Institutional Trauma when going through domestic violence

It has been over 8 years since I got out of my abusive relationship and I am objectively doing well in life. But emotionally it has been a slow time and 8 years after my partner tried to kill when he tried to stab me to death, I still find myself triggered very easily when thinking about how my university handled the situation.

At first they pretended to be there for me and told me they would give me access to counseling. But then they turned the situation around on me and charged me with disorderly conduct for making a scene and abuse because I scratched him in the process.

The campus police that handled the case because a neighbor called them, took him to jail but kept the weapon off the police report to prevent the case from being a felony reportable by the college. When I told the title x coordinator he said he tried to stab me to death because he accused me on cheating on him because that is what abusive partners do, she responded with “well did you?” They cut me off from counseling, held a trial for me where they suspended me, made me have police escorts and embarrassed me. I was in a seriously deadly situation and they just tried to get rid of me and limit their liability.

The title x coordinator was very combative. While they admitted to a degree that my partner was the problem by automatically expelling him they gaslight me and told me I need to consider how to be a better citizen and not burden people. This was after I spent a week in the hospital from an almost successful suicide attempt and then another week in the hospital after the assault. I told them I had no family and no where to go and got kicked out of my dorm, my on campus job, and anything I had when I was suspended. I had to stay with people that made me feel unsafe and move back in with my abusive partner who I had to flee on the greyhound while he worked to another state to get away from him. He stalked me for 2 years after I left him and threatened my daily and harassed me after I left. I couldn’t even feel safe when I left. When I was with him he beat me, sexually assaulted me daily, verbally and emotionally abused me, wouldn’t allow me to talk to family or friends and even made me draft offensive letters to people that he had to approve and I had to hit send on to isolate me.

School was my safe place growing up in abuse and I was always a very determined and type A person. For years after the school did this to me I felt lazy and defeated. I felt betrayed by them and no longer felt save or motivated like I used to in an institution.

When an institution with so much respect and power and legitimacy in the community did that to me, it really made me feel ashamed like no one would understand. Their legitimacy in the community as a top school on the county made me feel like no one could believe me or care and really messed me up. It doesn’t matter how well I do, the fact that no one will acknowledge what they did to me has me feeling like I live in the past.

They were supposed to protect me and help me, not hurt me more. I still can’t understand why they did that to me. The only people who were there for me at the time were medical staff who knew I was in an abusive situation and did their best to help.
 

joeylittle

Administrator
8 years after my partner tried to kill when he tried to stab me to death, I still find myself triggered very easily when thinking about how my university handled the situation.
I'm sorry for what's happened to you, it all sounds truly awful.

I wanted to ask - have you been able to come to terms emotionally/psychologically with what your partner did to you? I'm not saying what the university did was OK - but do you think you might be lumping the whole traumatic experience into one bucket, and assigning all of the aftermath to the university because it's less difficult emotionally to be angry at them, than it is to confront the things your ex did to you?
 
Many Title IX coordinators have minimal or even zero training for their jobs. Your story isn't uncommon, and I'm sorry that it happened to you.

Are you currently in therapy?
I have tried to talk it away as lack of experience too but there were so many comments she made that also seemed very targeted to me. For example, my suicide attempt was an overdose of my prescription benzodiazepines that they gave me for my severe daily panic attacks. I was in the hospital for about a week after, I was in a coma for a few days of that. She sent me to do a drug and alcohol evaluation even though I didn’t use drugs, I just took my pills that way on purpose that once. But I was like ok, maybe there is nuance there where it blurs to gather for them. So the drug and alcohol counselor did a full evaluation and did not recommend drug treatment because I didn’t have a drug problem but instead recommended normal counseling for trauma. I took this recommendation to the title x coordinator and she scoffed and looked at me and said “what did he just look at you and give you this recommendation?” She was always making weird comments about the way I looked and going out of her way to be mean to me and giving me dirty looks. When I was suspended, I was walking on a main road near the college the get to the job I had to take and she stopped me and said “why are you near campus? I am reporting you now. Went streets over found the crossing guard and tried to get him to apprehend me. The crossing guard was like ummm no, she is allowed to walk on a main road on the perimeter of the school”

I am in therapy but most days I don’t think of it. But anything that reminds me of it just hits me very hard. Like I am applying for my masters now and it is coming back a lot more.
 
I'm sorry for what's happened to you, it all sounds truly awful.

