TIME’S UP ON SILENCE: My #MeToo Story and How Domestic Violence Victims Are Left Behind

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. See http://uchastings.edu/news/articles/2018/01/cindy-muro-soar-scholarship.php and https://www.cwsl.edu/news/newsroom/student-news/2017/10/16/four-cwsl-students-awarded-prestigious-2017-soar-for-justice-scholarship.

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 info@soarforjustice.org.

Photo: Dovie Yoana King

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.

We, the undersigned, representing a diverse group of survivors, attorneys, activists, students, Democrats and concerned citizens, united in our belief that together we can push forward an inclusive #MeToo movement that encompasses victims of domestic violence, and with the goal of ending the culture of victim blaming and misogyny that currently exists at all levels of society, do hereby declare:

1. All adults and children have the right to live free from abuse. Domestic violence is a violation of basic human rights.

2. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, education, income level, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, sex and gender identity.

3. Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault. The batterer chooses to abuse another and therefore bears full responsibility for the violence.

4. Victims have the right to be believed and supported. In stepping forward to seek help and/or expose the abuse, victims should not be shunned, smeared, isolated or placed at greater risk of harm.

5. Children must be protected from direct violence and witnessing violence. When one parent is violent towards another, the child is being harmed.

6. Perpetrators of abuse must be made to face justice for their behavior regardless of public reputation, wealth, charm, manners, articulateness, education, political ties, etc.

7. Domestic violence is not a private matter and affects society at large. Both government and community have a responsibility to intervene to prevent domestic violence and communicate that it will not be tolerated.

8. Early education is essential in challenging stereotypes about masculinity and femininity. Young people should be taught about respectful relationships and that domestic violence is unacceptable.

9. Well-paying jobs, access to adequate housing and childcare enhance women’s capacity to leave a violent partner. Increasing women’s financial independence and available legal remedies are effective means of addressing domestic violence.

10. There is a national crisis in our family law courts affirmed by experts and leaders in the women’s movement, and by survivors in every state who are trying to safeguard their children from abusive fathers. Abusers must be prevented from using the family courts to stalk, harass, punish and impoverish survivors.

Signatories (alphabetically):

