Hera McLeod didn’t fully understand the damage victim blaming caused until she became a victim herself.
“Mother Teresa would never marry Saddam Hussein”
These words were spoken to a friend of mine in reference to me after the death of my 15-month-old son, Prince McLeod Rams, during a panel discussion on family court. Four years ago, I would have believed the same thing. Since then, I have learned that Mother Teresa is exactly the kind of person who ends up with Saddam Hussein.
Growing up with Christian morals, I believed that everyone was capable of good. I was taught not to judge a person by his appearance. So when, in 2010, Joaquin Rams walked into my life, I was vulnerable to deception. Yes, he dressed like a thug, looked much older than he claimed and was full of mystery. But he was also charming, intriguing and had such an intense look in his eyes that he made me believe he was my soul mate. He told me he was a self-made businessman who was caring for his son after the child’s mother died in an accident. In hindsight, his story appears to have been custom designed to appeal to me.
I wanted to believe what he said, and he knew it.
Abusers don’t start emotionally terrorizing someone on the first date. No one just comes out and tells you he is living off the insurance proceeds and death benefits of women who have died violently around them. Psychopaths – as one forensic psychologist who testified on my behalf in court labeled Rams – are often charming and charismatic people who can talk their way through almost anything.
After I fought unsuccessfully for over a year to prevent Rams from having unsupervised access to Prince, my worst nightmare came true: On Oct. 21, 2012 my son drowned during one such visit with his father. Three months later, Rams was arrested and charged with Prince’s murder. Shortly after his arrest, it was reported that Rams had taken out over $560,000 in life insurance on Prince. On insurance forms, court documents show Rams claimed I had died in an “accident.”
Editor’s Note: Rams claims that he is innocent of these charges, and is currently awaiting trial for Prince’s murder in Prince William County, VA.
This was all devastating enough, but as the details of the case seeped into the media, I got another shock: Many people blamed me for allowing all this to happen. Most of this was behind my back, but some of the bolder ones came right out and asked how I could have gotten into a relationship with such a person. Once, I was berated by a police captain for making “poor relationship choices.” I left the station in tears.
At first, I was stunned by this reaction, but as time went on I was able to think more critically about my situation. The truth is, before meeting Rams, I could have made the same sort of victim-blaming statements. I, too, judged the victims of domestic violence. I, too, believed that I could never be a victim. I was too intelligent, too educated and too savvy for that.
I believed this until the day I looked in the mirror and realized that I had become a victim myself.
It shouldn’t be necessary for the tables to turn so horribly for someone to see this common attitude for what it is. This misplaced blame undoubtedly hurts the victims, but it also helps offenders. They count on society blaming the victims, because it focuses the attention away from their disturbing behavior. When Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who imprisoned three young women in his home for years, made his notoriously self-justifying statement in court, his attempt to deflect guilt did not surprise me. He was simply repeating, albeit in an exaggerated way, sentiments that pervade our culture.
The day my son died was the worst day of my life. In the days following his death, I wanted to jump in the casket with him and die, too. I blame myself every day for not disobeying court orders to protect Prince, for trusting Rams, for naïvely believing I could never be a victim. This blame, however, is not going to bring Prince back. And it isn’t going to get him justice.
As I stood over Prince’s casket, I read him Dr. Seuss’s Oh Baby, Go Baby, one of his favorite books. I read about how he would someday move mountains. Then, as the harsh truth set, my tears fell onto his body. I placed the book in the casket with him, and made him this promise: “Mama will make sure you still move mountains. I will fight for justice so that your story saves others.”
The promise I made to Prince will not be easy to fulfill. To prevent this sort of tragedy from happening to other children, the tendency in our society to blame the victim must change. Addressing the attitudes of some family court judges is a good place to start, but the problem goes much deeper – it lurks in the decisions of mental health professionals, law enforcement officials and social workers alike, dangerously clouding their judgment and creating life-threatening situations outside of the courtroom.
It is not comfortable to face these judgments while trying to change the system. But for as long as I live, I will continue to tell my son’s story and continue to fight for children’s rights. I will do it for my son and the children who will come after him.
This article originally appeared on CappuccinoQueen.com
Photo courtesy of bigstockphoto.com
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