I wanted to ask - have you been able to come to terms emotionally/psychologically with what your partner did to you? I'm not saying what the university did was OK - but do you think you might be lumping the whole traumatic experience into one bucket, and assigning all of the aftermath to the university because it's less difficult emotionally to be angry at them, than it is to confront the things your ex did to you?
I know what my partner did to me for sure messed with me. If my current husband raises his voice during a fight, to this day, I sneak away and hide the knives before I engage further with him. I still don’t like to see male doctors of any kind, and before I never had a problem with that.
How Donau put it? With the school, it just hits differently. Growing up I lived in a really unstable environment. We were homeless a lot, or living in dangerous houses with drug dealers, we would be molested by men my mom had around, etc, I saw a lot of domestic violence and aggression in general. I formed a response to that over time where I didn’t produce a big emotional reaction to those things.
Growing up school was also my savior. I was not a naive kid in most ways, but with school I still held chronic positivity and childhood naïvety. I was always at the top of the class, or tried to be at the top of whatever I did, first chair flute, layering in sports, being leader in all kinds of clubs, etc. I always saw school as this reliable escape that would give me a better life. And it still did in the end. I honestly am upper middle class now. I know I have a lot to be happy for now. We would have to find shelter cities over and I would wake up at 4am take 3 hours worth of buses just to never ever miss school in high school. My mom would yell at me about it, say things like “oh so you think you are better than me”. My abusive partner also hated my dedication to school. He did not like seeing me self sufficient, looking back and reframing it. But in the middle of this dark cloud that was what I went through with him, I still poured myself into it. He would assault me over being mad I spent time studying and I was always willing to take that for school. I had a singular naive childlike focus on it. It was the only thing I felt sure about.
So when the university reacted that way, I guess it was like my last protective factor, that one thing that I always felt I had, was taken away from me. I still finished my bachelors degree late and with an ok GPA and got a decent job. It just was never the same after that. I would be ok with just getting by in classes, didn’t involve myself in any extracurriculars, moved off campus and only went when I had to. I settled for an ok job and was too emotionally out of it to strive higher. I don’t know. It just made me a cynical person in a way all that childhood stuff and abuse never could. So I think that is why it bothers me. It feels like a betrayal and a loss on a different level because it meant so much to me. And I already had years of being programmed to not trust people, especially men. I know there is a deeper feeling around all that childhood stuff and abuse, but it is harder to puncture. And the school stuff feels more like a raw sensitive wound.

I'm sorry for what's happened to you, it all sounds truly awful.

I wanted to ask - have you been able to come to terms emotionally/psychologically with what your partner did to you? I'm not saying what the university did was OK - but do you think you might be lumping the whole traumatic experience into one bucket, and assigning all of the aftermath to the university because it's less difficult emotionally to be angry at them, than it is to confront the things your ex did to you?
Also I cannot confront my ex ever. He died 2 years after I left. So there is stuff around his death too. I can’t help but feel for him no matter what he put me through in some ways.
 

shimmerz

MyPTSD Pro
@Alice Hindman , I can totally relate in my own way. When the very people who were meant to protect you (police, doctors, counselors, etc) literally turn it around on the victim, there is a special kind of wound that comes with that, in my opinion. It makes nothing feel safe. No place to go is the dimension it added for me. And I am not certain that many understand what damage is done when being stalked and harassed.

I want you to know, there can be light at the end of the tunnel though. I hope you are working at your own wellness. I found, for myself, once I let go of the injustice in the system they call the justice system, at the betrayal that was dealt to me, and pictured what I wanted rather than what had been done to me, life turned around some. My sympathies for going through all of that. Don't forget your strength though.
 
@Alice Hindman , I can totally relate in my own way. When the very people who were meant to protect you (police, doctors, counselors, etc) literally turn it around on the victim, there is a special kind of wound that comes with that, in my opinion. It makes nothing feel safe. No place to go is the dimension it added for me. And I am not certain that many understand what damage is done when being stalked and harassed.

