I Blamed The Victim, Too – Until I Became One

 victim-blaming

 

“Mother Teresa would never marry Saddam Hussein.”

These words were spoken to a friend of mine in reference to me after the death of my 15-month-old son, Prince McLeod
Rams , during a panel discussion on family court. Four years ago, I would have believed the same thing. Since then,
I have learned that Mother Teresa is exactly the kind of person who ends up with Saddam Hussein.

Growing up with Christian morals, I believed that everyone was capable of good. I was taught not to judge a person by his
appearance. So when, in 2010, Joaquin Rams walked into my life, I was vulnerable to deception. Yes, he dressed like a thug,
looked much older than he claimed and was full of mystery. But he was also charming, intriguing and had such an intense look
in his eyes that he made me believe he was my soul mate. He told me he was a self-made businessman who was caring for his son
after the child’s mother died in an accident. In hindsight, his story appears to have been custom designed to appeal to me.
I wanted to believe what he said, and he knew it.

Abusers don’t start emotionally terrorizing someone on the first date. No one just comes out and tells you he is living off
the insurance proceeds and death benefits of women who have died violently around them. Psychopaths – as one forensic psychologist who testified on my behalf in court labeled Rams – are often charming and charismatic people who can talk their way through almost anything.

After I fought unsuccessfully for over a year to prevent Rams from having unsupervised access to Prince, my worst nightmare
came true: On Oct. 21, my son drowned during one such visit with his father. Three months later, Rams was arrested and charged
with Prince’s murder. Shortly after his arrest, it was reported that Rams had taken out over $560,000 in life insurance on
Prince. On insurance forms, court documents show, Rams claimed I had died in an “accident.”

(Note:  Rams has claimed that he is innocent of these charges, and is currently awaiting trial for Prince’s murder in Prince William County, VA)

This was all devastating enough, but as the details of the case seeped into the media, I got another shock: Many people blamed
me for allowing all this to happen. Most of this was behind my back, but some of the bolder ones came right out and asked
how I could have gotten into a relationship with such a person. Once, I was berated by a police captain for making “poor relationship choices.” I left the station in tears.

At first, I was stunned by this reaction, but as time went on I was able to think more critically about my situation. The
truth is, before meeting Rams, I could have made the same sort of victim-blaming statements. I, too, judged the victims of
domestic violence. I, too, believed that I could never be a victim. I was too intelligent, too educated and too savvy for
that.

I believed this until the day I looked in the mirror and realized that I had become a victim myself.

It shouldn’t be necessary for the tables to turn so horribly for someone to see this common attitude for what it is. This
misplaced blame undoubtedly hurts the victims, but it also helps offenders. They count on society blaming the victims, because
it focuses the attention away from their disturbing behavior.

When Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who imprisoned three young women in his home for years, made his notoriously self-justifying statement in court, his attempt to deflect guilt did not surprise me. He was simply repeating, albeit in an exaggerated way, sentiments that pervade our culture.

The day my son died was the worst day of my life. In the days following his death, I wanted to jump in the casket with him
and die, too. I blame myself every day for not disobeying court orders to protect Prince, for trusting Rams, for naïvely believing
I could never be a victim. This blame, however, is not going to bring Prince back. And it isn’t going to get him justice.

As I stood over Prince’s casket, I read him Dr. Seuss’s “Oh Baby, Go Baby,” one of his favorite books. I read about how he
would someday move mountains. Then, as the harsh truth set, my tears fell onto his body. I placed the book in the casket with
him, and made him this promise: “Mama will make sure you still move mountains. I will fight for justice so that your story
saves others.”

The promise I made to Prince will not be easy to fulfill. To prevent this sort of tragedy from happening to other children,
the tendency in our society to blame the victim must change. Addressing the attitudes of some family court judges is a good
place to start, but the problem goes much deeper – it lurks in the decisions of mental health professionals, law enforcement
officials and social workers alike, dangerously clouding their judgment and creating life-threatening situations outside of
the courtroom.

It is not comfortable to face these judgments while trying to change the system. But for as long as I live, I will continue
to tell my son’s story and continue to fight for children’s rights. I will do it for my son and the children who will come
after him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Survival Date

This past weekend (October 20th and 21st to be exact) marked the one year anniversary of the worst two days of my entire life.  While I am still relatively young, I am willing to bet that October 20-21, 2012 would have been considered astronomically bad by anyone’s standards – and even that seems like an understatement.  For those of you who don’t know, October 20th last year was the day that I found out my son had been murdered by his father.  It was the day I learned that I would never again see my little boy open his eyes, give me a hug, or say “Mama”.  All of my hopes and dreams for him shattered in that single moment.  A year later, I write this post reflecting over the past year.  I received more messages this past weekend from people telling me they were thinking about me than I received on what would have been Prince’s second birthday (which to me was a more difficult milestone).  My response to everyone who sent that message went something like this:

“Thank you for your kind words.  Today is not a bad day though.  I will not be spending it thinking about the worst day of my life.  I don’t care to celebrate or commemorate this day.  I refuse to allow a date that a demonic man chose to terrorize me for the rest of my life.  This day was not a good day for my son and it was not a good day for me.  I do, however, see it as a day that marks strength.”

