I filed a restraining order in 2018 against someone I dated in 2010.
I never thought I would be the type of person to get a restraining order. I thought they were fantasy things that only happened in movies and crime shows. I thought the only reason someone would have to get one is if they had an abusive partner or a flat out stalker. I believed that the circumstances that lead to filing restraining orders had to be extreme and violent. But the truth about filing restraining orders is just that you need to be scared.
And you need to be able to prove it.
Fear is a driving force, and anyone who feels unsafe deserves peace of mind, it is our right. I think most people forget that. We are accustomed to people being assholes, whether it's harassment or bullying, and we usually just brush it under the rug. But sometimes things go too far. When it's your life, you forget that you don't have to put up with it. (*names have been changed for anonymity) When I started dating Travis* it was in 2010 and we were finishing up our high school careers. I was a semi-rebellious teen and had always gone after the “bad boys”. Lame but true. And Travis was that, he barely went to class, smoked under the bleachers, always seemed kind of high; just a general outcast. I thought he was cute, we first got together during prom weekend; he didn’t go to prom, though, obviously. Too cool.
We had a very short relationship that lasted maybe 3 months tops. I realized he wasn't as cool as I had once believed. Eventually I broke it off, I don’t remember any specific reason why, I just wasn't into it anymore. I thought nothing of it, it was just a summer fling to me.
That’s when he turned into the Crazy Ex-Boyfriend.
Breaking up with him wasn't the hard part, it was dealing with him afterwards. He began calling my phone incessantly, leaving angry voicemails and text messages in which he would call me names and insult me, my family and my friends. One minute he would call me a bitch, then the next he was begging to get back together. Total flip and flop. He eventually started harassing me with text messages that often turned vulgar. All of it unwelcome and unanswered. He continued on and on in tangents as if carrying on a conversation to which I never responded. I eventually started to ignore after he carried on that way for months.
So I blocked his number and washed my hands of him… Or so I thought.
Apparently, cell phones unblock numbers after a certain period of time, so Travis’ texts would eventually break through to my phone. I remember specific instances of this happening in 2014 and 2016, four and six years after our short, seemingly insignificant relationship. This always confused and upset me… How often was he texting me when he was blocked? And when will this stop? And why won’t he leave me alone? Each time his texts came through I just blocked his number again and again, assuming he would eventually give up the gun. But he didn't.
Fast forward to August of 2018. I get a phone call from a number I don’t know, which I NEVER answer in true Millennial fashion, but I had a voicemail.
So I listen to it.
I threw the phone away from my ear, I was freaked the fuck out. He went on and on about how happy he was that his calls finally went through and that if his number wasn't blocked he would never stop calling me. And that he stayed off social media so he wouldn't be tempted by me... And that he was high on cocaine, and tried to sell it to me. At this point I’m completely panicked, and I remember telling my current boyfriend how scared I was.
So I blocked him again.
You might be thinking, “I don’t get it, what’s so scary about a few texts and voicemails?” What's scary is realizing that there’s someone out there who has been thinking of you and obsessively trying to contact you for 8 years. What's scary is that this person is admittedly on drugs. What's scary is that that person appears to be completely unhinged. Who could know what was going on in his head? Or what he was capable of? It’s scary enough being a woman in general, let alone having someone harass you for almost a decade.
And then it got worse.
Two months after receiving the voicemails, I had just finished a set at a bar I work at weekly, when I sit down at the bar next to my sister, to have a drink, when I see out of the corner of my eye someone trying to catch it. It’s him.
At this point I had not seen him once in the past 8 years. And here he is, at my job on a night he knew I would be there. And he just stared at me from across the bar. I knew him the minute I saw him and I turned to my sister and said “Oh FUCK. It’s Travis. Hide me.” She tried her best to block me from his view but every time she did he would crane his neck to make sure he had me in his sights. Anytime I left my seat he would rush to wherever he thought I was headed. When I went to the bathroom at one point (with my sister, for protection) and she found him outside the women’s bathroom, waiting for me. I was genuinely scared and I felt super vulnerable. He seemed to be taunting me and he could tell I was flustered by the sight of him.
I called my boyfriend and asked him to come to the bar so I would feel safe. He escorted me to my car and made sure I wasn’t followed as I pulled out of the parking lot.
I resolved to call the police in the morning but I thought that they might find it premature and brush it off. So instead, I unblocked him and texted him.
I asked him what he wanted from me
He said he wanted me and that he was so happy to finally see me.
I told him that he frightened me at the bar and that the way he was acting was unacceptable and he needed to know that we would never be together.
I had to put my foot down and be as clear as possible because it was apparent this guy wasn't taking any hints. You know, like being ignored for 8 years.
He apologized and said he misread the situation (???) and thought I would have been happy to see him, too.
He then proceeded to send paragraphs and paragraphs of intelligible texts saying how great it was to see me, how he has cocaine, how big his penis is (it isn't), and that he had told someone he was going to visit his girlfriend (me) at the bar that night (WHEN WE HADN'T DATED FOR OVER 8 YEARS). It was spiraling, unhinged, horrifying, nonsense.
I firmly told him to stop contacting me, that I did not want to hear from him ever again and to please respect that and leave me alone.
Which he did not.
I spent the following days in constant fear
After that I was scared to be alone. I was scared to walk from my car into my house, from my job to my car, anything. He knew where I worked, a quick google search of my name proved how easy it was to find where I live. I was scared to be in my house alone. I was scared to leave my mom at our house alone. I was looking over my shoulder at all times, thinking he would just come into my job and shoot up the place. I KNOW that sounds irrational but crazy shit goes on in our country ever day and my mind was running wild with the possibilities. You just never know. It made me rethink everything I posted on social media, how people could know exactly where I was and when. The scariest part is that I never knew what was going on inside his head, or what he was capable of and I wasn’t going to sit around and wait to find out, and I wasn’t going to take any chances with my life. But I wondered if his actions even warranted police interference. Would they take me seriously? Would they tell me I was being irrational?
