Monday, March 26, 2007

Exorcism II

I read the saddest article on today about a rape victim who was murdered by her accused rapist. (Of course, above the headline there's a bold red ticker that says the day's real news: some celebrity's a*topsy results are in. But that's a rant for another day.) It's a tragic, tragic story that is unfortunately not uncommon. I was disappointed but not surprised that the story includes several versions of, "Why didn't she report it earlier?" which is a question I thought maybe we could be done with by now. Part of the answer, of course, is that she was afraid of what would happen if she reported it. But she did eventually report it and now she's dead. Are we done with that question now? Probably not.

After months of trying, I have an interview on Thursday to volunteer with the local rape crisis center. (Turns out it's almost as hard to volunteer in this city as it is to find a job.) I really hope it works out and that I can find a way to do either the hospital response or the crisis hotline with my new work schedule at the bank. Of course, all of this is bringing back memories of my time volunteering as an RVA, and I thought I would post another story. Here's the first one which includes an explanation of what an RVA is. And again, skip these if you want. It's grim stuff.

From the hundred or so calls that I went out on as an RVA, this is always the one that won't go away. This call came in the evening, maybe 10:00 PM, instead of the normal 3:00 AM, so I knew it would be different as soon as my pager went off. There were two victims – sisters - and they were two and three years old. They were tiny blonde girls and their parents had raped them many times with many objects, including a broomstick. They had two aunts who had kidnapped the girls that night while they were supposed to be babysitting and brought them to the hospital, which is where I met them. I don’t remember the girls' names (and wouldn’t post them, of course, if I did), but I do remember that the youngest had a nickname related to her round Buddha-belly. The girls were beautiful, but more. It was past their bedtime so they were tired and quiet, and to me they seemed like angels with sweet smiles and soft ringlets of hair hanging past their shoulders. They didn't really know what was going on, of course. I even remember what I was wearing that night (a red sweatshirt I had stolen from a friend in college); I don't know why I remember some of the small details but not other parts of the night.

I remember that the aunties were scared and desperate, and it was my role to be the calming influence. They were older than I was, I was maybe 23 and they were probably in their early 40's, and I remember thinking, what in the world am I supposed to tell these women who clearly have seen more of life than I have? I remember the rape exams and how heartbreaking they were, and how I explained each part of the exam to the aunties as the doctor performed it, and how I tried to keep my voice steady. I remember specifically how the children's bodies looked so tiny on the big exam tables. What I remember most was the couple of hours we spent waiting for a physician to become available to do the exam. (It always took forever to get a physician. I hate to say that was one of the reasons I eventually quit, but it was.)

The exam room was very small and there were no chairs in it. So while we waited for a physician, I sat on the linoleum floor with my back against the wall and my knees up, and I held the girls while their aunties paced the hall outside. I really do remember what the girls' weight felt like on me, one girl in each arm with their chins tucked over each of my shoulders. They slept that way for a couple of hours. My arms were cramping and falling asleep, but I couldn't give up the chance to hold those girls. They were sleeping - I remember how their breathing sounded - and I remember rocking them slowly back and forth and whispering things in their ears, like “You’re going to be ok” and “You’re such strong girls.” Of course I was hoping those little messages would somehow lodge themselves into their brains forever.

That's it, that's the memory that won't go away. I was "spoken to" later by my supervisor because the rapes had taken place outside of our county of responsibility, and protocol was that if we arrived at the hospital and discovered this we had to leave. I remember accepting the scolding and apologizing, acting like I hadn’t known about the rule.

I still wonder about the girls, of course. I wonder what they look like and how they're doing and who they live with. I hope they still have each other and that they remain close. I hope the parents are dead or locked away somewhere, but they probably aren't.

I don't know what else to say, the whole thing is so hopeless. I guess the shift that has to take place, in society and in people's minds, for this not to happen anymore, is so great (and I believe we're further away from it now than we have been in the past), that I just focus on my one little part, which is trying to be there for someone else when they need it. I find that when I really need someone to be there for me, someone is usually there. And that's what I'm trying to do, too. I don't know what else there is to do.


  1. Wow, what a powerful story. I'm glad you decided to volunteer again. It takes a special person to do this kind of work which clearly you are. I just hope you still find time to blog what with your new work schedule and volunteer work!

