Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Heroes Fail, Part 2: The SVU Version

So I wasn't gonna do a blogpost on this but I decided I wanted to because of the feelings I have if I run into the Svu set (intense panic and fear and total PTSD reaction). I've been afraid of backlash, but I also know that my experiences are important and valid and I don't like keeping silent or harboring anger alone.

I'm structuring this post in 2 parts -- first the exact events that happened with JHF and the feelings I felt immediately; and then my thoughts/analysis on what happened (because I don't want the analysis to cloud the actual events).

This isn't bashing anyone or anything. This isn't embellished. This is only my true, 100% honest experience with what happened, the feelings I had, the way I felt.

I know a lot of you know my background and history with the awesome experiences I've had on SVU, so I'll be brief with those, but will need to go into detail about everything that happened from the gala onward.

Here it goes.

As most of you know, I had been in contact pretty regularly with JHF since last year. Ever since Mariska emailed me and put me in contact with Maile, I had been in contact with the clinical director of JHF. She was wonderful and id have periodic checkins with her throughout the year (about once a month). At one point I emailed Mariska again to give her an update that I had been diagnosed with another STD. JHF called me immediately and tried to talk me through it.

In the months that followed, I would have periodic check-ins with JHF. I obviously went to the gala in May, and had posted a video of the gala on YouTube. I got a call soon after that I needed to take the video down (Mariska had a glass of wine in her hand). I didn't even know how they knew my YouTube account, and it unnerved me a bit because I felt like I was being watched almost. But I didn't think anything of it at the time.

Because of the gala, I decided to report my rape.

Throughout the reporting process, JHF was sorta involved. I'd talk to my go-to person (the clinical director) and she was always super supportive. If i had a question about anything I'd call her and she'd always talk with me for however long I needed.

In October, (after all the drama with the NYPD had happened) I had to come back to NYC to do the controlled call. It was the last attempt to nail the guy. I was staying on the upper east side in NYC with a friend, and the day I had to do the controlled call, SVU happened to be filming literally right around the corner from where I was staying. My friends and I were gonna go do stuff in the city, but we decided to hang around and talk with the teamsters (I knew a couple of them). They were all super cool, and we became friends with Mariska's driver. I was having a good time trying to distract myself (the NYPD were picking me up in an hour) but when my legal advocate called me from Seattle, I lost it. The teamsters kinda didn't know what to do, but Mariska's driver tried to be supportive (and he was). I was in a ball sobbing on the ground, when all of a sudden Mariska came out of her trailer. A bunch of fangirls (young) kinda swarmed her and I didn't wanna bother her but my friends wanted me to say hi. So I was bawling and she saw me and made eye contact and got concerned (went all Olivia-Benson). She had to go tho, so I didn't really talk to her. I told her quickly what was going on but she started to leave. Gave me a quick hug and that was it. That was the last time I saw her.

We were walking down the street (me sobbing) when all of a sudden Danny Pino came out of his trailer. A bunch of girls swarmed him too and he was taking pictures with them. He saw me and got really concerned and then came over. We had an incredible moment -- he was so incredibly supportive and said words to me that lifted me up and guided me through the process that I needed to do. We talked for about 10 minutes and he was just incredible. It was seriously meant to be and I was eternally grateful for that, especially because it gave me the strength to do what I needed to do. The next day I went back to the set and gave him a thank you note. He saw me from across the street and actually started to cross the street, but I went to meet him, and he yelled at me to be careful. He was wonderful again. He said he hoped everything went well and that he wished he could stay longer to talk but that they had more filming to do. So he wished me safe travels back to Seattle.

I left New York worn out, exhausted, sick -- but feeling so hopeful and grateful at all the kindness I had experienced.

Now, fast forward to the hard stuff.

In November, I was back in NYC for a college interview for grad school. Danny had been so supportive that I was inspired to write down my entire story (which  I had never done before). I communicated to him how amazing it was to have men like him in the world fighting for this cause, because we needed more of that. And how i found salvation in his character, because of the failure of my own detective and the subsequent trauma that resulted. It was a truly heart-felt letter, and I opened up my soul on that paper.

The day I flew in, they were filming in the Bronx. I had promised a younger survivor that I would go with her, but I was so exhausted from traveling all day I almost canceled. But she was waiting for me there so I went, begrudgingly. We got there, and it was freezing but I knew a couple of people on set, so we hung out with them (teamsters and Mariska's driver). Mariska's driver was so funny and gave us water, and gave us NO MORE magnets. It was fun. It was emotional for me to be back in NYC after the failure of the legal case, but it was comforting to see the people that I knew and to re-ignite the positive memories I had of the SVU set from 2010. I had an awesome moment with Dann Florek (who recognized me and my silly Facebook name) and it was just great fun.

They were about to go film, so Mariska's driver told me to go give my letter to Danny, that this was gonna be my chance. The other girl I was with wanted to go see Mariska so I told her to go. I waited for Danny, and he came out.

It was horrible.

