfair to allow this kind of evidence into court, so it is not admissible.  This is known as the hearsay rule, and as soon as someone in court starts to repeat what someone else said, a lawyer is likely to pop up and say, “Objection! Hearsay!”

The court rules for the state where I live allow for an astounding 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule, but very few apply to the cases I deal with.  The exceptions include many outdated things, like the ability of witnesses to speak as to the legitimacy of a child born into the family, or where a property line was historically considered to be, or to quote a deceased person about their last words regarding their will.  But for the criminal cases that I mainly interpret for, there are currently two common exceptions to the hearsay rule, and they center around 911 calls and police interviews that often take place during or directly after an event.  The two exceptions which allow hearsay to be presented in the courtroom for jury consideration are  known as “excited utterance” and “present sense impression”.

What is an excited utterance?  “A statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.”  This definition fits in well for a 911 call.  It also allows for what a crime victim says directly after the commission of the crime to be admissible in court, even if the crime victim has become fearful of testifying by the day of trial.  By policy, most domestic violence assault cases are dismissed on the day of trial if the crime victim fails to appear and testify.  But with these hearsay exceptions, the prosecutor can play the 911 call, show a police interview video, and then have the police testify as to what they observed.  In this way, they can still prosecute the assailant, without the witness having to cooperate.

What is present sense impression?  Very similar.  “A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately thereafter.”  Rather than having to be emotional or upset at the time, it is simply a real-time or immediate report.  On a 911 call, the victim will frequently call and say for example the assailant is at the door, trying to break in, holding a kitchen knife, armed with a gun, in the next room and threatening, or has just caused bodily harm and then fled the scene.  Many people just don’t call until the danger is immediate, the assault is in progress, or has actually occurred.   So a 911 call stating the assault in progress, or a police video showing the interview with the victim moments after the assault, may be admitted under this exception to the hearsay rule.

Why are excited utterances and present sense impressions allowed in court, even if the witness can be forced to appear in court and could testify afresh?  The idea behind it is that at the moment of crisis, when a person calls 911 or is being interviewed by police directly after the event, there is no time for fabrication, and perhaps more importantly, no one has had the chance to persuade the witness to say something different.  It is real time – it is immediate – and it is considered more valid and probably more accurate than what a witness might choose to recall some months down the line, after the spouse’s family puts the pressure on, or after the victim has decided to give the perpetrator one more chance.

From the point of view of the crime victims, I think of these exceptions as a way for our past self to come forward and protect our current self, even when that current self has lost heart and is not brave enough to do so at the time.  There is something sweet about your past self, at a moment of such crisis, still being able to protect your present self from caving and allowing the perpetrator to walk.  It gives the perpetrator a chance to get some much-needed help and treatment, along with appropriate punishment, and it gives the crime victim a respite during the length of the no-contact order to delve into what kind of relationship is desirable.

Of course, I never know what crimes have actually occurred, or the specific circumstances surrounding any case.  It is not my job to know or judge.  But I have felt frustrated at times that cases get dismissed simply because the crime victim doesn’t show up, because it almost encourages families to put pressure on domestic violence victims to shut them up.  So I am glad that crime victims don’t always have to testify in order for the defendant to face trial.  I am glad that their voice, even if it is second-hand, can be heard under these limited and very special circumstances.  The jury still have the option to disregard the testimony, if they do not find it credible.  But so far, I have not personally seen that happen.  Excited utterances and present sense impressions have an immediacy and an emotional impact that a reluctant recollection some months down the line cannot easily match.

CROTCH GRABBING

News flash!  Whether it is your sex partner, a sex worker, a coworker, or simply someone you would like to get frisky with, you do not have the inalienable right to grab someone’s crotch without their consent!  Shocking news to some, but true nevertheless.

As a girl in a poor neighborhood, crotch grabbing was an unfortunate and seemingly inevitable part of my school experience.  I remember being grabbed from behind and in front by a myriad of boys of all kinds.  I tried yelling, slapping, arguing, pleading, and even grabbing back once, which caused a momentary shock and a heartfelt and indignant response of “You can’t do that to me! I’m a guy!”  They didn’t understand much about what they were doing, but they knew that much.

I remember years later exchanging school stories with an upscale lawyer who was shocked by this and innocently asked why I never “went to the principal about it”.  “Oh, I don’t know,” I casually replied, “Maybe ’cause I didn’t want the shit kicked out of me.”  We knew very well that the principal would not be able or willing to protect us from our “peers”.  My lawyer friend and I were mutually surprised by our so very different experiences in life.

I am happy to say that I have never had a workplace where that experience continued, but I am aware that it is still prevalent for many workers.   It is just another way for those with power to remind those without that “we own you” and can do as we will.  Sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and even straight-up sexual assault are part of the bitter workday for many workers who, like the tender and frightened girl I was, cannot face the real or potential consequences of speaking up.  Or who unlike me bravely do speak up, and are punished instead of protected by a society that cannot see “what the big deal is”.  When aggressors face little to no risk in continuing their behavior, it perpetuates itself and goes on reinforcing the power structure.  Many human bodies are still seen as public spaces.  But that is certainly not the law.

In fact, I have seen several criminal cases involving crotch grabbing, all workplace incidents.  Of course crotch grabbing is not the official title of the criminal code section.  Rather, it is cast as “assault in the 4th degree with sexual motivation”.  Many people think of assault as a punch in the face.  Assault where I live simply means an intentional touching of another person without their consent in a way that was offensive to them or would be offensive to a reasonable person.   I myself don’t find it unreasonable to presume I should be able to walk through the world or even lie down without anyone grabbing my crotch out of the blue.  And it doesn’t occur to me that other people’s crotches should be within my reach at my whim.  But apparently my attitude is not universal, especially among those who were raised to feel entitled, and view others as property.