But I put all of those thoughts aside and went to the police the next day.
I was super nervous going to the police station; I didn’t know what to expect. I brought my sister and a friend with me for moral support. But when I stepped in and told them I wanted to file a complaint, they took me into a room alone and left my support in the dust.
I sat in what seemed to be the break room of the police station with an officer who asked me to detail what was happening. I explained that after 8 years of unwanted contact with this guy, he showed up at my job, which was unwanted, unacceptable, and most importantly, unsettling. I showed him the voicemails and texts to which he laughed at (the ones where Travis went on about his dick) but he eventually recognized that they called for concern.
“Are you scared?” he asked me, “or are you just annoyed?”
Internal eye roll. Men will never understand the fear that women live with every day.
I told him I feared for my life and I truly felt like I had to defend my case as if i was lying about it but I wasn't. It's just that we're so used to people not believing us. He told me I could file for a temporary restraining order but that he didn’t believe the judge would grant it one to me. Why? Because none of the text messages or voicemails explicitly implied violence or danger.
But that I could try.
So I did.
I was taken to the courtroom to speak to the judge
I was taken to the court room upstairs in where court was in session. I was absolutely shaking in my boots at the idea of having to plead my case to the judge in front of the whole room; I was not prepared for that. After what seemed like an eternity of argued parking tickets and public defenders, the courtroom finally emptied and I was lead to another room, where the judge would meet with me.
And the judge was fantastic. He too asked me if I was scared but he also wanted me to know that the police are here to help citizens feel safe, and that if I felt unsafe that they were going to fix that. He also explained to me what a temporary restraining order entails: the defendant (Travis) will not be able to contact me IN ANY WAY, including calls, text messages, emails, social media, snail mail nor physical contact. He would not even be able to ask someone to contact me for him, or he would be sent to prison. He would also not be permitted on the property of any of the locations I specified (my house, my boyfriend’s house, both of my jobs, etc.), and that it was illegal for him to purchase any weapons from that point forward, on the condition that I continued on to get a permanent restraining order. Getting a permanent restraining order meant I would have to go to county court and plead my case in front of a judge while Travis would have the opportunity to plead his. That idea did not thrill me. I had to sign some papers stating that I understood and agreed to these terms and they were off to serve him his papers. I never thought going in there that I would be taken so seriously, i felt so relieved. I had to sign some papers stating that I understood and agreed to these terms and they were off to serve him his papers.
Before I knew it, my court date arrived.
I hadn't heard anything from Travis since they had served him the temporary papers. It was the night before my court date, I spent that whole Sunday preparing for court; printing out pages and pages of the text message exchanges, typing up a timeline of events, and deciding what to wear.
Isn’t it funny how women have to do that?
We have men put on trial for actually doing something wrong but God forbid we show up to court sporting a little too much cleavage, the judge might think we were asking for trouble.
And as I was doing my make up for court in the morning I truly thought about how easy it is to be a man; he didn't have to wake up an hour before court to do his hair and make up in order to look presentable and respectable. He didn’t have to painstakingly decide on a shirt that was just the right amount of appropriate.
He just had to get up and go.
I was nervous on my way to court, my father drove me and I was shaking and fiddling with my manila envelope of papers the whole way there.
I kept telling myself I had nothing to be nervous about and reminded myself of what Dr. Blasey-Ford must have been feeling when she had to go up against Kavanaugh, someone who physically assaulted her, and had a whole courtroom and half a country rooting against her. I thought of her strength and calmed myself down. This wasn't so bad.
I spent hours in a court waiting room with the other domestic violence (that's what restraining orders are filed under) victims AND defendants. It was very strange, I don't know why they would allow victims and their abusers in the same room but it was just a lot of awkward silence and dodging eye contact. I feared he would walk into that room, but he was nowhere to be found. Every time I heard footsteps coming into that room I had a mini panic attack. It was horrifying and nerve racking.
But he never showed.
They finally called my name, 4 hours after my scheduled court time.
At this point I was over my nervousness, now I was just tired and angry and wanting to get through it.
They went through the formalities to make absolute certain Travis wasn’t in the building, then proceeded to take my testimony to receive a permanent restraining order which accused him of Harassment and Stalking charges. And he wasn't there to defend himself.
I handed the judge my 19 (!) papers of recorded text messages from him and
sat in the quiet courtroom with just the judge, a few officers and my father and sister behind me. Then, to my horror, the judge began to read all of the text messages OUT LOUD for the record. It was embarrassing and cringe-worthy to say the least. But it was also kind of hilarious. To hear a judge recite all the vulgar, inappropriate, and absolutely insane things this guy had been sending me in a monotonous droll was absolutely ridiculous. He asked me a few questions here and there but in the end decided to find Travis guilty of harassment, but not stalking. And then I was granted the permanent restraining order.
They instructed me to keep it with me at all times so I could present it to police officers if he ever showed up where I was.
It was a win for me.
It was a huge win, I felt justified and relieved, though my father warned me to still never let my guard down, it is just a piece of paper after all. And it's true, unfortunately in this world women need to have our guard up at all times to protect ourselves. But my situation really gave me hope, it made me realize that the justice system does actually serve justice and try to protect it's citizens. I hope that this story will encourage others to take legal action to protect themselves if necessary. Your life matters, your safety matters. I implore anyone who is in a toxic situation or relationship to find help and see it through. Statistically most women don't follow through with the steps necessary to finalized a restraining order, they can be manipulated or scared out of doing it. Be strong ladies, take a stand, and keep yourselves safe.