My husband was assaulted by frat boys and I failed to protect him

Now my life is hell, and I feel like I'm failing at everything.


Cary Tennis
November 18, 2004 12:00AM (UTC)

Men! Have you heard? It's Masculinity Month at Salon! Send your questions about masculinity to advice@salon.com, and I will answer them over the next few weeks in conjunction with an upcoming series in the Life section.

I'll leave it to you to define "masculinity"; I figure if it sounds like a question about masculinity to you, then it probably is. I look forward to hearing your questions. Thanks. -- ct

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Dear Cary,

Almost two years ago, my husband was assaulted. The overgrown frat boy down the street was holding a "Christmas in the Ghetto" party and invited way more people than could fit in his house. His "guests" ended up in our yard, refusing to leave, peeing on the house, etc., etc. Lots of poor behavior. They jumped my husband and broke the bones in his face. They almost killed my dog. The first failure: I can't keep the bastards off my property. Second failure: I can't protect my husband.

I did not know how badly my husband was hurt, and he feels like I abandoned him as he crawled into the house to call 911 as I was chasing the assailant. I failed to protect my husband and I failed to help him when he really needed help.

I go to therapy. The therapist tells me to find God. Our last few sessions are heated arguments and I figure I just don't need any more arguments and book time with a new therapist. She says I have post-traumatic stress disorder; she says, "Oh, that's just terrible" and leaves it at that. She's a trauma specialist. Even when I pay someone, I fail at getting help. At least the second one pointed me to a book that helped me. Her sessions, however, consisted of a lot of sympathy.

The party host and his post-frat thugs harassed us. We got a restraining order. They violated it within 20 days. I asked for help. I got a restraining order, and it failed.

The crime that was committed and all of the events after it deeply offend my sense of a civil society and has shaken me to the core: I can't protect my family, I can't communicate with police to motivate them to work for me, I can't pull enough information out of the party host, I ineffectively used the court system to get a sentence I thought would lead to identification of the men but has turned into no punishment for the offender, I can't get the media to do another story, I don't know how to assemble a reward fund except from my own bank account, I can't go to frat-type hangouts without fear, I believe there are many, many people who have no cares for the safety of others and have no respect, I feel my pretty Victorian is tainted and I can't live here without remembering the event, I can't even hire an effective therapist.

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Communication and motivating teams to work together is what I do for a job. It's frustrating to be successful with clients and teams and not be able to be successful with the most important team of your life.

I've spent a lot of time in fear, especially when we were being harassed. I am very much wanting my husband to step up sometimes and protect me. He doesn't. We've always had a very egalitarian relationship and I am the kind of woman that takes care of herself and pays for herself. But for once I really need him to at least pretend he can make me safe. Call me on the way to the parking ramp after work. Pick me up at the door instead of walking to the parking lot. Stand up for me at least once. I've told him this, given specific examples, and he doesn't get it. Do I need to be the one to fail to protect him and fail to protect myself for the rest of my life?

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It just burns me that they will get away with this. A man's face needs to be surgically reconstructed and no one takes responsibility. It doesn't help that the party host is the football coach's football star son and my husband and I are former punk rockers now all grown up. Does high school never end?

Failing to Protect

Dear Failing,

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I think the therapist who said you have post-traumatic stress disorder is probably correct. My advice to you is to make dealing with your PTSD a priority in your life. It will be difficult, because your PTSD will tell you that you don't have PTSD, that what you have is a bunch of incompetent people around you who are full of shit. Your PTSD will tell you that what you really have is an inept and uncaring police department, and a house full of asshole frat boys. It will tell you that you are a failure for not protecting your husband. It will tell you a lot of things. You are going to have to persevere through all that crazy internal talk. Summon all the toughness that you have, all the courage, all the anger and outrage and desire for social change, and marshal it in your struggle with PTSD. The rest will follow -- there are decisions you will need to make concerning where and how to live, and how to work to change the world, but first you need to get a handle on this PTSD. Otherwise, in my humble opinion, it will render you ineffective. It will bring you down.

I am not going to say much more. I am going to stop. Because your letter has been driving me crazy for a week now. In another day or two, I was going to be out there driving around looking for those guys myself. I don't know why it got to me so, but it did. I suppose I fell into a trap: In trying to find the words that would cause you to see the limits of your own power over this situation, I got caught in exactly what you are caught in -- thinking myself in charge of events instead of looking for guidance; trying to magically affect events, as though I were a god, instead of simply addressing another human being one-on-one. Sheesh. I'm glad that's over. It was tiring me out. (Maybe that's why the first therapist mentioned God -- not that belief in God will solve your problems, but that your actions indicate a distorted view of your obligations to the cosmos and your power to affect events.)

So anyway, enough said. I've quit obsessing about your case. Just keep it simple. Go to the person who told you you have PTSD and say you accept her diagnosis. Tell her you are willing to do whatever it takes to come to terms with this. Tell her how hard a worker you are. Tell her how much courage you have. Tell her you're ready. The rest will come.

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