Vignette: Alice

Karin Kerfoot
3 min readFeb 17, 2020

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action to stand up against gender-based abuses, violence, and inequalities. On this year’s International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the bravery of Alice* and the many women who have helped others find freedom from abuse and violence.

*Name has been changed

The young woman sitting across from me is wide-eyed and frightened — but she is also determined. It is clear that Alice has decided that today is the day she will share her story with someone, and that someone is me. She starts off slowly and quietly but, as her words gain momentum, more and more details pour out. It is as if they are unstoppable now that she has given them a release.

As she speaks, I listen with growing horror. The experiences she describes are hers but, in so many ways, she is also describing mine. I am struck by the growing, terrible realization that, though we haven’t known it, Alice and I have lived as hostages in parallel. We’ve experienced nearly the same traumas, at the same time, at the hands of the very same man. We are both his victims.

As I stare back at Alice, it is as if she is holding up a mirror in front of me. I see myself sitting in her chair; in pain, terror, and disbelief that I have fallen down this rabbit hole into a completely unrecognizable world. I see how deeply we both have been devalued and violated. I share her fear that she (I) will not be believed because her (my) story sounds so unbelievable. She says that death has seemed like the only way to escape from her (our) nightmare, and I know exactly what she means. Sitting in front of that mirror, I feel sickened, horrified, and enraged on behalf of both of us. There are so many awful similarities between her situation and mine, but ultimately there is one very important difference.

Unlike me, Alice has found the courage to ask for help. From me.

This is my reality check; my wake-up call. I have known that my tormentor abused other women in the past, but now I am confronted by the inescapable reality of a woman in front of me who needs real help. We both do.

I tell her:

I believe you.

I support you.

I’m so glad you told me.

We will come up with a plan.

I will do everything I can to help keep you safe.

What I don’t say is this:

Your courage is helping me to see a way out of this hell that we share.

I can’t give him another chance to threaten me, hit me, rape me, or demand my money.

Your bravery will help me to finally stand up for myself.

Maybe I can also escape with my life.

You won’t know it, but I’m going to follow you out of this rabbit hole.

The thought of trying to escape from him fills me with fear — but also a new hope. I have lived the last year believing that I was completely alone, but it turns out that I’m not. No woman should live under this kind of abuse and terror.

I want to believe that one day, none will.

Alice, no words can adequately express the depth of my respect and gratitude for your courage. On International Women’s Day — and every day since I escaped from him — thank you.

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Karin Kerfoot

Psychiatrist turned yogini, writer & educator. Survivor of sexual violence & systemic injustice. I write about gender-based violence & medical regulation.