Many people seemed confused with my response.  Maybe they were expecting me to curl up into a corner, and spend the two days crying as I forced myself to relive the nightmare that occurred just one year ago.  While I could have chosen that path, and I would not judge someone else who did, I continue to choose survival.  So instead of curling up into that ball and crying, I thought about all the things and people who have gotten me to this place of strength.  I will never say that the path I have taken in the last year should be followed by everyone who has endured tragedy, but it was my path and if my words can help someone then it is worth sharing.

1)  Find your people:  I put this one at the top of my list because without my friends and family I know I wouldn’t have survived this past year.  When my son died, everyone who knew him was devastated.  It rocked my family in a way that a family should never be rocked.  That said, many of my family members were able to rally around each other and we gave each other the strength to keep living.  In addition to my family, I learned who my true friends were.  As soon as I sent out the text message that my son was dying, several of them dropped everything and drove to the hospital just to be there with me.  One of my oldest friends got on the next plane from Louisiana to visit.  She listened to me, sat with me while I cried, made me laugh when I didn’t think I would again, and cooked when nobody seemed to have the strength to even think about food.  When chaos and tragedy strikes, find your people.

2)  Clean house on the toxic folks:  Throughout life its never a good idea to allow toxic people to hang around.  This is especially important during the hard times.  I found that there are some people who enjoy chaos.  They will gravitate around you during these times and make you feel worse.  If you find that someone is making you more sad or appears to be feeding off of your bad situation, drop them like a bad habit and move on.  In the past year, I have made no apologies about getting rid of bad people.  For example, two weeks after my son died, someone who I thought was a friend told me that I needed to “just get over it and stop talking about how angry and upset I was about what happened.”  After that conversation, I promptly told this person to lose my number and I truly believe I am better off because of it.

3)  Grieve your way:  In the past year, I can’t even count the amount of times people have tried to tell me how to grieve for my son or passed judgement on me for decisions I have made.  Many of these people have never lost a child and seem to project how they think they would feel if in my situation.  Recently, one of my coworkers lost his son tragically to a brain aneurism.  The child was six years old and he was devastated.  He asked me what he should be doing.  I told him that he needed to do whatever he felt he needed to do and that he shouldn’t let anyone tell him that what he chose to do was the wrong path.  That said, I would advise someone against doing something that was hurtful to themselves or others.

4)  Don’t be afraid to go to therapy:  Admitting that you need to see a therapist shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.  If a person broke their arm and just decided that surgery or casting it wasn’t for them, they would end up with a jacked up arm for the rest of their life.  If you find yourself in an emotionally unstable place, sometimes you just need to seek medical help and talk to a therapist.  I am not ashamed to say that after Prince died (and while I was in the throws of the custody war), I have seen a therapist regularly.

5)  Take back your happy:  Ever since I met Luc in February 2010, my life has been in some level of chaos.  He has tried to control and torment me.  While I believe he killed my son primarily for money, his secondary motivation was likely to destroy me.  He chose the first time he saw Prince after my birthday as the day he would drown him.  He intended for that day to make me sad for the rest of my life.  I will always miss my son.  I will always hold a certain sadness about the fact that he will never grow up and do the things he should have been allowed to do.  I will not, however, allow the man who killed him to destroy me.  I chose to take back my happy.  I chose to do this for myself and for my daughter.

Finally, I leave you with one of the wisest things I heard after my son’s death.  I was speaking to the priest at my church.  I asked him why so many Christian people were telling me that in order to have peace I needed to forgive the man who killed my son and all of the people who allowed my son to be killed.  I asked him if I needed to forgive these people before finding peace.   Father John looked at me and said, “Hera, hold onto your anger.  It is that anger that will help get your son Justice.”  Father John went on to explain that forgiveness should be reserved people who can understand forgiveness.  It was clear that Luc had no soul.  Forgiveness would simply allow him to feel absolved for what he did, and possibly even allow him to continue to torment me.  So I will not be forgiving Luc.  It is a waste of my energy –  energy that should be used on happiness.  While I don’t forgive him, I also don’t dwell on him either.  I stayed angry for as long as I needed to in order to get the wheels of justice to turn.

I would never tell someone else NOT to forgive someone who has hurt them.  I simply offer you an alternative.  If forgiving the person who has hurt you allows you to heal, then do it.  Just don’t allow that forgiveness to let them continue to hurt you.  For me, what was more important was learning to forgive myself.  This remains the hardest part of my journey.  While I know how hard I fought and how much I loved my son, there is still a level of survivors guilt and victim guilt that I will likely face for a long time to come.  As I continue on this journey, however, I will focus my efforts on life - on the legacy of my son through telling his story and helping to try and protect other children.  Soon, I will also focus on raising my daughter.  I am starting a new chapter of my life and Luc is not a part of that chapter.

So next year, when my daughter is about a year old and the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, I will think of strength and survival.  I will have survived one more year, and I will be thankful for all the wonderful things life has given me.  This is my survival date.