Losing faith in the judicial system

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

I was assaulted on campus twice this semester.

Same guy, same building, similar circumstances. I was at work, and he was wasted.

The first time, we were alone in the lobby of his building. I was on my way out the door at about 2 a.m., fully prepared to clock out and get some sleep. When I saw him stumbling towards his building, struggling to find his wallet to get inside, I figured it would be best to help him out. I asked him if he needed any help getting inside. He leaned on me, attempted to grab my name tag in addition to parts of my upper body, and continued to do so after I told him to stop. He asked me to marry him, told me to look him up on Facebook, and asked for my cell phone so that I could have his number.

I was fresh out of a Rape Aggression Defense class and, recognizing the feelings of fear and anxiety growing in my chest with each move he made and the adrenaline making its way through me, I pushed him off of me and decided not to let him into the building.

In my line of business, there is always a drunk dude trying to get some. It bothered me for the rest of the night and a few days after, but most of the situations I run into in this job remain anonymous. For a few weeks, he was just a face in my mind and a story to tell my friends when we turned in our equipment at the end of work.

He remained nameless to me until Thursday, April 7, and he will be as such throughout this piece. As much as I’d like to destroy his name, it is not the purpose of this editorial.

At 11:45 p.m. on April 7, the same guy from those few weeks before emerged from the elevator with a friend in the lobby of his building while I was making a stop there during a night of work. They had ordered some food from Domino’s which had just been delivered. His friend went to pay the delivery guy while he came up to me and a coworker. I noticed right away that he looked familiar.

Inebriated once again, he asked to wear my work hat so that he might take a picture of himself wearing it. Because I am not an idiot and have the full knowledge that surrendering any piece of my work uniform to a drunk student would inevitably mean never seeing it again, I declined. I just told him that I have to keep it on at all times while at work. He reached for the hat anyway. I pushed his arm away and said, in the most stern voice that I can, “Don’t touch me.”

He proceeded to do just the opposite.

He came behind the desk where I was relieving another worker and firmly grabbed me by the head, pulling towards his face, lips puckered, in an attempt to kiss me. I jerked my head to loosen his grip and grabbed him by his left wrist, twisting it and pushing him back as hard as I could just as his friend got into the elevator. I pointed at him and shouted, “Get in the elevator and get the hell out of my face.” Scream-laughing, my assailant got into the elevator. Then it clicked and I knew why he was so familiar to me – he was the same individual from the incident those weeks before. I turned to see the shocked faces of both my coworker and the Domino’s delivery guy, who asked me, “Are you going to do something about that?”

I made a phone call and asked my boss to review the security tape. It had happened so quickly and my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I couldn’t gauge the severity of the incident on my own. Less than 30 seconds after hanging up the phone, my boss – a man of the law – called me back and informed me that what this drunk student did to me was assault and battery. He told me not to move and sent a police officer to come and assist me.

That officer was perhaps the most helpful person I have ever encountered. After finding the individual who came after me, she took my phone number and told me that I would receive a call from her the following evening. She called me back earlier than I expected, and asked if I intended to take action against the student from the night before. I told her that yes, I fully intended to take as much legal action as I could afford.

This action came in the form of a Harassment Prevention Order. I went to the University of Massachusetts Police Station after work and met with the officer to fill out the appropriate paperwork to receive an emergency HPO. The process involved filling out some paperwork, writing an affidavit and requesting the order from an on-call judge over the phone. It was 4:15 in the morning when the judge denied me the order.

I was denied a Harassment Prevention Order against the student who had already committed some form of assault on me on two separate occasions because he only did it twice. Despite the fact that his actions had escalated so severely meant nothing because he had only come after me sexually twice.

Just twice.

When filling out a Complaint for Protection from Harassment, you have to check one or more of three boxes. The one that I (almost) qualified for would indicate that the student “committed three or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at me which were committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and did in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property.”

If I wanted to be granted an HPO against this student, I would have to wait to be attacked again.

The student later sent me a message on Facebook – a too-late attempt at an apology. My first thought was, “You know what would have been a nice apology? Not touching me in the first place.”

When I went to court the following Monday, a woman in the Clerk’s Office told me that I would not be able to get an HPO, but directed me to another, more helpful woman. When I added that he had sent me a message on Facebook, she told me I may be able to get one. Long story short, I was granted a temporary, 10-day order against this student. The order declared that he simply had to stay out of my residence hall and 50 yards away from me. I was told that if I wanted it extended I would have to return to court on Wednesday, April 20.

I went back. We both stood before the judge, a bailiff between us. She asked what I wanted. I said I would like the order extended to the date of my graduation next May. She looked at him. He said that none of it was true. That none of it actually happened. That he was baffled as to why I would make it all up. I pointed out that the events had been captured on security camera and burned to a DVD. The judge said she believed me, but denied me a Harassment Prevention Order because there were only two incidents between us.

He walked, the events erased from his record. He assaulted me two times and all he got for a punishment was a semi-sarcastic scolding from the judge. Two times, and the court told him that was a-okay.

Well, I’m not okay. I’ve been having between one and three panic attacks daily since the incident. When my boyfriend sneaks up on me and pokes my arm, I jump and scream. When I walk outside, I have at least one key protruding from between my fingers. I’m pissed as hell, and I am legitimately afraid that I may have a third incident with this individual – which could be entirely avoided if I had been granted a Harassment Prevention Order. I did not ask that he be arrested and I did not wish to bring him to court on separate charges. There was no thought of jail time.

I just wanted the court to make the necessary moves to keep me safe. I just want him to stay away from me. The court denied me that safety.

I am extremely appreciative of the efforts made by my boss and by the UMass Police Department.

Unfortunately, I have no faith left whatsoever in the law’s ability to keep me safe and to perpetuate true justice.

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]