By Dovie Yoana King
I am encouraged by survivors of sexual abuse and harassment that have stepped forward to share their courageous #MeToo stories in recent months. The cases are largely linked to celebrity and/or the workplace, however, and stop short of empowering domestic violence victims facing oppression in our homes. Many survivors of domestic violence continue to wait patiently on the sidelines for the spotlight to shine on us, but the clock has run out. #TimesUp. It is time do something about it. This is my personal #MeToo story and how domestic violence victims are left behind.
I am a public interest attorney and I work at Harvard Law School. In 2015, I ended my abusive marriage and obtained a domestic violence restraining order against my then-spouse, Ricardo Ochoa, who is also an attorney. For years I had endured severe psychological, emotional and verbal abuse, among other forms of coercive control. I lived in terror that one day Ricardo’s violent explosions might result in serious injury or death. As a result, I filed for divorce and was awarded sole legal and physical custody of our young child. Though I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result of the abuse, I am gradually recovering and rebuilding my life in a new city.
In stark contrast to Ricardo’s reign of terror behind closed doors, he has a “stellar” public persona. At times, he appears on the local news as a legal expert and works at California Western School of Law. While the law school’s top administrators are aware of the restraining order, they have turned a blind eye to Ricardo’s domestic violence. Worse, some of his closest allies, including activists, women and community leaders, have joined him in victim-blaming and discrediting me on social media. In survivor circles we call this loathsome conduct “domestic violence by proxy.”
Ricardo’s ties to the progressive community have inured to his benefit. He is capitalizing on his public reputation and #MeToo to reinvent himself as a champion of victim’s rights. This is deeply hypocritical and needs to be called-out. As an example, Ricardo is part of a sect that has aggressively campaigned against a local leader accused of sexual misconduct. This is the pot calling the kettle black, but the strategy has been politically expedient for Ricardo, who is moving up the ranks of the Democratic Party as an elected member of the San Diego Democratic Central Committee and delegate to the California Democratic Party. By deflecting attention from his own abusiveness and aligning himself with victims in this matter, Ricardo is advancing his personal interests. This is disingenuous and deeply problematic.
The fact that respected leaders have tolerated Ricardo’s abusiveness, on the one hand, while villainizing a local leader accused of sexual misconduct, on the other, is bewildering and speaks volumes about how domestic violence victims are falling by the wayside while elites jump on the popular #MeToo bandwagon. I say this not to minimize #MeToo or fellow women’s experiences, but to point out that more must be done to push forward a victim’s agenda that is all-inclusive, free of politics and geared towards bringing perpetrators to justice.
As I reflect upon my difficult journey to escape the abuse, sadly I am unable to say that I had broad community support. I was shunned by many of my professional colleagues — even by people who were aware that Ricardo had unfairly locked me out of our joint husband-wife law practice on the day he was served with the restraining order and divorce papers. The betrayal was palpable, but I was fortunate to find help and a new community of support at the Family Justice Center, a local organization that assists victims of domestic violence. There, I befriended other survivors and learned that social isolation is a common barrier to breaking the cycle of abuse. #ijustwantpeace
After two difficult years of defending myself in family court against continuous litigation initiated by Ricardo, I made the difficult decision in 2017 to drop my restraining order as part of a divorce settlement. Having incurred nearly $100,000 in legal fees, I had reached the end of the road. I was bankrupt — both financially and emotionally. Moreover, I had been ousted from my law firm and left unemployed, so I lacked the financial means to support myself and was beholden to my abuser. Thus, I did what was necessary to end the ordeal. I dismissed the restraining order which had gone uncontested for 20 continuous months. I then enlisted in the movement for family court justice to help bring an end to the legal atrocities survivors face in divorce and custody battles.
For some, the fact that I dropped the restraining order may place in doubt the veracity of my allegations of domestic violence, but to be clear, I am fearful of Ricardo and I continue to suffer from the aftermath of his abuse. Ricardo is currently under court order to stay 100 yards away from me at all times and refrain from contacting me by phone, email or any other means through the year 2022, or else face contempt charges. This gives me some measure of security, but I am nonetheless fearful that he will retaliate against me for truthfully speaking out.
In early-January 2018, my divorce was fortunately finalized. By stepping forward to share my story now, I hope that other survivors will be empowered to do the same and give greater visibility to the epidemic of domestic violence. Regrettably, there are many people who, like me, have faced vicious smear campaigns, triangulation and re-traumatization at the hands of our abusers and the people and institutions that enable their violence. Until we insist that perpetrators face justice, our children will likely inherit a world in which men continue to hold primary power and dominate in roles of political leadership, authority, privilege and wealth. We can, and should, do more to smash the patriarchy.
As the founder and director of SOAR for Justice, I am committed to using my personal experience to educate the public about the dangers of domestic violence, the failings of the family court system and to provide survivors a stronger voice for change. Since its inception in 2017, SOAR for Justice has awarded 13 educational scholarships to law students and a bar exam applicant who have overcome domestic violence and/or demonstrate a commitment to helping victims with their legal needs as a future career path.
Please join SOAR for Justice and 100+ respected community members who stand in solidarity with survivors of domestic violence and are taking action. To join the petition, contact SOAR for Justice at [email protected]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dovie Yoana King is a San Diego native and daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica. She and her child currently live in Boston where she works at Harvard Law School’s Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising. Dovie is an award-winning victim’s rights pro bono attorney. She is licensed to practice law in California, Massachusetts and formerly in New York (retired). To learn more about Dovie, visit www.soarforjustice.org.