A Mother’s Experience

Bootsy was in love with Brandon and he with her. Her pining meows filled the house for many hours of many days after Brandon’s departure for boarding school. When I learned that my son had been accused of sexual assault, I had to juxtapose my image of Brandon, animal whisperer, with the fabricated Brandon of a cocaine-dispensing accuser willing to present the false evidence of a used condom that he had never touched.

I silently sobbed through hours of Brandon’s audio statement given to Harvard investigators. This is a young man who chose to study at St. John’s, a school that trains its students in empathetic scholarship and inquiry. I sensed how his mind faltered as he realized the woman he was trying to comfort, a person he believed was his friend, was indeed his enemy, bent on his destruction.

We–his father David, brother Braxton, his grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and I, his mother, experienced the traumatizing trial. In the midst of it we learned that Brandon’s cocaine-dispensing, evidence-fabricating accuser was featured in a documentary, calling my son a rapist and a sexual predator.

We had to reconcile this misuse of the criminal justice system, employed to sort out messy boundaries of social relationships, with its use for real victims of rape and violence. Madness. I thought of Buttercup, an elderly dog who was Brandon’s constant companion in Santa Fe, where, his life in limbo, he worked as an artist apprentice for Randolph Somer for years. Gentle, kind Brandon falsely characterized as the epitome of evil. Though Brandon was vindicated by the end of the trial, we were all left scarred.

Yet we go on. We’ve known trauma before; we know traumatic events stay with us. I remember my former husband’s Marine Corps unit being bombed in Beirut, Lebanon and wondering if he had survived. I’m crying now as I write this. You see, I still cry when describing the morning of 9-11. Emerging from the A-train at Fulton Street in lower Manhattan to see the burning building, the sound of the second plane hitting the tower as I entered the school building – my colleagues, the bewildered, disoriented students – and then realizing that duty would require my then-husband, a New York City Fire Department Captain, to respond to the trauma happening all around us.

Our trauma continues with CNN’s airing of this documentary, The Hunting Ground, another hit. Anxiety, fear and terror rear up once again. The wrongfully accused and those who love them suffer greatly because of zealousness. It is rotten, the media assuming the false guise of justice, turning the court and a so-called documentary into its weapons.

Brandon started in the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Marine Corps military base, moved on to Sylvia Klein Nursery in Brooklyn, to The Astor/ Astral program, to Prep 9 in Manhattan, to Philips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, to the University of Miami, to St. John’s of Santa Fe, and now to Harvard Law School. This is a path that could lead him to the presidency, to any destination he chooses. I am allowed to say this. I am his mother. I’m with Bootsy and Buttercup. I love and adore him.

I end with an alarm call to all parents of male children, coining the acronym MOM (Mothers of Males): beware of the controlled violence aimed at them as they negotiate their social relationships! Stand up for justice for your boys, your men, against the rising media and legal tide set against them! Make them aware of the dangers and give them the support and strategies they need to go up against it.

Stella Winston is a retired New York City math teacher. She is the proud mother of Brandon Winston.