Don’t blame the victim who was manipulated

I’m finishing my makeup, staring in the mirror on the back of my dorm room door when I hear him on the other side – hear him growling my name, ordering me to let him in.

He’s angry – angry because I’m going out with my girlfriends after he ordered me not to.

And like a dummy, I crack the door. He’s yelling at me and cussing. And I just stand there, begging him to go away, to leave me alone.

He rams the door open, slings me across the room.

He’s twice my size, but I finally force him out.

That’s when I realize I’m in a toxic relationship. One I need to get out of. One I’d later learn the justice system would say there wasn’t enough proof to do anything about.

I stand there wondering what had just happened. It was the second time in two weeks he’d physically hurt me.

I stand there wondering why someone would hurt me who says he loves me.

I decide I can’t be silent about it anymore.

The week

All of my hall mates and my roommate are away for the weekend. I lock myself in my room. And I fear I’ll hear him knock at any point.

I have a meeting with my resident assistant soon in Starbucks. Where I’d tell her everything that happened. Where I’d start the process of getting him moved from being four floors above me. Where I’d take the next step to safety, to helping myself get away, to heal.

A week goes by – the week of hell.

A meeting with the dean.

I’m excused from several classes.

The police tell me there’s nothing they can do. My bruises had gone away, there was no proof, they said.

I was walking into spring break, thankfully. A much needed break.

But the break didn’t prepare me for what would come next.

Along with my emotional scars, I’d later be blamed for the toxic relationship I’d gotten away from.

I’d soon hear:

“She was the one who started it all.”

“She was the one who beat him up.”

“It’s her fault.”

I’m strong

I sit in a counselor’s office on campus.

I’d finally gotten away.

He couldn’t hurt me anymore.

I tell her how I fought back. How I tried to get away when he was sling me around, stepping on my feet, pushing me to the ground. How I kicked him with all I had between the legs when he blocked me from getting away.

I realize I’m strong. I realize it’s not my fault he hurt me. I realize he manipulated me into thinking he wouldn’t do it again- that’s why I went back.

I realize he blamed me. He said it was my fault.

I realize I’m the victim. He’s the perpetrator.

It’s a cycle

He or she hits you for the first time and you’re in shock.

Then it’s the I-won’t-do-it-agains. They’re so sorry, they were just angry. They manipulate you into thinking it won’t happen again.

Things are better – or so you think.

Then it happens, again. And you go though the I’m-so-sorry nonsense, again.

Some people get out of the cycle early. Others get wrapped into so many cycles they can’t just leave.

Just leave

The most dangerous time for a victim in this situation is when he or she leaves.

Why? Retaliation – the worst you can imagine. The angriest the perpetrator has been.

Why? Because their victims have left them – they aren’t in control anymore.

It doesn’t help to say, “Why don’t you just leave?”

It doesn’t help to say, “You should’ve left sooner. It wouldn’t have gotten this bad if you had just left.”

It doesn’t help to say, “It’s your fault. You let it continue to happen.”

It’s not that easy to leave. It’s always bad, no matter how many cycles. It’s not the victim’s fault for being wrapped into multiple manipulated cycles.

People who have close ones going through this – don’t abandon them or blame them; provide a safe place for them.

People who are going through this – you are strong; you can get out of it.

 

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong

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An armed robbery & no crunchwrap

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I’m packing to go home for the weekend when I get a text.

9:38 p.m. – “Are you dressed? Taco Bell just got held up.”

I respond the same minute I receive the text.

9:38 p.m. – “Yes. I’m going now.”

I’d just cracked open a this-will-help-you-pack beer.

I race to find my keys instead of taking the first sip. I clip on my press badge, slide on my shoes, change my camera lens.

Out the door and down the road I go.

A red light catches me when I’m almost there. The blue lights I see under the Taco Bell sign make me feel like a NASCAR driver at the starting line.

The light turns green and I hit it.

Without looking, I turn on my camera that’s sitting in my lap. Park the car. Jump out.

I’m greeted – well not really – by a cop who says he can’t talk to me.

It’s something I already know.

I’m just there for the photos. I’ll pull the police report in the morning and call the chief on his cell, thank you.

I walk over to the crowd standing, looking into the restaurant.

I learn I know the guy who works there and who the suspect held a gun to.

I see the fear in his eyes, even though he looks like a tough guy.

Cops bring out the Bloodhound and pull out their big guns. They take off into the woods.

