So I got selected for jury duty yesterday and today. As part of the selection process I had to fill out a personal questionnaire. Had I or any member of my family ever been arrested? Was I employed in law enforcement? Had I ever been convicted of a crime? Had I ever been a victim of a crime?
A victim of a crime? There was a time when I would have answered that question no in all good conscience, so deep was my denial. But now I have come to a sad state of resignation that 1) my memories of my experiences are true and valid 2) what I experienced constitutes child abuse regardless of how my parents choose to define it and 3) child abuse is a crime. Have I ever been a victim of a crime? Yes I have. The court may have meant to ask if the crime had been prosecuted, if the perpetrator(s) had been convicted, if I had formally filed charges. They may have meant to ask if the crime was committed while I was an adult or if I knew it was a crime at the time. A hundred reasons to check ‘no’ darted through my head but in the end I knew what I had to do. I checked ‘yes’ and added the explanation: “I was a victim of child abuse”.
I see these kind of questions with uncomfortable frequency. I dread going to the doctor these days. I’ve had to change primary care physicians about once a year lately due to changing insurance coverage and the shortage of physicians in my state as they are leaving in droves. Each new doctor makes me fill out a medical history form and each form includes the question: “Have you ever been abused?” At those times I think wistfully about the days of my blissful state of blindness. Checking ‘yes’ in that box leads to invasively personal follow up questions about the nature of the abuse, the time frame it happened and the dreaded “Are you being abused now?” I cringe at the thought of my husband’s integrity being questions because of the sins of my fathers. I resent needing to explain and re-explain my most personal wounds to complete strangers on a semi-regular basis. I hate the idea that my ancient family wickedness is still here hovering over the lives of the husband and children I want to love, serve and protect.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful that times have changed. If what has happened to me had happened today I would have been rescued from countless wounds. Children today are aware of their rights and have options. A child today that exhibits the classic symptoms I did are questioned, watched and protected. The days of ‘what happens within the walls of a man’s home is nobody’s business but his’ are long gone and the price we pay for the invasion of our privacy is not small, but is worth it.
So back to the courtroom. There I was sitting in my seat – juror number two – dreading that my name would be called. Praying that just this once they’d let it go. But sure enough the judge called my number and asked me to approach the bench. In court whispers in front of the lawyers I was asked to confirm what I wrote. Did I think I would be influenced by my experience as a victim? Did I think I could give a fair and unbiased evaluation of the facts of the case? Then I could return to my seat. At that point the court clerk turned and announced formally to the room full of people: “This victim can return to her seat.”
I don’t think she was even aware of her slip of the tongue. She meant to say “This juror can return to her seat.” But there I was standing in front of a courtroom full of people — called out as a victim. It stung. And I know it will continue to sting. Each time I have to check ‘yes’ in a little box, each time I have to answer follow up questions I’m faced with a choice about how I want to live my life and with the persistent reminder that I’m not like other people. I’m thankful for the healing I’ve gotten. I want more. I know it won’t be easy and that for everything I get I have to give something up. To get the truth I had to give up the lie. In some ways the lie was easier.