Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Libel? Slander? Or freedom of speech?

What are the legal ramifications of telling your story? How should you tell your story? Should you tell it in the first person?  Change names?  I thought about this in detail.  I felt safe if I decided to tell my story in the first person, without changing names.  I felt my ex would never admit to being the antagonist in my book - the man most readers have hated, thanks to the comprehensive characterization.  I also felt he would not want his identity revealed, as if he actually stood up and admitted I wrote about him, he would be proving himself as at the very least, a narcissist.

In my due diligence, I consulted with an attorney prior to deciding how my book should be written. There was a lot to consider. Should I write the book using my real name as the author? Or should I use a pen name? Should I write it in the first person? Should I write it as a fiction - which would leave speculation as to whether or not it was a true story, or a non-fiction/true crime drama? I knew I wanted to reveal the truth, because, as Oprah said, "In revealing the truth, you release the shame."  There is a fair amount of shame in being a victim of domestic violence.  People wonder why it took so long to leave.  People question as to the custody decisions.  Many people are exactly how I was when I first entered a courtroom.  You respect the legal system, and you respect the judge.  It was a place where honesty prevails, and is above all respected.  What an idealistic way of thinking....but sometimes seeing the world through rose-colored glasses is easier to take, than the reality of what really happens.

From the first day we sat in court, and the case worker asked my ex if he thought I was a good mother, and he vehemently said, "No!"  I looked at him in utter shock.  I had never heard one negative word uttered about my parenting.  The biggest issue we had was my desire to have my husband home as a part of the family, instead of spending most of the time with his friends, and saying activities with the children were "boring".  If I was not a good mother, why wasn't he home to ensure the children were safe?  Simply said, the children were safe with me, and they were not a priority in his life. 

People who know me, whether they are close friends, or acquaintances know I am a survivor of domestic violence perpetrated by my first husband. I have a different last name as I felt I needed to my own identity after the years of abuse. Although I wanted to share the same surname with my children, his attorney screamed in court about retaining his name, making a ludicrous suggestion I wanted to remain married to him, when in fact, I detested the name associated with my perpetrator and craved my own identity.  I changed my name, selecting one with a similar feel to my maiden name albeit much more easy to pronounce, and legally changed it "for personal and professional reasons".

I decided I would use pseudonyms in my book to keep my children's identity private, and utilized a disclaimer in the front of the book, with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm because the names of the villains in my book are very close to their real names. The antagonist's surname of BAUERS is an anagram.  (E-mail me if you can figure it out). 

And, with that said, I am going to start revealing the names of some of these villains. There are several reasons for this decision. Yes I am speaking out, and yes I do reveal names when I speak in public. Most importantly, any name which was in my court record, is libel and slander free, according to my consultation with the attorney.  Therefore, I am protected, as whatever I will write is a matter of public record. In revealing names, other victims of the same people (lawyer, judge etc) may feel more comfortable speaking out and telling their story. However, the main goal is to encourage those who feel they are victims, to speak out, so they can on day call themselves survivors.

So… Hold on tight, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.