Abuse is a serious worldwide health and human rights issue. According to the World Health Organization 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence. This of course does not include abuse towards children or men. It does not include emotional abuse. And in our age of technology, it does not include an ever more prevalent issue of abuse through the internet.
Almost 13 years after leaving my abuser, last night he found me and contacted me through Google+. I found myself feeling the victim again.
When I left my abuser, I hid. I hid where I lived and what I did. I hid my online presence. I did not want to be “googleable.” I would frequently check to make sure I wasn’t easily searchable. But as my voice grew stronger and my professional and personal life took me in new directions, I didn’t want to hide anymore. I knew I had something to say as an ePatient, as a defender of health as a human right. I wasn’t willing to hide.
The flip side of this exposure means I cannot hide from even my abuser. Thus the abuse in a sense continues, the emotional abuse perpetrated through a simple hangout request. It’s a trap, not a peace offering. It is typical of the cycle of abuse and (forgive my generalization) a narcissistic personality disorder that will never recognize the pain he inflicted – the years of nightmares and questioning my fault, the years of looking over my shoulder.
In a moment, my safety is shattered, as is wont to happen in an age where disappearing and blocking are not an option.
What could I do? I’ve found few resources on this subject. There are articles on cyber bullying and cyber stalking. They offer tips to change your email address or contact system administrators. Knowing the policies of social media, rarely do they respond to requests to block abusers using their sites. I have tried, I have seen others try. They may say they will “look into it” but they do not take the claim seriously.***
However, I cannot and will not allow my abuser to have the power to make me change my life because of his sickness. I will not change my email or my blog or my twitter account in an attempt to escape. I have already escaped him and though he will try to bring me back, I am stronger than him.
What else then can be done? I suggest the same as when experiencing physical or sexual abuse. If you feel uncomfortable in any way when an abuser contacts you, call local law enforcement. You may be able to obtain a protective (“restraining”) order depending on the laws in that county/state. Unfortunately, that will do little to really prevent the abuser from finding you online. But the report is important. The record is important. But you will have a record of the abusers actions that could later be used against them in a criminal case if the harassment continues. I recommend keeping any correspondence. File it away in a folder so that you needn’t see it before you and be reminded again and again.
Most importantly, as I know I must do, reach out for help. The Office of Women’s Health of the Health and Human Services Department offers a wealth of information by state on violence against women. As does the National Center for Victims of Crime. Call a hotline like the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). Talk to the nearest women’s shelter. Talk to your friends. Talk to healthcare providers you trust – a doctor, a therapist. Find a support group. Learn about abuse and how to protect yourself.
The abuse I experienced may have happened years ago. I may have left physically, but the effects remain. Last night when I saw those messages pop up in my email, I panicked. I felt the weight of those years of pain rush over me again. I felt my safety ripped away as if I’d been literally grabbed and hit again. But I will not change who I am in response. I will not back down. I will not hide and stop fighting for health as a human right to ensure that all who suffer the consequences of any type of abuse will find and have access to the help they need. I will be strong.
I know my abuser is reading this right now. And so I issue this warning:
You are a sick sick man. If you contact me again, I will again involve law enforcement. I will not let you continue to abuse me.
***Update as of January 12, 2015***
For more information about laws in your state and resources regarding online harassment visit Working to Halt Online Abuse.