Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Story of A (Sexual Violence) Victim's Advocate

The Story of A (Sexual Violence) Victim's Advocate
© (2005) By Vicki Polin 
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - May 12, 2005

It has always been very difficult for me to talk about my life. Not because I have anything to hide, but because it has always been very complicated.

From a very early age I always knew there was something different about me. I never knew exactly what it was until some where between 1979-1980. It was at that time I was diagnosed as having a Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) -- which is now called a Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

I was between the ages of nineteen and twenty, when I finally learned about the coping mechanism that I developed. Since then I had gone through extensive psychotherapy, and have not dissociated in years.

MPD is caused by severe repeated traumatic events in early childhood. The trauma's usually occur within the first three years of life. The majority of individuals who carry this diagnosis were sexually abused, often in their own home.

For a long time my memories of my childhood were extremely fragmented. As a child I would have periods of time that I would blank out -- having periods of amnesia. I used to have different parts of myself that would go by different names, have different friends, and basically take on different responsibilities and lifestyles. Often the various parts would not communicate with each other, leaving me with periods of amnesia. It was sort of like time sharing my body with different people, yet in reality they were all different aspects of my personality.

My story is very similar to other survivors who have developed MPD as a coping mechanism to deal with the insanity going on in their lives as children. Like other survivors, I come from a family where the use of extreme corporal punishment was the norm.

Over the years as I've been going along in my healing journey, I've tried to figure out where the abusive patterns started in my family. I've done my best to try to figure it all out, which I finally realized was an impossible task. People who know me have always told me I should write a book about my life, yet it's something I have never been sure I wanted to do. Due to the current political pressures, I've realized that my silence is hurting more then helping, so I'm sharing the following with you.

When I was sixteen, I attempted suicide for the first time. To this day, I don't know why I did it, but I did. The whole event still seems very surreal. It was April 27, 1976. I went shopping for prom dresses and tuxedos with my high school boyfriend, and two friends at a local shopping mall. We turned the corner and there was a Walgreens pharmacy. I told my boyfriend that I needed to go in to get something. I went in and bought over the counter sleeping pills.

The next day at school I overdosed. I was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. At first my mother refused to allow the doctors to care for me. A relative who was a doctor on staff at the hospital, came down and convinced my mother that she needed to sign the papers so the hospital staff could save my life.

I was put into ICU over night and the next day my mother signed me out of the hospital AMA (Against Medical Advice). I was grounded for a month, and driven directly back to school. My school was shocked that I was back so soon, and that I had not received any psychological help. If it wasn't for the intervention of my Grandmother, I would not have been allowed to go to my Junior Prom.

The school forced my parents to take me to counseling. I went to a few sessions and then started to refuse to go. I couldn't handle the interrogations I would get when I would return home.

You have to realize that prior to and also after my suicide attempt that I was an average student, who was active in several after-school activities. I had many friends. I had a regular boyfriend. To the outside world I looked like the typical American teenager. A few of my close friends knew there was a lot of stress for me at home, but that was about it.

During my senior year I was the only child still living at home. The abuse had intensified. One of the only respites I had was hang out in my high school guidance counselor's office. I knew this was a safe place for me. My guidance counselor knew something was wrong, but didn't know what it was. He referred me to the school psychologist, hoping I would disclose my family's secrets. I didn't, yet continued going back to my guidance counselors office.

As time went on, I told the guidance counselor a little bit about the violence going on in my home. He also had me tell the school psychologist. I showed them my arms which were swollen and the marks on them from being grabbed. At one point I was asked to show the markings on my body to the school nurse, who responded "your bruises won't photograph well enough, there's nothing anyone can do." I never told anyone about anything else. I would only say that "it was crazy at home again."

Growing up, when my father's temper would get out of control, me and my siblings would place our bodies between our parents. We felt it was better for us to get hit instead of my mother. During my senior year of high school, my father's behavior got so crazy that my mother said, if you don't want to live here, then move out.

My boyfriend came with his mother's station wagon, filled the car with all my belongings, and I went to stay with a girlfriend (with the permission of her mother). As I unloaded the car I thought, wow, finally I'm free.

