Anna-Ellen L: Northeast USA

I have experimented with many different ways of processing the trauma I’ve experienced in an abusive relationship, and the trauma experienced when entities designed to protect people failed. I’m choosing to share some of the pieces I have written due to recently hearing about public responses regarding sexual assault and abuse which occurred within the roller derby community. Sharing this also seems timely as one year ago I had to leave my roller derby home team to put an end to harassment from the person who abused me. Names of people and specific teams are going to be left out. This is not meant to expose or blame anyone, it’s about my experience.

The abusive relationship I was in began during the summer of 2014. A friendship with a teammate of mine turned into a dating relationship. She was also my teammate. It was not a great idea to get involved with a teammate, especially one with a reputation to be a loose cannon. But when we first began dating we had a specific conversation about respecting each other as friends, teammates, league mates, no matter where this went. Having a friendship turn into romance is a wonderful feeling; you know the person in a different way, as you have spent time with them when they were not putting up a front. Unfortunately, friends also know your insecurities, your past mistakes, and what will hurt you. I had no idea what was coming, or how weak, pathetic, and easily manipulated I could be.

I’m going to fast forward through the next two years. Mainly because it makes for a terrible, painful read, and there is too much to write. After she started to send me screenshots of conversations, I started to document our conversations. I wanted to remember how bad it was so I would not go back, or I could send what she said back to her so she could see how awful it was. Also, I thought maybe one day if I got the balls to take a formal action the evidence would come in handy. What was done and said in person obviously could not be documented.

There were put-downs and insults. I was told I’m crazy, dirty, too sensitive, a liar, pathetic, and that no one else would be able to tolerate me. After the blow up she would apologize and say she did not mean those things, and that I can’t believe the things she says when she is mad.

She used many tactics to manipulate and intimidate. If I blocked her from my cell, she would message me in GroupMe. If I blocked that, she would email me. I would block that email, and she made a new account to email me from that. She had a state email address and emailed me from her work to my work, as I am also a state employee. Or, she would come to my house and ring my loud awful buzzer until I gave in. She was relentless. Or she would stay away for a while, then we would have a few decent interactions at practice, then a conversations, then a request to just be friends, and it would all start over again. She would ask league mates what practices I attended. She would ask her friends to screenshot what I just posted on Instagram, as she was blocked, and they would send it to her.

There is so, so, much more than this. It is seared into the grooves of my brain, and makes for feeling hopeless that this will ever be forgotten. Pictures of her bloody knuckles after she punched and broke a mirror and blamed it on me. I left my home on a number of occasions because she was acting crazy and coming over, saying she has nothing left to lose. I was told I am overreacting, and nothing would have happened, but I feel it also would have been stupid to stay there and find out.

There was a cycle. There would be a period of tension, where I felt like I was walking on eggshells. There was no rhyme or reason to what I would do or say that would start an argument. Put downs and the many ways I was terrible would follow, and one of us would end the relationship. We would not talk for a little while, and this would range from hours to months. She might leave, and then be back at my house ringing my buzzer repeatedly until I came down to talk to her. Or we would not talk for months. I would inevitably always return, after many seemingly sincere apologies and a promise to get help to change her behavior. She would start therapy, then stop. She would find another therapist, and a psychiatrist. She attended an orientation at a program for people who have done abusive behaviors to a partner, and did not return to it. I started to see a counselor at a domestic violence organization in March of 2015.

With the support of a DV counselor, close friends, and these periods where we would not talk, it is confusing why I kept going back. The main reason was I was pathetic, but we also shared a community. I saw her routinely at roller derby events and team practices, whether we were communicating or not.

I realized a while ago that I would likely have to leave roller derby in order to escape this, as the league was actually being used as leverage for abuse. But I didn’t want to. I love roller derby. I love the sport, I loved my team, I loved the community, the exercise, the social connections, the learning and growth. It was my home for seven years. I got to work toward a shared goal with my teammates, contribute to the organization by serving on the executive board, and grow to be a better person. Towards the end of my seven years I was being broken down. My counselor told me don’t make statements I couldn’t follow through with, as that makes the abuser grow in power each time you go back on your word. I was in really deep, and lying to my close friends if we were talking again. I kept this so silent. I was ashamed.