  2. Wow That was a great story , yeah it was/is sad that this kind of stuff happens, and that you feel we are farther away from ever finding a way to curb/stop it. And on a personal note it is sad to me today because of all of the people who would die for a chance to be a parent and are denied that with out costly expenditures. And yet Family is still so "revered" ......uh look what those "parents" did to their kids. I remember a couple of years ago when the mother took her kids out to a lake and bashed their heads in with rocks. I remember thinking the one person who should have been their rock,their stability their OWN MOTHER had done this to them. I was messed up from that for a long while. It takes a really special person to want to do this kind of thing again after still dealing with ghosts of past experiences. I know you don't do it for the kudos , but you sure do deserve them. Here's to you and everyone like you !

  3. What a tragic story. The icing on the cake is the supervisor who expected you to leave. Right. I'd imagine that scenario would go down differently now than in your 20s.

    Thanks for the other story too (Feb 22, '07.) I remember when that happened, you guys weren't the only ones cheering, when the story hit the news I was with a group of friends at a bar. We read it on CC, and made the bartender turn up the sound. Not only did we cheer, but we laughed too. It was a tremendously empowering end to what could have been a very tragic story.

  4. Thanks for reading it, Michael. It feels good to share those memories. And I should say that I always notice the smile in your icon picture - it looks so genuine and you appear to be such a positive person. Great pic.

    And Scott, I completely agree and totally appreciate your point. You are right on. I should have mentioned something abou that myself.

    Stacey, how fun for me to know that you were in Portland hearing that news at the same time (just about) we were. It was tremendously empowering, wasn't it? And I still can't believe I missed you at TC. Did we even shake hands? And I was in Portland for four more days, too. Maybe we can make plans for next time.

  5. pretty sure you were the blogger who shared a puff on my cigar...

    I'd love to get together next time you're up.

  6. I recently got to meet and talk to an RVA at school. I hate how we can get so busy in a hospital setting that we can forget what a scary place it can be for some people, especially kids. RVAs perform a great service, and I give you (and all of them) a Tugboat Captain salute for being there.

  7. Oh, and by the way, I'm still working on a reply to your long-ass email from last week. Damn, you aren't called Long Story Longer for nothing... :-)

  8. Stacey! I remember you. I immediately thought you were cool, no kidding. I think that was way towards the end of the night, wasn't it? I could have gone five more hours, by the way. You know it's a 30-something gathering when everyone is done by midnight. And I was on east coast time! Now I'm extra bummed we didn't get to hang.

    And I can't tell you how great it felt to read that you remember when the ex-marine was attacked at LP. I just love knowing that you guys were cheering, too. It was a rare victory, wasn't it? Thank you so much for telling me that.

    Dave - Hey, Sarge. I think it's so great that you guys had an RVA at school. Yay! Maybe someone from your class will remember the RVA's visit when they're faced with a victim, and they'll have a little extra compassion.

    And I am totally worse in person, by the way (with the questions.) I think you and MeeMaw should do a road trip, grab Gabe and Stella on the way up here, and come hang out. Everybody gets three days in my house and then they're out on their asses. (It's a rule I have.) But it would be a fun three days!

  9. oh honey, that's not a little part, it's a huge part. not everyone can do that kind of work. that you're strong enough to do so is amazing.

    My arms were cramping and falling asleep, but I couldn't give up the chance to hold those girls. They were sleeping - I remember how their breathing sounded - and I remember rocking them slowly back and forth and whispering things in their ears, like “You’re going to be ok” and “You’re such strong girls.” Of course I was hoping those little messages would somehow lodge themselves into their brains forever.

    body memories sometimes never go away. the conjoined emotion and sensory experience are forever intertwined and just won't leave, especially with trauma like this.

    what a service you've done. i hope this works out for you on thursday. you obviously have much to offer.

    AND FUCK PROTOCOL!! that is the kind of crap that drove me out of the field. in the last year i worked for the justice center, we were told we could not get sexual abuse exams for kids who didn't have insurance unless they were in state custody. so i was to take the child into custody ~ with the trauma that entails ~ place them in the shelter, start the whole court process, so they could come to the center for a 30 minute exam and the state could pay.

    you honor these little ones by remembering. too many people, even working in these crisis areas, do not remember that they are real live human beings in need, not a statistical mark on the monthly report.

  10. Wow. I can't add to what others have said - but I have so much admiration and respect for you right now, even more than I did before. I don't know how you or anyone can have the strength it takes to care for people that have been so traumatized, but I'm sure as hell glad you do.