I want you to know, there can be light at the end of the tunnel though. I hope you are working at your own wellness. I found, for myself, once I let go of the injustice in the system they call the justice system, at the betrayal that was dealt to me, and pictured what I wanted rather than what had been done to me, life turned around some. My sympathies for going through all of that. Don't forget your strength though.
Yes I think that is a big part of it for me. That is took away my last little bit of nativity that people would care and try to help.
But I think there also this other factor where I had no where to live and then punishing me made me feel like I didn’t have access to victim resources. I would think, no DV shelter will take me. If the school blamed me they will blame me too. I definitely felt like I wasn’t allowed to access any resources for DV because I was punished and accused of abuse for defending myself. It added this other layer of pressure of where can I live? Looking back, I am sure they would have still taken me. But the legitimacy of a top “progressive” university not siding with me made me feel more ashamed like I can’t tell anyone or they will blame me too. I think I would have been able to process the abuse in a more healthy way if I didn’t have that extra guilt and felt empowered to talk about it. I mean abusers constantly tell you that you are the problem. My abuser even gave himself the nickname of “your victim” where he would say he was my victim because I would ignore him and that I was playing mental games with him when I would consider going back but didn’t. So when they said “you are the problem” and my abuser said “you are the problem” I internalized it deeper. My abuser would also throw it in my face that they suspended me. He would say “they suspended you because you are n out a victim.” But at least the hospital recognized it in a more compassionate manner. I almost cried years later when I saw my discharge papers again from my suicide attempt and it had me labeled as a domestic violence victim. It hit home, like wow at least they understood at the time.
 

shimmerz

MyPTSD Pro
discharge papers again from my suicide attempt and it had me labeled as a domestic violence victim
Yes. The fact that many weaponize the word 'victim' as well, seemed very messed up to me. I was a victim of abuse. Whether people validated that or not, it was obvious that I was. I was there. I was almost killed. Removing myself from these constructs of society was really helpful to me. Whether society cared about me or not, I had to learn how to care about myself. That was really hard but well worth the effort at the end of the day. Best of luck in finding your way to knowing that what happened to you matters to you and that nobody else's feelings about that are of concern to you.

My thoughts are with you. I know it's hard.
 

Friday

Moderator
When an institution with so much respect and power and legitimacy in the community did that to me, it really made me feel ashamed like no one would understand. Their legitimacy in the community as a top school on the county made me feel like no one could believe me or care and really messed me up. It doesn’t matter how well I do, the fact that no one will acknowledge what they did to me has me feeling like I live in the past.

They were supposed to protect me and help me, not hurt me more. I still can’t understand why they did that to me. The only people who were there for me at the time were medical staff who knew I was in an abusive situation and did their best to help.
Oh yeah…. Big name schools in the US with 50k-100k per annum tuition rates are some of the absolute worst offenders at covering up sex crimes & violent crimes.

It drives law enforcement absolutely insane… (not that sex crimes do much better in criminal courts, but most other felony charges get at least a chance at a fair shake). But? Big name schools are big business… protecting multi-billion dollar endowments and hundreds of millions from other sources, all before one even begins to look at federal funding. They’re protecting their reputations, the reputations of their past/present/future donors/alumni, (and ultimately the pocket books of all involved), by keeping violent crime stats as low as possible. Which means most big name schools actively discourage any police involvement & want it dealt with “internally” via campus police, campus medical, & campus “hearings” (none of which gets reported… although several law enforcement agencies have certain schools on their hit lists? Those schools also produced judges & lawyers & politicians… all of whom care about their reputations (and that where they went to school “matters”) as much as the trillion dollar companies who invest billions in those schools.

Ivory Tower Insanity.

Not since “company towns” have so few held so much power over so many… all completely outside of the law.

Most people & professors who work at these schools? Are damn good people, who -whenever they become personally involved / find out what’s happening- hate how their raped and assaulted students have evidence destroyed, are intimidated by various members/agents of the board or committees who are “in theory” to protect them but are actually protecting the school first and foremost (like HR at a company, you need your own counsel; or a shrink attached to your job, you need your own therapist… they work for the school, the company, the job, not you), are threatened with expulsion if they go to the police (and other cheerful forms of harassment; like suddenly finding the person they’ve accused in all their classes & moved into the dorm next to them)… but most forms of systematic shutdown is far more subtle; like hiring incompetent people who need their jobs, impressing upon them all the “false” claims they have to root out (faking suicide attempts, Pratt falls, petty mean girl vendettas, drug use, fake claims of rape, etc.) and as such? Are easy patsys / fall guys when thaw enforcement ever DOES get a toe in the door, once in a blue moon. Oh! We fired that moron! The poor girl. To have gone through such blah blah blah. Of course we’ve started our own internal investigation and take what has happened to her very seriously, blah blah blah. Shrug. All the “right” words said, and all the “right” steps taken, to again protect the school. And law enforcement gets shown the door. Again. And then their replacement is equally incompetent, with an equally big axe to grind & performance goals to meet. Again. It’s like showing up to a house with dozens of 911 domestic violence reports. Everyone knows what’s happening. But no one can prove it.

