An Open Letter To The Canadian Court System That Refused To Defend Me From My Abuser

Brooke Cagle
Brooke Cagle

I am a survivor of domestic violence. You have failed me in the worst possible way, and you have let my abuser retain access and control over me. You have aided and abetted the control.

Not all abuse comes with physical scars. You told me that harassment is only criminal if it involves threats to my life. As if my body is the only possible thing he could harm, as if killing me physically is the worst thing he could ever do. I’m writing to tell you that it’s not.

It’s not criminal for someone to strip away your sanity, your safety, your self-esteem, and everything about yourself that you adore. It’s not criminal for someone to destroy your mind, for someone to make it difficult for you to get up every day and carry on with your life. I just want to know why, I want to know why my safety, my mental health, my heart and soul, my mind, why those things aren’t as important as my body.

I suffer from PTSD. I have screeching, crashing flashbacks. I have panic attacks that grip my body and my mind and shake me out like a rag doll. I have flashbacks that are more haunting, more silent terrors. Ones that make me sit rigid and unresponsive for what feels like hours. I have days where I am reverted to a child, where I cannot handle the weight of the world like I used to do so well. I take showers, wrap myself in warm clothing, and cry for hours, curled up into a little ball.

Somedays, I think to myself that I have to be perfect in order to be loved. I want to scrap the new relationship that I’ve built, because I’m not nearly good enough for him. I’m too much, too demanding, too needy, too broken. I’m a bitch, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I’m naive. I think these things because they were hammered into my brain nearly every day over the course of my abusive relationship. They were internalized so deeply that I now have to work, and work HARD to rid myself of their toxic power.

After I left, I suffered. He harassed me daily, hundreds upon hundreds of phone calls, e- mails, and text messages. There were days where I would contemplate suicide just as a means of escape from him. Just to save my family and friends the pain of having to watch him try and reach into my new safe space and drag me out again to defile my soul and rip apart my mind. I went to the police, and they told me that since none of them were physically threatening, there wasn’t much they could do. I should write him a cease and desist note, and be done with it. The officer seemed so absurdly certain that he’d listen to that kind of reason…and why? Why does that stranger know better than me?

He didn’t.

I remember the day I decided to start writing things down. I was at work, walking through a beautiful neighbourhood, and I thought to myself that I’d like to share with the world what I was going through. Even if barely anyone read it, even if it didn’t reach that many people, the idea that I was writing it all down and putting it on blast on the internet…well, it gave me a sense of power. It made me feel as if I was standing up, and not suffering silently anymore. I wrote, and he found my writing. He found it, and he hated it.

At the hearing when I asked the Alberta Court for a restraining order, they allowed him to ask for one against me. They allowed him to stipulate that legally I could not write about him or the relationship. According to the judge, I was provoking his behavior. There was no mention of the fact that he had the choice whether or not to read my words, whereas the words in the phone messages, text messages, and e-mails he sent to me came directly to my phone. Jarred me in the middle of my days. Even when I didn’t read them, I felt sick knowing that they had come in.

The judge didn’t consider that to be very damaging. My physical being wasn’t being threatened.

My therapist and I devised a plan. I would write anyway, I would just avoid all mention of his name, most of his gender, and of specific time frames. I would be ultra careful to not put in any identifying details, so I had plausible deniability. I got phone calls from the police nonetheless.

The restraining order ended a year later, and I started receiving e-mails from him, threatening me with legal action if I didn’t quit writing altogether. Then I received cloying e-mails trying to beg me to come back to him. Drunken e-mails claiming he loved me. He is in the midst of abusing another woman now, and has her believing that it’s okay that he sends messages of love and devotion to an ex girlfriend. I have so much empathy for her that my heart breaks, I’ve been there, too.

During that relationship, I was slapped, pushed, and physically assaulted. I was sexually assaulted numerous times when he was intoxicated, and coerced into sex I did not want. Even consensual sex resulted in me being physically harmed, and would end with anger and yelling if I protested against the pain. I was threatened, screamed at, called names, and deprived of sleep. I was in the middle of brain washing, mind games, and the destruction of myself.

I was taught to question my sanity, my intelligence, and consider my self-worth to be nil. I was taught to be constantly available at his beck and call, to provide financial support, moral support, and companionship at all times. I was encouraged to push away friends, and then belittled for not having any friends. I was slowly molded into the worst possible version of myself. I took photographs in the weeks after I left. My body is rail thin, but my face is curiously bloated and swollen. My hair didn’t grow for about a year. Not even an inch. Not even a half an inch.

Afterwards, I was faced with harassment and derision every day in the form of e-mails, phone calls, and text messages. I was still called all manner of names, but they were interspersed with cloyingly sweet messages trying to call me back into his sticky web of disturbing lies.

After that, after the restraining order, I was faced with “anonymous” comments in the same vein. Secret, anonymous accounts used to harass and bully me, but I didn’t have any proof that it was really him. This has been hell, and the legal system has failed me in every way.

I am in a new relationship, and have been for a year and a half. We’re moving in together soon, and we just went on our first vacation to another country together. I often carry around a guilt still, I feel terribly guilty that he had to deal with the aftermath, the pain and destruction, the ongoing effects of the PTSD and mental damage that was wrought. He is my best friend, and he is more than capable of handling even the worst parts of me, and I know this. I wish he didn’t have to, though. I wish I could be perfect for him, perfect and untouched.

In my heart, I know that the fact that I am imperfect makes me better at loving him in the purest, fiercest way. My loyalty runs so deep, nothing can shake me from my determination to be the best possible partner.

The other day, he told me that I was a very laid-back girlfriend, and not at all needy or demanding. That statement took root quickly in my heart and is growing rapidly. I’m not needy…I’m not demanding…I’m not controlling…I’m not a bitch…I’m not stupid. I am worth loving. I am SO worth loving. I am crazy worth all this love.

These are the good parts, the hope that I have now. I was still failed when I needed protecting the most. There are men and women in the world who are victims of psychological, emotional, and verbal abuse that leaves no scars. Silly little pushes that are just a bit too hard, slaps that leave bruises that he/she swears they didn’t mean. Little devaluing statements, and then the big devaluing statements. Abuse has no gender, it has no sexual orientation, it has no socioeconomic class.

Our court system needs to be better at protecting these people. We are survivors, but we NEED our community. We need our law enforcement, we need our legal system, and we need those two entities to not encourage and enable the abuse against us.

I can tell you with a deep certainty that someone breaking you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally should be treated with every bit as much gravity as someone harming your physical body. Someone who isolates and destroys your will to live, your will to thrive, your capacity for relationships, your capacity to learn, to create, to experience life fully, is a true monster.

You can lock me up, you can charge me, and you can throw away the key. But I will NEVER, EVER stop talking about it. He is continuing his abuse right now, he is still going, he is currently harming someone new. He has left a trail of broken, busted women in his wake. He is going to eventually kill someone, and then people will be shocked and surprised, wondering why such a nice man could do such an awful thing. TC mark

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