Sorry, but I couldn't help making an allusion to a now infamous post by PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog in which he shared allegations from a woman who claimed to have been raped by a famous person in the skeptic community a few years earlier.
This past September, my friend Lucy (not her real name, which I don't want to use in this post) revealed a frightening dilemma of hers to me, but unlike the allegations Myers shared, this was a situation that was happening in the present rather than an event that took place in the past.
Before I get into it though, first a little background information. Lucy is an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Indonesia in her mid-forties. I became acquainted with her in the late 90's because we were both (and are still) trademark paralegals. Lucy worked at a firm that we used for trademark matters in Indonesia and she became my main contact there. At some point, we became e-mail pen pals.
After a few years, she got a visa to visit the United States in 2004 and brought along her mom, who was wheelchair bound because of a stroke she had suffered. The father had died a year or two before that. I invited Lucy and her mom to stay with us in our house during the portion of their trip they spent in New York. Lucy visited the United States a couple of years later on her own, and again stayed with us for the New York portion of her trip.
In my communications with Lucy after she returned to Indonesia, she expressed a desire to leave and move to the United States or Canada. Part of her desire to leave Indonesia stemmed from the anti-Chinese riots that broke out there in 1998. How could the Indonesian-Chinese community be sure that such a terrible thing couldn't happen again? Lucy had applied to immigrate to Canada but hadn't heard anything. Then in 2007 she applied to and was accepted for a year of study at the Franklin Pierce Institute in New Hampshire, a school that offers post-graduate programs in intellectual property law. Besides getting her out of Indonesia for awhile, Lucy hoped it would create an opportunity for her to get a US firm or company to sponsor her for a work visa so that she could stay permanently.
After Lucy completed the program, her hopes for remaining in the United States did not pan out. She was unable to find a firm or company to sponsor her for a work visa, but she did not want to go back to Indonesia. Finally, she caught a lucky break, when her Canadian visa application was accepted. Lucy moved to Toronto and applied for trademark paralegal positions with firms in the city. Unfortunately, she did not meet with success, telling me that the firms wouldn't hire her because she didn't have "Canadian experience." It was a Catch-22 scenario. She couldn't get hired because she lacked the experience, which meant that she couldn't get the experience that would get her hired.
Lucy ended up working at menial jobs, barely scraping by to make a living. She had no family in the area except for an uncle with whom she was not close, and she had no close friends in Toronto, which made her experience all the more gloomy, which I believe left her vulnerable to what would follow.
Fast forward to the near present. When Lucy was in the United States, she had an account with Bank of America. After she had moved to Toronto, she had asked if she could give the Bank of America my address for sending a new debit card, because for some reason the bank couldn't mail it to a Canadian address. So, when the card arrived at my house, I mailed it to her.
This past September, I received another mailing from Bank of America. I could tell from holding the envelope that it had an ATM card in it, so I sent message to Lucy via Facebook that I was mailing her the envelope. I then proceeded to go to the post office to deliver it.
I think it was that very night when I was on Facebook that Lucy sent me an instant message telling me not to mail her the envelope, alluding that she was in a difficult situation. I replied to her that I had already dropped it off at the post office. Then she asked me if my name was on the return address label. I answered that I had, and then she dropped the bomb. She told me that she was in a relationship with a man who was very jealous and violent, and she feared that if he saw the envelope in their mail that he would think I was someone with whom she was having an affair.
Needless to say, I was quite shocked and horrified by this revelation. I had read enough stories in the news of women who were murdered by former or current boyfriends or husbands, and now my friend Lucy was in a dangerous situation where the same thing could happen to her.
Knowing that she really had no one to turn to, I instinctively sought to do what I could to help her, but communicating with her was difficult. Such was the hold he had on her that he made her give her the passwords to her Facebook account and some of her e-mail accounts so he could monitor her activity. I sought to avoid that by sending her a message via LinkedIn, not realizing that doing so sent a notification of the message to an e-mail account that he had access to. Lucy told me that the boyfriend started to ask her who I was, accusing me of being a secret boyfriend, and that he was going to lookup all the men in Toronto who had the same name as me, as he apparently didn't know I lived in New York.
The one bright spot in Lucy's life was that she had finally found a job with an intellectual property firm in Toronto. While there, she was able to e-mail me using an account that she had kept secret from the abusive boyfriend. Thus, Lucy would be able to fill me in on what was happening and I would sound her out on ideas for her to get free of the abuser.
Early on, I called the Toronto Police Department and spoke with someone there about the situation. He suggested that I provide him with her address and they could send an officer to Lucy's apartment to investigate. I decided not to, because I didn't want to act without her permission, plus I was afraid it might exacerbate the problem. When I discussed it with Lucy, she was adamant that I not get the police involved, as she feared it would make the boyfriend more violent. I asked her if he had ever hit her, and she told me that he punched her in the face and threatened to throw her off the balcony of her apartment. He also assaulted his own mother when she criticized him for his relationship with Lucy. Some people often wonder why women do not immediately flee an abusive man, but I understand that if a man shows that he is capable of engaging in physical violence, the thought of taking action to leave him can seem more terrifying then staying with him, because leaving him might make him even more violent and unpredictable.
As angry as I was, I realized that my desire to charge into the fray and be the knight riding to the rescue had to be tempered by the need avoid further inflaming the situation. I told Lucy that she had to get away from the man as soon as possible, because he would only further tighten his hold over her as time went by. Such was his jealousy that he didn't even like her going shopping lest she speak to other men. After a dinner with Lucy's uncle and aunt, the man claimed that her uncle was not really her uncle, but rather some kind of sugar daddy. It got to the point where the man was so paranoid, he would follow her to the laundry room to make sure she didn't speak to any other men.
I offered, if necessary to come up to Toronto and be there with her at her apartment in the presence of a police officer and evict the boyfriend, as he was not on the apartment's lease and had no legal right to be there. My plan was that we would then pack up all of his belonging and arrange for a mover to bring them to his parent's house the next day. The superintendent would change the locks on her apartment so that he could not get in if he decided to attempt to return. I also encouraged Lucy to tell her supervisor at her job, because (1) someone else in Toronto needed to know the situation she was in, and (2) at some point she would have to take some time off from her job to take the action she needed to get the man out of her apartment as well as face the possibility that he might try to harass her at the office where she worked. I told her that the more isolated and alone she was, the more easy it would be for the man to maintain his grip on her. Furthermore, when she expressed her concerns about going through with leaving him, I stressed to her that there was no course of action she could take that would not result in disrupting her life in some way. The choices she had, as I laid it out for her, was to either stay with him and he would likely eventually hurt her again or even kill her, or she could make a break for freedom while living with the fear that he might try to find her and hurt her.
Fortunately, she did tell her supervisor, who gave her a referral to someone she could talk to about the problem. Lucy also finally took action and followed the plan I recommended to her. She informed her uncle about what was happening and he agreed to help. She took a day off from her job and went with her uncle back to her apartment, where she arranged with the superintendent to remove and store all of the man's belongings. She then packed some of her own things and left the apartment to stay at her uncle's.
When Lucy shared with me the news of her escape, which happened about a month after she revealed to me that she was in an abusive relationship, I told her how proud I was of her and that I understood that it was not an easy thing to do. She had taken an important step in reclaiming her life, but there would still be difficulties in the road ahead, which will be covered in the next post.