Tuesday, March 28, 2006

entering the cruel month

Well, actually, I love the month of April. Two of my children celebrate birthdays then; the sweet lilacs bloom, sometimes the rain stops.
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.


Blogger marlyat2 said...

You have been busy planting hope seeds in spring. May you reap a good August harvest from April's work.

You also made me think about what poetry is for once again, because your young men are so far from the sort of brave self-transcendence and vitality that the very best poets achieve.

The world is transcendent, the world is dripping with cries like blood. Angelic, demonic.

12:47 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger David said...

I am astonished by your community's lack of facilities for the investigation of sexual assaults! However, my surprise may be due to the fact that I have always lived in small to large cities. I do not really know what life is like in a very rural area. I hope there is some substance behind the pretty face of the young D.A. lady! If there is, perhaps something will be done to improve this terrible situation.

9:34 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Thank you Marly. I must remember there are all sorts of gardens.
David--yes, the situation of those in rural areas probably seems quite astonishing to those in cities.Things that are normal in cities just don't exist here. But we will make changes--we used not to have doctors here at all. We still don't have law enforcement on weekends (if you have an emergency you must wait till Monday--too bad if you are desperate.)
I've had the pleasure of walking senators and state bureaucrats around my little town, and driving with them into the forests and hills. They are amazed at the distance, which is somehow different when you are traveling a dirt road that may or may not be free of fallen trees that day; and at the outspoken independence of a lot of the people.
I remember the first time my oldest son saw a stop light on a street--he was around 10, and wondered why the road had decorations on corners.
Sometimes my clinic has sent me to big city conferences--I always find the people from the rural areas, whether they are in Mississippi or Kentucky or up here in far northern California have very similar views and problems.

10:25 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hi! i had many days without talking with u... :) how r u? I'm fine, and I have many other cat pictures now in my blog, come and watch them if u can! :) Well, i'd better go, but I want 2 tell u that ur stories are amazing, altough some of them r not understandable 4 me. :) jijiji, miaubye! best wishes: Caroline =^^= See ya!

12:10 PM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger blog queen said...


I came in from Marlys site. You have visited my site before too.

I just want to say that even though I don't know you, I admire what you are doing. Too many women have no resources, and you are being the hope that they need. Keep up the good work.

10:43 PM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Nyx said...

Sometimes (quite often nowadays actually) I wish I could just leave all this behind, and move out. Be more in touch with nature, so to speak.
I'm quite certain that living this stressful city-life makes us loose contact with our inner self.

1:08 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger a dracul said...

sometimes it's denial. Rape has an estimated .03% conviction rate. the majority are not perpetrated by ewil strangers. Last year in England & Wales 40 men who agreed to confess to rape allegations upon arrest were released with a police caution. That means they have a record of confession to rape, they are place on a sex offenders list. Their DNA is stored, we have one of the largest DNA registers in the world over 3,000,000 citizens. But that is it. At the other end, for those who are being convicted, maximum sentence is life imprisonment that comes with a suggested tarrif, but the sentencing guidelines for this year are that judges are to reduce the sentence (if there are no other factors) the average rape as it were from 10 years imprisonment to 7 years imprisonment. Sentence is automatically reduced by 25% for an early guilty plea. With good behaviour in prison, prisoner can be released on parole in the community after serving half the sentence. They have to do something either build more prisons or release prisoners in three months we hit the virtual ceiling of 78,000, the overflow will have to be managed somehow. The problem is not one of a lack of rape kits, in most rapes there is no dispute that sex occured or that it was aggressive or who the individuals were. Stuff happens. They used to say there was more collusion, hypocrisy and denial in small communities, but they clearly don't have a monopoly on those values either. No I am not too pissed off today, fair to middling. I hope i got rid of that, rape is part of culture of the modern world, from business to politics all aspects of modern human life. Maybe of course in Northern California you have a community specific problem with stangers in the shadows, the solution is to employ them as one of the mercenaries sent to help the people of iraq, they can get paid and become heroes for doing the same thing. I can try to change myself, and I am never going to learn how to spell buearocrat properly, and I can speak the truth to those in authority. My name is Desie. And sister you have got to be lost, you really don't belong here. An observation, but you probably already worked that one out a long time ago. or not?

2:12 AM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger Lady M said...

It is a sad thing, but all we can do is educate people that our lives, our bodies, our souls are our own.

We - all people - do not deserve to be hurt, raped or treated badly. We are humans and we deserve love, kindness and good things.

Some day - the world will right itself.

Thank you for stopping by - and I wish you luck with your new Geo.


Lady M

7:25 AM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger a dracul said...

well if that's all you got, that's all you got, but if you had time to say, what's a Geo? First degree was in classics, but i tried wikipedia and an on-line ghetto dictionary, I find it hard to keep up, could have been a throw-away line so real need to explain but if you don ask you don get,

guess there's no more to figure out, mashallah with your path also sister, it's not for me.

12:36 PM, April 14, 2006  

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