The next day at school I was summoned to the school psychologist office who was made aware that I left my parents home. He warned me that I needed to go to the police department prior to my family calling me in as a runaway. I had to be "missing" for twenty-four hours before the police would take a report. If they did, I would be seen as a juvenile delinquent and sent to a detention center. My goal was to live in a safe place so that I could finish high school and go on to college. I didn't want to live out of my school district because my friends were so important to me.

When I got to the police department, the Juvenile Officer started making arrangements for me to stay at a Jewish group home. While he was doing this, my mother made the call to report me missing. He let her know I was there, and let her know my wishes were to go to the group home. I never knew what she said to him, yet the next thing that happened was he told me my mother was going to come to pick me up and take me home.

There was another time that the school psychologist tried to arrange for me to go to a respite group home for teens. I remember my boyfriend taking me there, and going through the intake. My parents refused to sign legal papers so I had no option but to return back home.

Towards the end of my senior year I was a nominee for prom queen. Most people in my school saw me as being a typical kid. No one would have guessed what was going on in my home.

[Vicki says she was pregnant at the time but didn't know who the father was -- either her boyfriend or her father. She says she quit SIU after a month or two and got an abortion from her cousin, an OBGYN.]

November 11, 1983, I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew. I was 23 at the time. I ended up getting pregnant from the rape. The pregnancy was ectopic (in my fallopian tube). I had emergency surgery January 6, 1984. It ended the pregnancy and saved my life. About every other year since, I've had to have major abdominal surgery to remove uterine fibroid tumors. The first surgery was in 1986. That first tumor was a little smaller than a basketball. Due to the size of the tumor and it's location permanent damage to my muscles and tendons.

I went to court on the initial case of sexual assault back in 1983. The charges were later reduced to harassing phone calls. My offender kept calling me, leaving messages that he "loved me and wanted to marry me". He was always sitting in his car out side my apartment waiting for me. "He wanted to talk". This was November - December,1983. There was no legal definition for the term stalking at the time. He got a one year suspended sentence for harassing calls. I was raped in November and the court hearing was in December. I found out I was pregnant in January, 1984.

After this whole ordeal, I learned that because I had a psychiatric history anyone could get away with raping me. It was my word against anyone's. In this case my rapist carried the diagnosis of having Schizophrenia. I had the diagnosis of having MPD. I realized that I had to do something to protect myself. That is when I decided to go back to school and get my degrees. I needed to make myself as creditable as possible. I didn't want the fact that I was sexually abused as a child and entered into treatment to overcome my abuse that I was now an easy target for another rapist. I was twenty-five when I went back to college.

The first anniversary of the sexual assault after my rapists suspended sentence was up, my offender left a message on my answering machine stating that he was coming back. Fortunately I was out of town at the time. When I got the message I called the police immediately. There were new laws on the books and rape crisis centers were in place. I was referred by the states attorneys office to one, and my life began to come back together. My case was used to get the stalking laws on the books in Illinois. It was because of my rape counselor that I realized that what happened to me was happening to others. That I was not alone. She motivated me in ways that I could never thank her enough. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be doing the work that I am doing today.

So much happened during the time period between 1983-1986 that it would make anyone's head spin. I was dealing with being sexually assaulted (going to court, being stalked, the ectopic pregnancy, etc.). I was dealing with my childhood abuse issues, and I was also attempting to go back to school.

Prior to going back to school I was seeing a therapist who basically told me I had to do something with my time. I could go into a day treatment program, go back to school, or volunteer time some where. I didn't want to be in a treatment program. It was in the middle of the school year, so I could start right away. I opted to volunteer my time.

It was January, 1985. I had just learned about a self-help group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse that was offered at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago, and so I went. I will never forget the first meeting I went to.

I really was afraid that because of my dissociative disorder the other members of the self-help group for survivors wouldn't want me. I was afraid they would see me as a lunatic. I remember everyone going around the room taking turns introducing themselves to each other. Suddenly it was my turn. I remember saying my name and that I was abused as a child. I then went on to describe my symptoms of dissociating, without saying I had MPD.

The group leader "Judy", smiled and asked "You have MPD?". I was terrified. I was sure she would ask me to leave. Instead she said, welcome. She continued by letting me know that had been others in the self-help group that also had it. Finally I felt like I was seen as something more then a mental patient. I was being seen as a person.