And I laugh to myself because it’s an hour after the robbery – I could bet a couple tacos the suspect is long gone.

I speak to witnesses. And see a car full of people be turned away by a cop who says, “Are you kidding me?” when they approach the drive thru.

At that point I know my exciting night won’t end with a crunchwrap supreme.

So I walk back to my car and drive home. My adrenaline is still rushing and I realize how thankful I am for my what-will-happen-next job.

 

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter and Instagram @HannahLStrong

My little place downtown

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At first glance it looks seamless.

Shiny, original hardwood floors. New appliances. Neutral color décor. Clean beige walls.

Then you start looking.

The 1940s-built place has cracks. Layers of paint are pealing – some layers that are probably made of lead paint.

You watch your step on the front porch, since each step is a different height.

Doors and drawers don’t close completely, thanks to the layers of paint.

The walls are plaster, not sheetrock – they’d survive a punch, but a fist sure wouldn’t.

It’s a home with many flaws.

But it’s home, nonetheless.

A one bedroom, cozy, I-can’t-wait-to-relax there home.

A wine-sipping call to the back porch, looking out to nature.

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It’s a safe haven from the madness surrounding it. Like the ambulances that pass by daily. Or the crazy neighbor who chases and cusses at her dog when it gets away. And I can’t forget the old man from across the street who asked me on a date to the Shrine Club.

It was a fun time – just kidding.

It’s my first place, my first home.

Sometimes I like for it to look like nobody lives there, like a magazine.

Other times I’m fine with a mess.

It’s where I planted the roots to my career.

It’s where I cook my Grandma Reba’s pound cakes.

One of the best things about it – rent is cheaper than an Apple Watch Series 2.

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A stench, a scalpel & an eyeball

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Some sort of sea animal stench smacks me in the face when I walk through the door at Buford Elementary. I know what I’m getting into when I decide to film it.

The smell gets stronger the closer I get to the classroom – the classroom with dead, two-foot-long dogfish sharks on the table.

I don’t think I can make it through the lesson these fourth graders are about to have – dissecting sharks.

Some students stand there wide-eyed. Some look like they’re about to be sick to their stomachs. Some just hold their noses.

I want to hold my nose, too.

I stand there unsure how to feel about dead sharks lying on newspapers with my byline.

The teacher explains how to use the two tools – scissors and a scalpel – sitting in aluminum pie pans on the center of each table.

That’s when the kids are ready to dig in.

And boy, some of them start hacking away as they make the I-shaped cut on the stomachs of their sharks.

Some smells go away after a few minutes of getting used to. This smell isn’t one of them. A mix of formalin and dead fish to be exact.

The teacher finally opens one of the classroom doors that leads outside. So, obviously, that’s where I duck out to fill my lungs.

I learn the liver is the largest organ in the shark, which they pull out in one piece with the gallbladder attached. I also learn what it looks like when a kid dangles shark liver in front of my camera.

Then, it’s time for “free cuts.”

If they weren’t hacking the sharks up before, they definitely are now.

The eyeballs and brains come out during free cuts.

And when one student pops a shark’s eyeball out, sending it soaring through the air and rolling between my feet, I know it’s time to go.

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong

Elementary schoolers takeover the interview

I park in the fire lane and pull out my equipment. There’s no rush for this story, but I’m always in a rush.

I walk into an elementary school – the kind of school I frequent to film my infamous Facebook videos.

Hauling in my posse – tripod, camera, microphone and notes – I check in at the front and get directions to the classroom.

Second grade. The grade of what-will-they-say-next.

Today’s topic is finishing well-known idioms and Shakespeare quotes.

I knock on the classroom door and am greeted by a student. The rest are doing recess inside, which is dancing to a song and someone leading the dance on the SmartBoard.

“She’s here,” one whispers.

“Are you a newspaper reporter,” one asks. “I’m Rosie, it’s very nice to meet you.”

“I want to be a newspaper reporter when I grow up,” another one says.

I take five of them in the hall. Put chairs in a circle. And place the tripod with the camera on top of it in the middle of the circle.

I begin holding the microphone to my face saying the first part of a sentence. Then pointing the microphone to get their creative endings.

“Where there’s smoke…” I said.

“…there’s ice cream,” one student said.

I went around the circle. They were calm.

But then, they took over the interview.

“Can I push the button?”

“Can I hold the mic?”

“I want to ask a question!”

Having gathered enough for my story, I let them take over.

The interviewee they chose – me.

