Thursday, February 22, 2007

Therapy Thursday

I don't feel like talking about my shitty therapy session today. That is called avoidance.

I thought I might post a few memories that I have from my time working as a Rape Victim Advocate. I haven't thought of it for a while, but a few weeks ago I saw the CNN article about the rape victim in Florida that was denied treatment following her assault and then immediately arrested on an old, outstanding warrant. Since reading the article I've been thinking about victim advocacy, and remembering specific rape calls that I went on. I was going to say I've been remembering the worst calls, but every single one was the worst. I guess I've been remembering the ones that, for some reason or another, made the most impact on me. I'll post just a few memories here over the next week or so. I know it's a brutal topic, so skip them if you want. I think writing might help me get them out of my head, exorcism-style.

Today I'll mention a quick memory from before I even started the job. The year I joined the RVAs we had a big group of men and women taking part in the training, maybe 40 or 50 people, if I remember correctly. We met weekly for three-hour sessions to learn the specifics of the role. The training was very intense. I was young (21?) at the time, and I was in Bible college. I had taken a self-defense class and my teacher was an RVA, and as soon as she told me about the program I knew it would be a good fit for me. RVA responsibilities were basically to respond to emergency dispatch calls and meet the victims at the hospital right after an assault. The RVAs helped victims through the family notification, detective's interviews and medical evidence exams. Each RVA was on call at least once a month, and I got at least one call most nights. Each call lasted about four hours. The most calls I responded to in one night was four.

During the training we didn't have much time to interact with peers, it was lecture-style, so we didn't really have a chance to meet the other volunteers. I remember one night near the end of training the facilitator called on one of the trainees and asked if she wanted to share her story with the group. The woman, who was probably mid-30's, stood up to address everyone. I remember it was the first time I'd noticed her, and when she stood up it was easy to see that she was bruised around her face and looked very shaken. I also remember thinking that she had a very strong presence even though she was physically quite small.

She addressed the group and explained she had been walking through a popular park in Portland three days prior, and for some reason I think I remember it had been a Sunday afternoon when she was there, and a man came up behind her and pushed her face-first to the ground and started beating her. He was attacking her because she was a lesbian. She briefly told us the details of the attack and I specifically remember that she said that when she resisted him he got on top of her back and got a handful of her hair and used his grip to beat her head against the sidewalk. I remember that she said she was certain that he was going to kill her.

Listening to her story, I remember getting emotional and feeling very unsafe, but not physically unsafe. I remember having the sense that a major shift was beginning inside of me. I think it was one event in several that came together at that time to start breaking down my idealistic (and very religious) view of the world. In a way, I think it's strange that I started this type of work while in Bible college. I think I was seeking something "real" and wanting to open my mind, but not knowing exactly how to do it in that environment. Listening to the woman speak, I remember feeling like the curtain had been pulled back and I suddenly had lots of new information that I couldn't pretend to not know.

Enjoy it, because the story ends as very few do - the petite woman was an ex-marine and ended up getting out from under the man and pinning him to the ground. The man cried and cried (when she said that we all cheered) and begged to be let go, but she held on tight until the police arrived. I remember that when she finished the story she said something like, "He chose the wrong woman that day."

Eerie and disturbing, at best. How did she resist beating the hell out of him? That night started seven years working with the org for me, and that's the only story with a semi-positive ending in seven years that I can remember. Another way of saying it would be that it all went downhill from there. And since seeing the article on CNN, I can't seem to get it all out of my brain.


  1. that brings back a lot of memories for me, hearing this story. i taught women's self defense for 8+ years and before/during that i worked at a domestic violence/sexual assault agency as their community educator. it was intense work and after awhile, it burned me out because i couldn't see the good in the world anymore.

    thanks for sharing this story. they need to be told.

  2. Hey, Sizz, I thought I remembered that you taught self-defense (maybe from your 100 things?). I was taking WomenStrength in Portland - an awesome program. Thanks for the comment. It's a "downer" topic, I know, but it's been on my mind. I think doing the work for eight years you far surpassed the normal burn-out point. I ended up leaving for the same reason. It's amazing work, though, isn't it?

  3. Wow, what a powerful story. Thanks so much for sharing it. I'm looking forward to your future posts on the subject. When you said "I think writing might help me get them out of my head, exorcism-style." I could totally relate. That's one of the reasons I started blogging. Also, I have an entire file of memos I've written from my old job but never sent. They were for theraputic purposes only.

    By the way, I have therapy on Thursdays, too! We're practically twins! ;-)

  4. I loved that story. And I love you for doing that job and for so long , it takes a special person I think to go into that kind of thing, knowing the gruesomness that is to come. Kudos to you. I am sure there are alot of people who would love to thank you given the chance !

  5. LSL, I am very sure that your help and assistance has helped many. Our world is in desperate need of those to help, listen, and care. Beautiful story. Still pissed off I'm going to miss you in Portland.

  6. i love you.
    i just wanted you to know.
    d in mn.

  7. Thanks for all of the nice comments, guys. I appreciate you understanding that it helps to just get it out, and I appreciate you guys being ok with such a brutal topic. Thanks so much for appreciating the story itself - that means a lot to me. I think I really wanted people to "get it" so thanks for doing that. You guys always "get it"!

    And Michael - I thought we were therapy buddies! Maybe sometime we can vent to each other about how our sessions have gone. :)

  8. I think writing might help me get them out of my head, . . . i think it will. I have been slowly writing about my dead kids. They've been stuck in my head for years and that was my purpose for starting this whole blogging thing, to try to exorcise those lives and faces from my brain. It's turned into something else as well, but the dead kids are mixed in there and still coming.

    Good for you that you got involved and honey, you must be one strong ass woman to do it for 7 years. I remember many, many times I begged the cops not to arrest my clients, or the parents of an abused child, or the victim of one situation or another.

    I will never forget my sweet little Jackie Marie, who was 15 when she was kidnapped and held hostage in an apartment with three men. Jackie was in custody only because her stepfather had tried to rape her and her mother threw her out. She was held against her will for almost 6 days and raped repeatedly.

    When she made her escape, we went straight to the rape crisis center and the asshole assigned insisted he was going to arrest her post-exam on the AWOL warrant that was filed because we didn't know she'd been kidnapped, thought she'd run away. Then her mother arrived to lend her half-assed support and they wanted to arrest her on an old FTA for court costs.

    I think it's easy to become dehumanized doing police work. OR maybe certain kinds of inhumane people are drawn to be cops. I know lots of excellent, compassionate police officers. And some real, genuine assholes.