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
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:
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
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
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
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
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.