It’s a brutal system to suddenly find yourself at odds with, that most people IN the University itself would rain hellfire down if they knew, or knew how. (Tenure exists for a reason, but there’s also an incrediably high suicide rate amongst law professors, who DO take on battles like this time & time again, knowing they’ll fail.). But outside of tenured law professors? Very few people know how to actually take on multibillion dollar entities, and all the force that brings to bear. Meanwhile most tenured law professors? Won’t have you use the law, to win. Because it’s an almost impossible win. Instead, they use the law to sidestep… like getting glowing letters of recommendation and a full ride at another school, which isn’t as cheap as chasing a student off, but a helluva lot cheaper than winning another investigation directed their way by someone who knows what they’re doing.

With the school, it just hits differently.
That’s betrayal, for you. It really does just hit differently. And unlike trauma-trauma? There’s no avoidance symptom attached, so it can burn and shred you at any time, for all time, unless or until you make peace with it.

Going to war works with a helluva lot of things, but IME, betrayal ain’t one of them… unless it’s an individual. And this ain’t that.

Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t go to war against the system; the smart play would be to become either law enforcement or a lawyer (or once upon a time, journalist, but that field has lost all of its teeth in recent decades), with your goal to be to get on one of these task forces. That way you’re shielded at least a little bit by another BigDog, with the training and experience to make a real play at bringing down these BigDogs. But that’s a Life Mission kind of task. Nothing less will even dent, and even being whipsmart (which branch/track you take, allies you make, etc.) won’t guarantee a result. Whole damn generations of people tilt at BigDog companies, mobs, cartels, political groups, etc…without ever even scratching the surface. Until sooner or later someone does. 50 or 100 or 150 years from now.

How to make peace with this kind of institutional betrayal? The same way you make peace with traffic; if you step into traffic a moving car will squash you flat and bloody all over the asphalt. Doesn’t matter if the walk signal is in your favor. Rule of gross tonnage… the car wins. Not because you’re not worth it, not because the driver is worth it, but because the car is bigger and faster, and if it hits you? You go splat.

- You could go to war; same as going after BigDog anything with thousands to millions of moving parts (most of whom are damn good people who don’t want to run over people, nor see people being run over as okay in any way); making streets safer, drivers better, pedestrians more aware, etc. That’s valuable, but will take generations, and people will still get hit by cars.

- You could become terrified-enraged of all things cars/streets& flail around aimlessly, consumed by rage & fear & mistrust.

- Or? You make peace with traffic being a different kind of dangerous, where being “in the right” doesn’t matter. But it takes a helluva lotta self confidence to swing.

***
Clearly, my bias is against going to war. But it’s still a valid choice, that without people who choose to fight the good fight, we wouldn’t live in the world we do.

but do you think you might be lumping the whole traumatic experience into one bucket, and assigning all of the aftermath to the university because it's less difficult emotionally to be angry at them, than it is to confront the things your ex did to you?
@Alice Hindman THIS ^^^^ is a ginormous, hugely, insaaaaanely important thing to be aware of with PTSD. No matter how absolutely valid a thing is, itself? When it becomes a way to avoid trauma-trauma? It takes on a life of its own.

Addiction is a fantastic example. MANY people become addicts attempting to cope with trauma. Addiction? Is an incrediably valid/difficult thing. Many people ALSO abuse rhe f*ck out of substances in order to avoid dealing with trauma. Which is a very different thing. And why better treatment centers insist on either dual-diagnosis, or that you attend a trauma program FIRST. Because the avoidance symptom is so strong that it mimic an addicts neeeeeeeed for the drug. (Of course, many better trauma programs insist a person is sober before taking them on, for the same reason, in reverse.)

Which, again, this is going to tie into my bias against going to war / making this you life’s work…. For now.

Deal with your childhood trauma, and DV trauma, BEFORE doing something so big shiny distracting as taking revenge / seeking vengeance.

My 2.02
 
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joeylittle

Administrator
Also I cannot confront my ex ever. He died 2 years after I left. So there is stuff around his death too. I can’t help but feel for him no matter what he put me through in some ways.
To clarify - I was referring to working through the events of that trauma with a therapist, and processing them - not confronting your ex directly. Unresolved traumatic episodes will make almost everything in proximity to them hurt even worse. So, there's the pain of how you were treated by the university - and that pain is potentially being magnified by the unresolved traumatic incidents with your ex.
 
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