He was extremely rude cold and abrasive, the complete polar opposite of what I had seen in October. I identified myself, and He said, "Yeah I know who you are," really pissed off. I told him I had been inspired to write my story down for him to read, and gave him my letter, and he said, "Well it's a busy shoot, I can't promise I'll read it." I asked him if he could try, and he said, "Yeah whatever," took my letter and stuffed it in his pocket. I felt so extremely small at that point, I didn't even know what to do or say. He then just walked away.

I was upset but didn't want to go into it, and just chalked it up to a bad day for Danny. After that Mariska's driver was worried about our safety in the Bronx, so he gave us a ride in her car to the train station. It was risky because he could getting huge trouble for that but he told us to get in and he'd make sure we were safe. So he dropped us off at the train station and sent us home.

Later that night he emailed me and said that security had been watching me the whole time and saw that he had given us a ride in her car (for some reason they were only noticing me and not the other girl that I was with) and that he had gotten in trouble. I was freaked out because I didn't want to make any trouble for anybody, it was the last thing I wanted. I felt pretty crappy that night and didn't sleep well, thinking I had gotten people in trouble and that I was in trouble too. I talked to my teamster friend about Danny etc and he said not to worry about it, that I don't know what's going on in his life etc. But it still really upset and unnerved me.

The next day I was with my dad, and I tried to forget about Danny. everything was fine until the evening. That night we were at dinner and I received a call from Joyful Heart, a woman named Sherisa. When we were at the gala and had a meltdown she was the one Mariska called to talk to us so I remembered her. She called me and said that they had gotten the letter that I had given Danny (not sure how they got it -- that unnerved me from the start) and that I was having "too much communication" with the actors. She then told me that I was to have no contact with the SVU actors anymore because my communication was "misplaced," that it was "too much" (wtf does that mean?). That I was banned from the set and all JHF functions, that she was confused why I was still writing the actors even though I had a therapist since they had given me resources, and that there is too much communication with them. I explained that i was telling them how much their cause meant to me and that I wanted to be heard. She said she didn't get it because JHF had listened to me and that it wasn't right for me to talk to them because I was distracting them (when other girls have gone to the set repeatedly to give letters and get pics -- I inow a few who have gone REPEATEDLY over the past year and I'd gone only 3 or 4 times -- why me?). I was really confused as to what that meant especially because I hadn't been to the set all that much considering some other girls that i know (especially bc I don't even live in New York), but she said that they had been given EVERY single thing that I ever wrote to them (they had a folder of the letters/emails I'd sent Mariska). And they had everything filed away in a little folder. That unnerved me even more and confirmed the fact I felt like I was being watched.  I was very upset, because I thought Mariska knew about me and knew me at least a little bit and that she cared a little bit to see how I was doing with the case etc. since i had met her in a different setting than most fans. So I would send her updates, I told her about the NYPD and how I thank her for the work that she does on the TV screen etc. but Joyful Heart didn't like that, even though I had never sent anything that illustrated I wanted THEM to help me (which is what Sherisa said) -- it was an appreciation, but JHF didnt get that. So they banned me not only from the SVU set and contact with the actors, but they banned me from all Joyful Heart events, things that are supposed to be incredibly healing.

And not only that, but Sherisa said something that implied I was doing all of this for attention. That maybe this hadn't really happened to me (my assault). When she said that, I completely lost it. It was awful. To say that I was low is the understatement of the century. I was heartbroken. I had been nothing but supportive of JHF over the years, and only appreciative of the actors and so much love for Mariska and all work that they do. And then this happens.

But it got worse.

when I got home I started receiving anonymous hate texts from a texas number who wouldn't ID herself. She claimed she was part of JHF and knew details of my story that only my best friends knew and JHF and Mariska knew. Anyways, long story short my friends and I did some detective work and discovered it was some random girl from Texas who my ex -best friend  (ThePaigeEverett on twitter) had told my DETAILED story to behind my back and she was pretending to be some important person in order to put me down and tell me how awful I had fucked up etc. It was horrible, especially on top of the betrayal of JHF.

A few days later, after I collected myself a little bit, I called my contact at JHF (the clinical director), on her direct number that she had given me 9 months earlier (sometimes she didn't answer the phone but 90% of the time she did). She answered the phone but I asked to speak with her (her name is Monica), just in case she wasn't there. She said that Monica wasn't in -- but I knew it was her because I knew her voice. I identified myself and she said that she couldn't talk to me, that I'd have to talk to Sherisa. So even the person who I had been sharing intimate details with for the past 10 months, who was there for me during the case when I needed someone to talk to ... she LIED to me and said she couldn't talk to me.

To top it all off -- the guy who assaulted me found out that I had reported him somehow and emailed me and intimidated me, called me a liar etc.

ALL of this happened within the span of the week.

November was officially my bottom. I went home could hardly get out of bed for a week. Because my heroes had literally failed me. To have someone you look up to -- someone you admire so much and appreciate more than words can comprehend -- turn around and throw your story back in your face (Danny) ... It's one of the worse feelings I have ever felt as a survivor (tied with the betrayal of my survivor friends).

