I walked into the courtroom a mother, and I walked out neutered.
Before the hearing, I was playing with my two young daughters and another child. A little girl, who had wandered away from her mother to come play with us. The mom was talking to another adult. This was a familiar dynamic. I’m not the best with adults; I’m awkward, anxious, and defensive. But I’m great with kids. Kids don’t make me nervous. Kids are sparky little humans who, most of the time, just need a little more love, attention, or food. Before the hearing where my daughters would be forever taken away from me, I held their hands and the hands of another child, a stranger’s child, the child of a mother who wasn’t paying attention, and skipped in a circle singing “ring around the rosy.” I colored with them, using the paper and crayons I had stashed away in my bag because I was the mom who always thought ahead. I sang with them. And then I walked into a courtroom and had them taken away by a magistrate who had seen none of that, and who knew nothing about me except that I went to methadone treatment for heroin addiction four years earlier.
I walked into a courtroom a mother, and walked out severed. Permanently disfigured by the worst kind of loss. It was trauma beyond any other trauma I’ve ever experienced. Worse than being strangled to the point of seizure. Worse than being held and beaten in a motel room for days. Worse than being stalked, spit on, bitten, and insulted. Worse than rape. Having my daughters taken from me, and being thrown onto the streets of a state where I knew no one but the people who had abandoned me in this terrible way…was worse than rape. Closing in on a year later, it still is. Every day of my life since April 13, 2018 has been worse than the days I was raped. Every day.
It’s hard-near-impossible to live with, but I’ve gotten used to the empty, poisoned feeling of being robbed of my children; the way someone gets used to, I imagine, the feeling of being amputated. A constant, excruciating pain, a phantom nagging–but one you know. The day it happened, however, I was not used to it. I was terrified. I was lost; literally. The world spun away from me. My PTSD kicked in worse than it ever has, my brain and body aflame in stress. For a few moments, I believed I was dead. I really did. I thought I was still throat-clutched beneath my ex-boyfriend, my life wheezing out of me. I thought I was in a hell of his devising. Because where other than hell could someone who had never harmed her children–who loved them so deeply–have them taken away based on hearsay, accusations, and conjecture? The United States judicial system is not at all judicious.
Having my children rent from me is worse than rape, but it’s also made worse by having been raped. The fact that I am a physical and sexual assault survivor was used against me by the state of Florida to take my kids. They didn’t word it like that. Instead, they cited my traumatic reaction outside of the courtroom. They cited this blog, where I discuss what it’s like to live and parent in the aftermath of abuse. They cited a comment where I wrote about considering whether I was dead; that sense that this world is so obscenely wrong that it couldn’t possibly be real–a comment written after my kids had been taken, I’d been thrown out of my home, my purse had been snatched leaving me with no cash, no card, and no ID, my foot had been run over and I had not eaten in 24 hours. Nobody would think or behave well under those circumstances, but especially not someone with PTSD because of sexual assault.
When I was suddenly homeless, living day-to-day in a motel on the charity of family members who kept telling me they couldn’t afford to keep helping, I was constantly haunted by the fear that I would end up out there on the streets. Alone. At night. Defenseless. Can you imagine how terrifying that is for someone who has been sexually assaulted? For someone who has lived through being grabbed on the street and nearly raped by a stranger? I was thrown into this state of terror, the wounds of my PTSD ripped open–and then my symptoms were used as evidence that I am a bad mother. This is how child services treats sexual assault survivors. I myself was just a child, who everyone failed to protect. I was a child who became an adult under the tattoo of fists. I was failed by this system, and now this system is using the results of that failure against me. Not one instance of child abuse or neglect has been cited, because there are none to cite. My entire case has been based on my lack of money, and symptoms of being a sexual assault survivor.
Am I perfect? No. But my dysfunctions are the result of severe abuse, and of having my agency robbed from me. Continuing those actions are only causing more trauma, more harm, and an exacerbation of my PTSD symptoms. The actions of the state, the guardian ad litem, the judge, and the caseworkers who mishandled my case and denied me agency have harmed me, exacerbated my trauma, and left me worse-off than when this case began. How is bullying an abuse survivor in her children’s best interest?
To make matters worse: the presiding judge was formerly a sexual assault prosecutor. She fought to put men like my ex behind bars. But she has shown me no sympathy. She has treated me like the abuser. Not once has she acknowledged that I am the victim of the people she used to prosecute. She has shown no clemency toward me, nor has she taken into account the love my children have for me or that I have for them. She has switched sides; now she is continuing the harm that was begun by the people she used to prosecute. That hurts. Someone who I would expect to be understanding instead has treated me like I am the monster.
If you care about justice for sexual assault survivors, you should care about my child welfare case.