I am not sure what made me finally take a formal action, but in June of 2016 I had enough of the cycle. We had ended, but the harassment continued, including threats to spread rumors about me. I requested mediation from the league’s skater mediation task force (SMTF). I forwarded some recent texts and emails with the request, saying I had tried to resolve this conflict independently and now needed help. I sent just a few recent examples, and referenced a past unhealthy relationship. I did not want all of my business out there either. SMTF’s were assigned and collected information. Despite conflict resolution being underway, her harassment continued.

I learned that she sent one of her friends, a league mate of ours, to talk to another teammate to see if anything had happened between me and this other person. I have a screenshot of this conversations, but there are too many names to mark out. Not only should my personal business not matter to her, but the fact that she was continuing to manipulate other members of our league to acquire information about me, (and while SMTF mediation was underway), made me feel incredibly unsafe, and like nothing would stop her. I left my team.

Membership was alerted, along with SMTF, captains, and teammates that I was leaving, but staying on as a league member as a non-bouting skater and volunteer. I did not tell my teammates the specific reason why I left, as I was filing a grievance and did not want rumors to start and taint the grievance process. I re-read the league’s code of conduct and policies, and sent the executive board (EB) a grievance.

I no longer had to face my abuser on a routine basis. Because of this, I submitted to the EB many more examples of the harassment which had occurred over the past two years. In the statement I tried to make it crystal clear that I was not asking for league leadership to act as the court, I was asking for the “zero tolerance for harassment policy” to be enforced, as many of the abuses overlapped with code of conduct violations. A league member does not treat another league member that way.

Simultaneous to this, I had been researching and consulting professionals about a harassment prevention order through the court. My DV counselor, police detective, and a victim witness advocate of the court advised me on options. I requested a hearing. I could write a short novel alone on the painstaking process of requesting a restraining order or harassment order. It is obvious why so many victims do not go forward with this. And if this process was not distressing enough, the day before the Aug 11 hearing she posted this to a message board on August 10:

Identifying information has been cropped out. The court system already fails many victims of harassment and abuse, and knowing someone can manipulate the system in this way is terrifying. I did not get granted a harassment order, despite the multiple professionals who advised me this was the appropriate course of action. I don’t know if this is because she made friends with Judges, or if the court does not take LGBTQ people as serious as heterosexual people, or if I got the wrong Judge. The Judge did tell her on record to not contact me again, which in the end was all I wanted.

For three months, I was waiting to hear what actions league leadership would be taking to ensure league spaces would be safe spaces. I wanted to return to the community in some capacity. On October 2, the EB let me there would be no consequence. She was told to not do this again, or then she would face consequences. The rationale was that she had never received a formal or informal warning to not break the code of conduct.

The lack of protection was heartbreaking. Every member of our league has to sign the annual WFTDA code of conduct, as well as the league’s code of conduct. Our league code stated we had “a zero tolerance for harassment policy.” There had been clear requests for her to stop these behaviors. In addition to these two code of conducts we should abide by, I had submitted this example of a plea as part of the grievance statement:

The person who abused me, outside and inside league time, got zero impact. And I had to leave my team and never return to the league, as I can’t be in a space where I can be threatened and put down- and nothing will happen.

It is worse to set expectations you cannot enforce, then to have expectations at all. If I had known members would not be held accountable to the league’s code of conduct, I would not have proceeded. I truly believe no one was malicious in this process. Except for my former partner, as she openly admitted a number of times that she did and said things with the intent to hurt me. And when this forms a pattern one partner feels they cannot get out of, it is an abusive relationship. I think the members of league leadership did not know how to handle this tough situation. The story of my experience does not end here. It goes on and gets worse in my opinion, in terms of league leadership’s management, privacy violation, and censorship of later events. That can be another narrative.

Something that still pains me is it feels like this could happen again. A precedent has been set that the code of conduct can be broken repeatedly and nothing will come of it. The league’s code of conduct has not been revised in any way. Talking about harassment, bullying, and abuse within the league is not encouraged- it is hushed with the rationale that league members cannot reference interpersonal conflicts. It appears to be easy to talk publicly about abuses that occur elsewhere, but it happens in strong, feminist-identified organizations as well. It happens in derby.


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