Every Nine Seconds
I have never been good with dates, but this is one that I will never, ever forget. Involuntarily, I find myself re-visiting the crime scene and going through the evidence, applying non-attachment, while allowing myself to experience the emotions and let them go. Buddhist theory at its best, real life situation at its worst. That morning, I opened my eyes to sheets the color of the most bitter, deep crimson red wine anyone could ever taste. Today I wake up in a different bed, in a different city, exactly a year from that morning when I met and became best friends with a side of myself that I never knew existed; the side of me capable of experiencing intense, almost polar emotions. Today I realize that, along with one more woman every 9 seconds, I too experienced at a bruised skin-deep level what the system knows as domestic violence. I am a dot, a pixel that makes the graphs accounting for perpetrations of violence a tiny bit bigger... every 9 seconds.... a bit bigger... 9 more seconds, bigger, bigger...
I don’t know if knowing that I am not alone, that this hasn’t happened only to me makes me feel better, or it makes my stomach turn inside out. 1 in 4 women has experienced or will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; an estimate of 1.3 million each year. Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of non-fatal intimate partner violence. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police and out of those that are reported, most don’t get prosecuted. Domestic violence against immigrant, undocumented women has an even higher incidence rate… check mark, check mark, check mark … Yes, I am part statistic, part human. I am a part of those statistics that are counted for, and I am a part of the underground statistics that no one will ever hear, just like millions of other women undocumented as myself, who don’t report or follow up the case because of fear of deportation and a lack of information about our rights as victims of domestic violence.
When I woke that morning, a spasm of fear ran through my body, mixed with chaos, confusion and a lack of memory. As I stood up, wondering where my partner had gone and whether or not he was the source of the wine-resembling puddles on the bed, I happened to stumble upon the one extra-wide mirror in the room. A fearful squeal escaped my lips, which abruptly ended when I realized that the scary creature in the mirror was nothing other than a reflection of myself. Tears began to wash down my face, mixing salt with bitterness and a strong taste of iron. Although I couldn’t remember the recently passed hours, a few flashes of my partner’s fists running with intention and infinite hate into my face, head and body began to come into my mind, as violent as the punches. I cried, I curled up in the corner, I stood up, curled back up. I walked from one side of the tiny room to the other, opened the window to let the smell of pain out, felt vulnerable to the air blowing inward … closed the window. I had no idea what to do; the only thing I could think to of was to pack my belongings and leave, without looking back.
I drove erratically, never once thinking to head toward a hospital or police station. I feared that, although I was the “victim”, they would ask for an ID, they would ask why I was here, they would find out that I am a nobody in this country, that I am not one of their citizens, that I have no rights. I feared that they would tell me they are not here to protect me. Every time I saw a police car, I felt a knot in my stomach and prayed not be noticed, not be questioned. I spent the next week or so in shock, sleeping through most of the days and nights, coming in and out of nightmares. Somehow, my body healed unbelievably fast; in my few wake moments, I deleted every picture I had taken of my beaten body, along with anything that could remind me of him or of us. When I finally felt a tiny bit more grounded in reality, my friend, who was taking care of me convinced me to file a report. I still feared being arrested and deported for being in the country “illegally” but at that point, I had decided to go back to Mexico, so I didn’t care.
The police came, asked a thousand questions, many of them about my status and reasons for being in the country. Many questions remained unanswered, I could tell they made assumptions from my silence. They took a couple pictures and told me that, being realistic, nothing would happen and he would most likely not be prosecuted. They said that because I waited so long – nearly two weeks-, the case was weak and it most likely wouldn’t withstand in court… apparently, the blood in my eyes, the bruises and scratches could have happened in many ways, “most likely accidents,” they said. The police officers never mentioned that, even though I wasn't a U.S. Citizen, I was protected under the Violence Against Women Act. They never told me that I could actually apply for a temporary permit to stay in the country because of what happened.
Within two weeks, I was silenced twice by men that I was supposed to trust, by men who were supposed to care for me and protect me. First, by my partner who covered my mouth and choked me as I screamed and begged for help, begged for my life, begged him to stop... later, by the police officers who muted my cry for justice, for fairness, for peace of mind. That's all I asked for so I could move on and start healing.
Maybe it was my stubbornness, or maybe it was my inner self guiding me to heal, but from that moment on, I refused to be silenced again. If these men wouldn't let me speak up, I would do it without their help. I made a self promise to speak up for myself and for all the women who have never spoken up and for those who never will. I made the commitment to break the silence for every immigrant woman who has remained in silence and to help break the cycle for all of the women who are put in the position of victims. Women who have suffered from domestic violence should not be called or categorized as victims, we are not victims; we are survivors. I believe part of my healing has come from refusing to be a victim, from refusing to feel weak and be babied for what happened. Part of the healing has come from telling and re-telling my story, from making it awkward for people and force them to listen to my voice, which simultaneously carries the voices of all those other survivor women. The word survivor carries strength, the word victim denotes weakness. One needs to be strong to survive the physical punches, as well as the punches that life brings us afterward, along our healing path. I wake up today and know that I am still not good with dates, but I also know that I am strong, that I have grown from the pain and that I will never, ever again be silenced. Every nine seconds I will speak up. Every nine seconds I will say “Ni una mas, not one more.”