Fear Is Natural but Not Inevitable

Following a spate of sexist violence complaints, Jessica Dos Santos recalls a story from her past.

The year was 2007. I was 18 years old and had just finished my second semester in university. To celebrate we threw a huge party at a friend’s place since she lived alone in Caracas. I don’t know how or why, but a bunch of veterans crashed the party.

Those guys, or most of them, were more than ten years older than us, members of the student guild, career students who never graduated and had other things going on. Were they on the hunt for easy prey? Those days I used to drink and dance like crazy, but I had some shields: a “PhD” in turning away harassers and a few friends who were loyal sisters and brothers. Our agreement was clear: no one was to be left behind, especially if drunk. Social media wasn’t a huge deal like nowadays, but we heard the stories and knew the dangers.

With a dry “and who invited you?” the “senior” crowd quickly made their exit. But a few days later, as expected, we ran into them at the university. In the group there was one guy who stood out. He was 27, had a degree in management, good references, drove a car, didn’t drink or smoke and seemed like the world’s calmest guy.

One day he gave us a life-saving ride. On another occasion, he invited us to eat. One way or another, he started spending time with our group, and his interest in me was more than clear. But, in truth, his excessive politeness bothered me. “What do you mean?” a friend asked. “I don’t know, girl. He always gets the car door, or the chair at the café, he wants to carry my bag, it’s kind of annoying, you know?” I tried to explain. She didn’t get it. Hearing myself out loud, neither did I.

To the naked eye, he was a “gentleman.” Was I mistaken? Had I grown used to the “informal” manners of guys my age? I don’t recall him “asking” if we should be together, but all of a sudden it happened. In fact, within a few weeks, and quite naturally, I met his family: “Come with me real quick to pick up my mom and sister God-knows-where.”

A few months later I found out that my boyfriend was divorced. He explained that the relationship had been short-lived, they took the leap prematurely, living together is a challenge, etc. No big deal, right? Being divorced is no life sentence.

Without my noticing, we started spending too much time together. When I was with friends he insisted on coming over. “I’ll cook while you guys study.” Other times he would wait for me “so I wouldn’t need to take the bus.” I found myself struggling to tell him I needed space, even though I’m very upfront.

Unconsciously I started to build some distance. It was then that he started professing his “love” for me on every available social network, he picked me up at work or after class without me asking for it. Then, calm and collected, I decided to break things up. “No, you don’t know what you’re saying, you’re not thinking straight, we’ll talk tomorrow when you’re calmer,” he said, and he left. That night he flooded my cell phone with messages I chose to ignore. The next day I had the final presentation of an English course that had been twisting my brain for two years.

As I arrived for the exam, there he was with a huge bouquet of flowers. As soon as he saw me, he started crying. “This can’t be happening,” I thought to myself. I walked past him, straight into the lecture hall. With all the anger and stress, I presented Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost. It went terribly. After it ended, I chased the professor begging him to get a second chance to present. At this moment, my boyfriend showed up and dragged me by the arm: “Let’s go.”

“What’s with you? Why are you still here?” I asked him in astonishment. He pushed me towards the exit and tried to force me into his car. “You’re crazy!” I screamed. “Crazy? Because I won’t let you throw yourself at your teacher?” His face had changed completely. I managed to free myself and started running, but he ran after me.

As I arrived in Chacaíto, I tried to board the first bus I saw. At this moment, my ex took out a pen from his pocket and stabbed me in the shoulder. I screamed in pain and we struggled. I ran to the police station on the corner. “Talk to him,” “go home and sort it out,” the officers told me. But, to save the day, a bus approached and the driver told me to get in, bringing out a baseball bat so my ex wouldn’t get any ideas.

Within seconds, my phone was flooded with messages. “You’re a whore,” “forgive me,” “you’re going to regret this,” “I love you.” I called my best friend, “wait for me at the bus stop, I’ll explain when I arrive.” I told her everything and fell asleep. The next morning he was outside waiting. “I chose the worst hideout and I’m getting you in trouble,” I told my friend in tears.

For months my friends escorted me. And for months he harassed me.

“No wonder his wife left him,” my friend told me one day. With that, we discovered the wonders of the internet. His divorce sentence and a complaint for violence were just a Google search away. We publicly denounced him. Soon after, his mother called me: “Please don’t go to the authorities. He’s not a bad person. He’ll leave you alone.” I don’t know what she did, but the guy disappeared.

Six years later, in 2013, I got a message in my Facebook spam folder: “Even if I didn’t say ‘I’m sorry,’ my soul was probably screaming it.” It was him. He had moved to Spain. In his photos I could see a new girlfriend who looked a lot like the old Jessica. I thought about warning her but didn’t. I was afraid to be dragged back into that horror.

This week, after the many stories of sexual harassment and violence involving high-profile Venezuelan musicians, artists and playwrights, I recalled that part of my life. Upon reading the tale of each abused teenager / young girl / woman, I felt like I “got off easy,” “it could have been much worse.” And yet I lived in fear for years.

The same fear that has gotten a hold of me the multiple occasions when a man has tried to leverage a position of power (professor, boss, politician, etc.) into sexual abuse. And I believe the victims. I do so because if my friends didn’t believe in me I might not be here to tell this story. Amidst the pain, I rejoice at the fact that the Venezuelan society is engaging in this debate, and that this fledgling women’s movement seems to be able to transcend eventual political differences. The fight is just beginning.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.