ILE interview

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong

Why I’ll keep my maiden name

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Blogger’s note: Before what I’ve written below or my headline makes you angry or uncomfortable, please give it a read. It’s good to see through other lenses, and learn new and different perspectives. Also, know that what I’ve written below are views of my own – I have no judgments against those who don’t agree or those who have done things differently.

“It’s traditional.”

“It’s disrespectful if you don’t take his last name.”

“Which name will your children take?”

It’s always the same – every time I tell someone I’ll keep my last name if I get married.

And it’s upsetting. They simply don’t get it.

I am an advocate for all women’s rights and for all women to be treated equally – that’s what being a feminist means to me.

For me, feminism isn’t wanting to be better than men. I’m not an insane person who wants to burn my bras and leave my children. I’m not. Feminists aren’t.

Here’s three reasons why I’ll keep my last name.

  1. I’ve been published with my full name and my career matters.
  2. I’m not traditional.
  3. The historical context of ownership behind the concept is pretty oppressive.

Let’s break it down.

I’ve chosen a career in journalism

My byline has 13 letters – Hannah L. Strong. It’s so readers know who researched, interviewed and wrote the piece they are about to read. And so readers can call you to complain, or know who to send hate mail to.

Those 13 letters define who I am in the career I’ve chosen. Those 13 letters are attached to the work I’ve done. Those 13 letters have to be brave. They have to be published on hot topics and difficult stories to tell.

I’m no famous reporter. Chances are I’ll never be. But I’m doing work I want my full name stuck to.

I’m not traditional

No part of me feels the need to be seeking a husband so I can get married, settle down, have kids and be a stay-at-home mother.

It’s not me.

I hurt for the women who feel they have to get married very young. The ones who aren’t taught to be independent or ever encouraged to work hard for their own dreams.

I know all stay-at-home mothers aren’t miserable. And not all women who are married young regret it.

Getting married young doesn’t mean you can’t reach your dreams.

My grandmother was married at 15 and stayed married to my grandfather for 58 years before she died.

I understand it. I respect it. It’s just not me.

History

Two years ago, I’m reading No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle B. Freedman for a class at Winthrop.

I’m sitting and feeling sad for the women whose families were actually making, what seemed like, a transaction. A father giving away his daughter to another family. The merger of two families, which money played a huge role in.

I learn these women – most of the time – had no choice in the transaction.

They had no choice to keep their last name.

And I read in that book what it was like in Europe in the 1700s: “Influential commentaries on English common law emphasized that in marriage the husband and wife became one legal entity, represented solely by the man…A married woman had no right to her own property or her own wages.”

Living in coverture – the law that gave the husband all the power – gross.

And then I read an 1849 poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson the book cited: “Man to command and woman to obey; all else confusion.”

I do want a marriage, but I don’t want to play into a system where one spouse is held higher than the other.

My name matters. It’s who I am. That’s how it’ll stay.

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter and Instagram @HannahLStrong

A bumpy ride, a shooting & 17 shell casings

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I didn’t know what we were about to walk up to.

I knew I had my camera bag. That my adrenaline was rushing. The White Street construction made the road bumpy. Greg’s manual transmission truck was shifting us back and forth as we sped down the road.

We knew we were headed toward a shooting – thanks to the newsroom police scanner for the tip.

We saw the blue lights before anything else when we got to the end of East Meeting Street. An ambulance and a ton of city police and sheriff’s cars. And a ton of bystanders in the gas station parking lot.

“Start snapping,” Greg said before the car came to a complete stop.

I had already started frantically turning the window knob on the door counterclockwise before we reached the parking lot.

The ambulance doors were still open. Someone was in there. But they closed the doors when they saw me taking pictures of the scene.

We stood back like we always do, and respected their area.

Of course after the ambulance left, all the officials came over to talk to Greg.

Everybody loves and knows Greg.

We left. Looped around the side street where the shooting happened. And I saw a few handfuls of people on the side road where the crime first started.

One girl was standing on the side of the road in her pajamas crying. Cars were pulling up quickly. And there were more blue lights at the end of the road.

There was more.

We pulled back onto the main road and the police had already marked off 17 shell cases they had found.

Seventeen. And the victim had only been shot once, and ran to the gas station for help.

Greg made a comment that the shooter wasn’t very good if it took that many rounds and he only shot the guy once.

We found out police are now looking for three males in a gray sedan with the back window busted out.

That was my Monday afternoon.

 

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter and Instagram @HannahLStrong