In the following weeks I tried to piece together some of what happened, think about what Sherisa said, and try to make sense of it all.

One thing was made obvious to me -- JHF does NOT care about individual survivors. Yes they UNDOUBTEDLY care about the cause, 100% ... but don't confuse that with the integrity of a single individual. And it's not just me: I've talked to a few of you who have had similar experiences with JHF. Individually we are just collateral. They share our stories that we give Mariska -- things meant only for her eyes. JHF gets and reads all of it. Logistically I understand and don't blame Mariska -- she gets SO much. But it was unnerving to see that they had all of my communications tucked away in a folder, again as if they were keeping an eye on me.

Another thing that I am firmly starting to believe has to do with what a friend of mine who was an actress on SVU back in the day said to me. I was telling her about who had assaulted me and how he was a writer on the show, and then what had happened with JHF. And what she said really captured the essence of what this situation was: 

"I hate what he did to you, but would I go around and proclaim it? No. If he offered me a job, I'd still take it from him."

That's how show biz works. Hearing her say that broke my heart, and watchin how JHF was almost watching me, I'm starting to believe that the reason they kept talking to me and pushing me away from Mariska was because it was a conflict of interest. The guy who assaulted me was an SVU writer -- know what that would do to their image? And my friends words echoed that, so clearly. Mariska's actions never demonstrated that -- but even the few short times I got to talk to her she never referred to him by name or what he did to me. It was always in general terms -- even though when I emailed her, and she responded, I had written his name in the subject box and that he had raped me -- so I knew she knew. Now this is all PURE speculation -- I have no direct evidence to prove this is the case -- but with things that JHF have said it has crossed my mind more than once and it has started to point in that direction.

Lastly, I was fortunate enough a few weeks ago to talk to someone who's very close to Mariska. I told her everything that happened (fearfully). The biggest thing that she said is that she is 100% certain Mariska had nothing to do with JHFs decision. That they are protective of her, and have had to make decisions like this when girls have threatened to kill themselves if they don't talk to Mariska, so now they make extreme decisions in ALL cases -- even small ones. Better to ban a survivor even if she is telling the truth than to risk it. Know how much that hurts when you ARE telling the truth?

I write this because I live in New York now and I walk by the court systems twice a week. I have not only passed multiple tv shows filming (once Blue Bloods -- which is where the writer who assaulted me works now; talk about a heart attack), but when I see SVU is filming I have a panic attack. Or I'm filled with such anger and rage and I want to hit something (or myself). I can't even bring myself to watch the show anymore. I can't be angry at Mariska, because I have no idea what involvement (if any) she had ... and from the looks of it, she had none. But JHF? Yes. Rage. and same with Danny. But mostly I am just purely heartbroken.

In hindsight, I see how my actions could've been perceived negatively. But part of it is that in 2010, when I was a part of the "pack," the dynamics on set were SO different. I could go and hangout behind the scenes all freakin' day and socialize with everyone. it's not like that anymore. And it kills me to know, and SEE, how many other fans/survivors out there go to the set SO MUCH MORE than me ... and I'm the one who gets burned. I wouldn't want anything like this to happen to anyone ... but I'm justified in thinking it's not fair.

So, JHF and Danny Pino ... I don't wish death threats on you. I don't stalk you, waiting to make my move. But I don't support you anymore. I'm heart broken beyond all belief. Never have I EVER regretted sharing my story more than when Danny Pino tossed it back in my face, and when JHF made me out to be doing this only for attention. And that is the exact polar opposite of what JHF's mission is -- to heal, empower and educate victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Well let me tell you this: they failed with me. I have never felt more ashamed of using my voice than I did in November, only tied with the fallout with the NYPD. And that is incredibly sad.

These people are human. They are not their stoic, unwavering characters on TV. JHF isn't the 100% failure-free pioneer in healing survivors. They are human as well. Angry and heartbroken are the only words I can use to describe SVU and JHF now. Confusion, as well. But couple all of this, with the fact that my rapist wrote for the show ... it's hard to ever watch it again, as I'm sure is understandable.

I don't judge those of you who still love and watch the show, who think Danny Pino is the sweetest person alive. I did, too. Hell, I've tried to block out the positive experience i had with him in October because it's so damn painful to see how wonderful he was, and then relive the November experience.

Maybe some day I'll get some answers. Ill never support JHF again, at least in terms of money. But I am hopeful that maybe some day I will get some closure. Maybe have a conversation with someone, Mariska, Peter. I don't know .... it's possible.

All I know is that SVU and JHF has lost someone who would've supported them til the very end. I can't change what happened. I also can't live and re-tell this story, because I know that it does no good. but for those of you who wanted to know, this was it. This was my part of an incredibly painful few months this fall, something that I'm only now able to talk about (this happened 4 months ago and I haven't been able to talk about it at all).

All I can do is try to forgive and move on. To love despite the hurt. And that's my plan.