  1. Rosie Aiello, Survivor
  2. Tanya Akl, Survivor
  3. Sabrina Andres, Law Student
  4. Gabrielle Attig, Law Student
  5. Shanty Sigrah Asher, Law Student
  6. Christina Babin, Law Student
  7. Kimberly Robb Baker, Survivor
  8. Lundy Bancroft, Best Selling Author on Domestic Violence
  9. Caitlyn Banegas, Law Student
  10. Dale Kelly Bankhead, Union Member and Political Activist
  11. Ludovic Blain, Activist
  12. Leah Bloom, Democrat
  13. Joylyn Boggs, Concerned Citizen
  14. Julie Boroughs, Concerned Citizen
  15. Cassi Cain, President & Domestic Violence Activist
  16. Jana Arlis Cupp Cain, Survivor
  17. Alor Calderon, Labor & Immigrants’ Rights Activist
  18. Marcella Calderon, Labor & Immigrants’ Rights Activist
  19. Sheba Candor, Community College Graduate
  20. Roxana Cardenas, Certified Court Interpreter
  21. Ernesto Veliz Carrola, Law Student
  22. Coleen Chin, Education Attorney
  23. Priyanka Chirimar, Human Rights Attorney
  24. Jillian Connery, Law Student
  25. Anna Crow, Human Rights Clinical Instructor
  26. Valerie Leon Cuadrado, Housing Development Director
  27. Jessica Dance, Law Student
  28. Pearl De La Torre, Survivor
  29. Rachel Dimitruk, Attorney
  30. Errin Douglas, Democrat
  31. Crystal Dumbleton, Law Student
  32. Tabitha Esposito, Survivor
  33. Emily Farrer, Democrat
  34. Judy Feltmann, Survivor
  35. Daniella Ferioli, Union Member & Political Activist
  36. Lupe Flores, Democrat and Art-ivist
  37. Christina Fondue-Abuelo, Concerned Citizen
  38. Christina Frantom, Domestic Violence Advocate
  39. Adriana Gomez, Law Graduate
  40. Olga B. Gonzalez, Law Student
  41. Tisha Gordon, Survivor
  42. Greg Grusecki, Law Student
  43. Nydia Gutierrez, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  44. Stassi Gutierrez, Law Student
  45. Justine Harkness, Survivor
  46. Kristy Heiskala, Certified Victim Advocate
  47. Kristy Hernandez, Political Activist
  48. Xiomara Hernandez, Criminal Appeals Attorney
  49. Yee Htun, Human Rights Clinical Instructor
  50. Stephanie Huang, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  51. Chaumtoli Huq, Human Rights Attorney
  52. Ginger Jacobs, Democrat & Immigration Attorney
  53. Stacy James, Law Student President
  54. Kathy Jones, Survivor & Domestic Violence Advocate
  55. Vianey Juarez, Criminal Defense Attorney
  56. Aliza Kaplan, Law Professor & Criminal Justice Advocate
  57. Kaleena Kei, Pro Bono Victim’s Rights Attorney
  58. Lori Kern, Survivor & Labor Activist
  59. Amna Khawaja, Law Student
  60. Jacqueline Khong, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  61. Dovie Yoana King, Survivor
  62. Aimee Kitchen, Survivor
  63. Tom Landry, Labor & Employment Attorney
  64. May Larosa, Law Student
  65. Maurice Martin, College Student
  66. Sindy Martinez Lewis, Democrat
  67. Taylor McElroy, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  68. Anne McKibbon, Concerned Citizen
  69. Claudia Melo, Law School Professional
  70. Marquez Meraz, Law Student
  71. Alberto Mondoza, Law Student
  72. Cassandra Mitchel, Law Student
  73. Cindy Muro, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  74. Wendy Musell, Labor & Employment Attorney
  75. Ogor Winnie Okoye, Democrat
  76. Alana Olsen, Democrat
  77. Gustavo Ordonez, Higher Education Attorney
  78. Stephanie Orr, Concerned Citizen
  79. Chuck Padget, Community College Student
  80. Wendy Patrizio, Survivor
  81. Tricia Perkins, Survivor
  82. Roza Petrosyan, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  83. Dianne Francisco Quindigan, Law Student
  84. Karla Vianney Montes de Oca Ramirez, Survivor
  85. Paulina Reyes, Law Student and SOAR for Justice Scholar
  86. Bree Romero, Batterer/Men’s Intervention Specialist
  87. Sara Rosales, Law Student
  88. Jessica Dixon Ryan, Survivor
  89. Cheri Sallee, Survivor
  90. Jorge Sanchez, Labor & Employment Attorney
  91. Melanie Sattler, Survivor
  92. Sam Sednek, Democrat
  93. Ragini Shah, Immigration Law Professor
  94. Tobe Shanok, Concerned Citizen
  95. Caitlin Shortell, Civil Rights Attorney
  96. Marianne Soohoo, Attorney & Education Consultant
  97. Smith Surasmith, Concerned Citizen
  98. Rebecca Rauber, Concerned Citizen
  99. Ana Raya, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  100. Batool Raza, Democrat
  101. Jordan Robertson, Law Student
  102. Angelique Rogers, Community College Graduate
  103. Eva Rummel, Survivor & Community College Graduate
  104. Kathleen Russell, Executive Director & Domestic Violence Activist
  105. Sarah Saez, Survivor & Labor Activist
  106. April Selenskikh, Survivor
  107. Vered Tsarfaty, Attorney & Democrat
  108. Dee Villareal, Survivor
  109. Katrina Wagoner, Law Student & SOAR for Justice Scholar
  110. Jean Walkens-Merrilen, Law Student
  111. Malcom Warren, Law Student President
  112. Veronica Williams, Attorney
  113. Tim Wilson, Concerned Citizen
  114. Fara Wolfson, Activist
  115. Clara Yonca Yalcinkaya, Survivor & Attorney
  116. Katayoon Zandvakili, Survivor
  117. Nicole Christine Zell, Survivor