entering the cruel month
But I was at a lunch meeting today in which the faces of April were mulled over. The lovely young bureaucrat from the northern city, who works with the District Attorney's office, unfurled her black felt cape and murmured that April is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. It was an appropriate comment, given that the theme of the meeting had much to do with rape and other such assaults. But I could not help but murmur "and, of course, National Poetry Month" as I passed the platter of strawberries and sliced fresh pineapple and blueberries and grapes to our other visitor, a tough and dedicated nurse who has worked with the sexual assault response team for 13 years.
The others in the clinic meeting room were local women--women who sit with me on my health center's board of directors, the director of the small local hospital, a woman who works with the schools. Community Leaders is how our visitors saw us; we see each other as concerned, dedicated, and often overwhelmed women.
Fact: should you live in my area, and be raped, and manage to make your way to the tiny hospital or to my clinic, you will not be treated there. Yes, you will be, maybe, consoled. Someone might hold you, take your hand, wipe your tears--but treatment will happen in the north, and only in the north, an hour or two away.
Are you poor? Have you reliable transportation? Are there children waiting for you alone at home?
The women of my region often, very often, go untreated, uncounseled, and do not report their assaults.
When my board realized what was happening we contacted the good people of the north and asked to meet with them.
That's what today's lunch was about; preliminary to a forum in the fall, and the start--maybe--of change.
The good women of the north told us why it was necessary that the women of my region make that sometimes impossible journey. There are many factors, and they are very logical--the cops want nice fresh good evidence and the trained medical people and special equipment is in the north. "It's just so much more efficient" said the world weary, compassionate nurse, who also said she'd seen too much in the last few weeks. Her lovely companion from the DA's office chimed in with legal reasoning.
I said "I hear you say things must stay as they are; I am hearing you say it would be very difficult to change things--but what we need from you is not this, but a clear sense of what the barriers are. Because we mean to change things, and in order to do that we need to know who to talk with, and what we need to have here."
And then we started making our list. And we asked about statistics--we all know of the numbers of rapes and assaults in the hills here; a particularly horrific case just surfaced last week, involving torture, kidnapping, rape, and more, involving young men who are well known to me, and a young woman who is also well known, and her small children.
The women from the north, who had their own horrific stories (a seven month old just died three days ago after being raped--oh, dear god, we stopped and thought about it, and one woman basically said "hanging's too good" and I--oh, leave it to me to be the uncomfortable voice in the room--I said, after wiping my tears, "but--to do that--think of how damaged that soul must be, I mean--that's not a sane act"...). But the statistics--though in the room we could privately count up known assaults that went to double digits, and triple, over the year--4, only 4, made it north.
Yes, community need. A culture of secrecy. Women who think they deserve it--the young mother would not have reported her assault and her horror except for the insistance of her best friend. She says "but--I made them mad".
So, you see, I would rather spend the month of April in poetry and flowers. Well, I'll work them in. Meanwhile I've been thinking of the woman who walked briskly by my Friday vigil and asked us "are any of those dead your children?"
I said: yes, all of them.
And all the assaulted ones in my community--and all their attackers. My children too. And we have been failing them so direly.