During that first meeting the leader handed out a pamphlet for an organization calledVOICES in Action (Victims Of Incest Can Emerge Survivors). It was a new organization that formed a few months prior. Judy told us that she ran the office and was looking for volunteers. The next day I called and within a month I started volunteering my time.

I will never forget the first day I started at VOICES. My sense of self-worth and self-esteem was at an all time low. I had spent so much time in therapy, that I could only see myself as someone crazy.

I remember Judy handing me a stack of mail and said answer them. I was completely puzzled, and asked her how? I couldn't believe that she would trust my judgement enough to answer them. Judy smiled at me and said open them one at a time, read what is writen and find out what the survivors want. I followed her instructions (while thinking to myself that my judgment was poor, and that I had no business doing what she asked).

I open the first envelope. The letter was from a survivor residing out of state. I read the letter out loud. He was looking for a therapist. Judy handed me a folder that had resources in it and an atlas.

She told me to find a therapist close to where the survivor lived. She suggested that I try to send the survivor at least 3 resources, so they would have a choice. VOICES had a pamphlet called "How to find a Therapist." Judy told me to send it along with the resources. It was at that time I finally could see myself as possibly being something other then a psychiatric patient.

Volunteering my time at VOICES changed my life forever. It gave me the courage to go back to school, to change the way I saw myself, and to realize that there were other survivors out there just like me. It was during my time working there that I started to become the victims advocate that I am today.

There are many reasons why I go by my middle name. One had to do with the fact that I had a stalker, who had threatened to rape me again, and also kill me. I couldn't get away from him. That was one of the reasons I started using my middle name. The other reason was I had MPD. Some of the names of my personalities included Susan, Victoria and Vicki. My father never used the name "Vicki" in any form of abuse. It was a name that had no relationship with violence. For me it was a name of empowerment.


May 17, 2005
From my telephone conversation with Vicki which I promised not to publish until Vicki gave her approval and had the opportunity to edit her words.

Vicki: "I was on the Oprah show just about 16 years ago. All hell broke out in my life after the show. I had been working for an organization called VOICES in Action (Victims Of Incest Can Emerge Survivors) at the time, and was finishing up my bachelor's degree I had told my story tons of time because of the work I did. I had spoken at national conferences, been on TV before and also on radio talk shows.

"Oprah was fairly new at being a national talk show at the time, and I had no idea how public being on that show was going to be. I went on like I did other TV show's with the intention of educating people on the ramifications sexual abuse has on survivors and their communities.

"I was in a disguise, but there's a lot more to it. I was on the show with the therapist I was seeing at the time. I was extremely dissociative back then, and was not aware until afterwards of how unprofessional and inappropriate my therapist was. I realized this after the chief of police of a small town outside of Chicago contacted me. He's become a trusted friend over the years.

"After I was on the show the ADL came after my family. Oprah didn't even know my real name, so I was amazed that in less then 24 hours that they did. I was stopped on the streets by holocaust survivors on my way to school, telling me that "I was going to start another holocaust" by saying what I did.

"The ADL called my parents in to some sort of meeting. I learned of this months later. You have to understand that I have had really little to do with my family since I was in my late teens - early 20's."

Vicki writes in early May, 2005:
The little I am sharing with you about my life, you can see how complicated it all has been. I was seen as a typical teenager to the outside world. A few people knew about the physical abuse, but nothing about anything else.

Once I was able to move away from home, it was safe enough for me to have an "emotional melt down" of sorts. I had no choice but to entered into therapy when that happened. I desperately needed help coming to terms with my childhood.

I'll admit that I've lost a great deal in my life, but with every loss I have also gained a great deal. I always try to see things that happen as "life learning lessons." I've always strive to find good in the most horrendous situations. It's not always that easy, but it's something I try to do.

I was once a victim of abuse. I am now far more then just a "survivor." I've done my best to take the bad and turn it into something positive, something that will help others.

As I'm sure you must be aware by now -- I have dedicated my life to helping others who have been sexually violated. They too deserve to have a voice and be heard.

I wanted to share [a] photo with you. It's from a colleague's book I did back in 1985 or 86. It's basically how it feels for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to be silenced. The title of the piece is called "Silencing the Victim." It was in the book "Shine The Light."

No comments: