Especially For Young Women




by Benjamin Aldo


When New Yorker Benjamin Aldo swore at his ex-girlfriend he had no idea he could end up going to jail for ‘aggravated harassment’. 

In America these days, it seems, being politically incorrect is against the law. One morning at the end of last summer, just as I was sitting down to work, two burly detectives came to my home and arrested me. I asked if the matter was serious and was told it was serious enough to warrant a trip to the police station. Not yet fully awake, I couldn't quite comprehend what I might have done that could be construed as criminal behaviour, but I knew enough not to make a fuss. As I was driven downtown I wondered aloud if this arrest had something to do with my ex-girlfriend. I was told that it would be better if charges were discussed at the police station and for the rest of the drive we enjoyed a spirited discussion of my profession: journalism.

As we drove downtown to the Chinatown precinct, I reflected that my ex-girlfriend was at that moment on her way to Cuba for a three-week holiday with her new boyfriend. A year before we had met at a wedding in Northamptonshire. I was the best man and she was in the bride's party. When we returned to New York we settled in with one another for a year before parting ways on less than friendly terms.

the larger of the two detectives asked if I had ever called my ex-girlfriend a c*nt.

At the Chinatown police station I was taken into an interrogation room and the larger of the two detectives asked if I had ever called my ex-girlfriend a c*nt. I replied that we had called one another a number of things and asked what I was being charged with. He told me ‘aggravated harassment’ and then I spent four hours in a cage with a frightened looking Asian man.

The charge of aggravated harassment in the second degree is loosely defined as being when a telephone call is made with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person.

After a year of essentially living together the girlfriend stopped calling, which was odd because we'd been annoyingly inseparable since we'd met. I received an email saying that she was feeling ambivalent. I answered that being dismissed via email seemed impersonal. My resigned acceptance was galling and she wept and visited me. Two weeks later she said it was over. A new man had entered her life.

As will happen in New York she had joined a self-empowering women's group a few weeks before, managing to become decisive in an effort to find her individuality through a collective feminine voice and a new sexual partner. It was galling to hear someone beloved talking in the clipped tones of earnestness such groups espouse, so that vigorously naughty pillow chat suddenly became naive general expressions such as ‘I just need to take care of my own needs’.

she slept with me while I was harassing her,

Still, she insisted that we remain friends. ('I just don't want to not know you.') The criminal charges date from 1st June to 24th August. Chronologically, then, she slept with me while I was harassing her, she sat down with me on several occasions while I was harassing her, and she consistently responded to both phone calls and emails while I was harassing her. We even played a game of backgammon together while I was harassing her. I won.

The criminal charges carry an immediate stigma. Over the course of the five-page criminal complaint there's a bloodbath of information, all of which boils down to one person calling the other person names. There are 24 charges in total, 20 of them for aggravated harassment in the second degree, three of them for stalking in the fourth degree and one for harassment (not aggravated) in the second degree. All of which sounds extremely threatening until the actual context is introduced.

One afternoon, for instance, I walked uptown from my local gym and bumped into the ex girlfriend/victim. I crossed to the other side of the street, the better not to see her, and she saw me and waved me over and insisted I come into her bar and have a drink. I sat with her for some 15 minutes while she busied herself with her duties and talked to me. Two months later this incident was referred to as stalking in the fourth degree.

Our final engagement occurred the evening before the arrest.

Our final engagement occurred the evening before the arrest. Living and working as we do in the same area of New York, I saw her on a street corner, or rather she saw me and told me she couldn't talk to me and then proceeded to talk to me for five minutes about how she couldn't talk to me. Later in the evening, in the manner of the jilted lover attempting to make sense of being jilted on the eve of the beloved's holiday, I made a call to her mobile. The bouncer of the establishment she worked in answered her phone and gave me some words of warning. My response to his threats was apparently not contrite enough and the next morning I woke up to the two detectives.

To be sure, the laws are there with good reason. In 1990, California became the first state to pass the law that specifically made stalking a crime. As of 1994, all 50 states have had an anti-stalking law. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, 30% of all homicides of women are committed by husbands or boyfriends and approximately 90% of these murder victims were stalked prior to their death.

 when a woman is being hysterical and indecisive should the law really give her all of the leverage?

However, when a woman is being hysterical and indecisive should the law really give her all of the leverage? If a woman is still choosing to sleep with an ex boyfriend, to return his telephone calls and emails, to meet with him and discuss matters at hand, is it particularly fair to say that the victim is in fact a victim? The disingenuousness of appealing to the delicate natures of New York's criminal system is also curious: if I call a woman a vulgar name as a term of endearment during a romantic period, does that term suddenly become evidence of harassing behaviour?

The actual crime I committed, from my limited perspective, was that of hurting a person's feelings. No doubt I said something hurtful in our last exchange, after which, perhaps teary eyed, she went to work and was informed by some helpful patrons as to the letter of the law. I cannot fathom these many months later exactly what occurred to her when she had me arrested. Was I a physical threat, had I said something that gave her cause for fear of safety? Neither the police nor my lawyer asked if I had done anything untoward; the entire case against me seems to rest on a monologue of name calling which was in fact a dialogue until it was cut down and edited for the purpose of a criminal complaint.

I have appeared in court nine times.

In the eight months since I have appeared in court nine times. Every time I sign a temporary restraining order stating I am not allowed contact with the ex-girlfriend or her new boyfriend, whom I've never met. Should I make any contact, including via a third person, I face a mandatory prison sentence of one year, whether the victim/ deponent/ ex-girlfriend wishes that or not.

All of which has proved to be tremendously helpful in getting over the woman.


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