My work has shown me that the attitude still exists in some workplaces that crotch grabbing is simply being friendly, flirtatious. and fun – a complete denial of how it feels to the recipients.  At the same time, most larger employers are giving workshops and doing education about workplace harassment and standards that need to be met.  So sexual harassment has completely ended.  Just kidding!  I wish.  Instead, most sexual harassment has now gone undercover.

Believe it or not from your various positions of privilege, it still happens quite routinely at certain workplaces, but now it is denied, like racism often is.  Instead of “Why shouldn’t I do that?” it has become “I wouldn’t do that.”  And in both cases, the victim who would like to keep her physical integrity and choose how she is touched is perceived as being unreasonable, oversensitive, or simply lying.  Let me acknowledge here that of course many men are also victims, but all the victims I have worked with so far have been female, so I use the feminine here, with full respect for all victims along the gender spectrum, and no intent to be exclusionary.

Although I am aware that sexual harassment is alive and well in the workplace, I have absolutely no opinion on whether any specific individual for whom I have interpreted is guilty or innocent.  I don’t know and it is not even relevant for me to know as an interpreter.  I write about this in detail in Day in the Life (recounting the incidents of a single workday) in my Longer Pieces section.  Whenever I interpret, it seems to me that I observe with one part of my mind while I interpret with another.  I observe for future reference, while I continue to interpret in the moment, as faithfully, neutrally and accurately as humanly possible.  And as I interpret, I see things from my watchtower.  Some of them I think about later.

I remember the look on one man’s face of surprise and even shock when confronted with this charge. The head shaking.  The deer in the headlights.  “How could this happen to me?  I didn’t do anything wrong!  This is so crazy!  I want to go to trial!  Like I told my wife here, that girl’s crazy!  Why would I do that?  I didn’t do it!  Of course I didn’t.”

The lawyer explains in full detail how the alleged victim clearly and sincerely believes that something happened, is clearly very disturbed by it, was consistent in her interviews with her boss, the police, the prosecution and even the defense investigator, and thus she will likely make a very good witness for trial.  “And so far,” the defense attorney adds, “I have been unable to discover any possible motive she could have for fabricating this story that you grabbed her – private parts”.  (I note as an aside that even this criminal defense attorney who specializes in assisting accused sexual aggressors acknowledges that a woman has private parts.  Ha!)

Toward the end of the interview, the husband and wife have a moment to come to a decision.  No great choice for them.  “Do you want to go to trial, which may lead to a conviction, jail time, losing your job, having a permanent record, and deportation?  Or would you like to plead guilty to something you claim you didn’t do?  If you plead guilty you have to say in writing that you committed an act that fulfills all the elements of the crime.  That means you have to swear under penalty of perjury that you touched her in a way that was offensive, and say where that was on her body.  And you will have to say on the record in open court before the judge that yes, this is true.  That you are guilty.”

“The good news is that if you plead guilty, the prosecutor will not ask for jail time.  The bad news is that they are asking for a sexual deviancy evaluation.  This may include a lie detector test, and the peter meter, where you are checked for physical arousal to certain stimuli.  Based on the results of the evaluation, you may be ordered into further treatment.  And you have to pay for all of this yourself.  The cost?  A couple thousand.  Two or three.  Around there.  No, that is just the cost of the evaluation – treatment will be more.  You’ll have to check with the therapist on that.”

The husband in his nervousness gets up to stretch and his young wife automatically stands when he does, but then she steps away and turns her back to him, leaning her head against the wall.  He stands behind her, and says, “I think I’d better plead guilty,” to which she quietly responds, “Why wouldn’t you just go to trial and fight it, if she is just a liar and you didn’t do anything?” He says, “Honey, you and I both KNOW I didn’t do anything wrong!  But I just don’t want to take the chance of a conviction and jail time, for your sake, and the children’s!  I am doing this for you!”

I can see the wife’s face, although the husband cannot.  And her face tells me that her husband is wrong at least about one thing.  They do not both KNOW that he didn’t do anything wrong.  How could they?  She is not at work with him, observing how he acts and talks.  She is not inside his head.  She cannot know and she will never know what he did or didn’t do.  She has a hard time believing that a random woman at work would go through all this agony for no reason, no reason at all, if nothing at all had happened.  She is trying, trying her wifely hardest, to believe him.  And it is gut-wrenching for her.  And it is a punch in the face to her, that he cannot even see how hard this is on her.

The supportive wife of the alleged crotch grabber can never know what really took place that day at work, or any other day.  And that is beyond painful to her.  She has to fly in the face of the evidence.  She has to try and force herself to believe what he says, so she can go on living with him, parenting with him, and helping him to pay for his evaluation, his treatment, his court costs, and the rest of it.  She has to choose to believe him, because thinking that he is guilty would make her life unbearable.  And yet that nagging, gnawing doubt that makes her turn her face to the wall – she can never know for sure exactly who he is and what he has done.  And he doesn’t seem to recognize what an incredible leap of faith he is asking her to take.  Because he is so used to being trusted, believed, and loved by her that he takes her for granted.

Whether he also took a coworker for granted and relied on her silence as acquiescence, I will never know.  And neither will she.

I don’t need to.   But it would be nice for her to have that certainty.