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The horror of being one in four

native_american_rose_by_lotuselysse

I woke up this morning with tears in my eyes. I had a dream about her and upon waking couldn’t shake the memory of it. Now sitting down to write this, I feel a chill run down my spine. I have personally survived horrors I previously could never have imagined. But those horrors pale in comparison to what a girl I once knew survived – and continues to survive every day to this very day and as long as she will live. In the interest of respecting her privacy, I will call her Rose.

Rose is a young and beautiful woman. And like many women young and beautiful, she is also vulnerable – but her more than most. When I first met her, she was living on the streets of a Midwest metropolitan area. As far as I know, she is still homeless. But in all honesty, I don’t know if she is still alive.

Life had been cruel to her and that was evident to me simply by observing her current state of being. But as we got to know each other, she shared more about her story. She grew up in a close-knit community that was sadly no stranger to poverty and all its trappings; rickety housing not fit for humans, neglect and abuse, disease, mental illness, and substance abuse. From the start, that was all she knew. Her family, her neighbors, her friends – they were immersed in it with no plausible means of escape or hope of something better.

I cannot imagine that kind of despair. I use the word “despair” because I am privileged to have known a better way of life. But her for her, it was not despair. For herself and her community, this was simply everyday life.

Her grandmother was her protector. Rose never used that word herself, but I found it to be applicable by the way she spoke of her grandmother. She was the one that would tell Rose to “keep out of trouble.” What grandma may have specifically meant by that, I could not guess. But Rose told me that when she had difficulty or troubles weighing on her heart, her grandmother is where she went for support and solace.

Then her grandmother died. Rose lost her protector. She lost her solace. Essentially, she lost her home. Most certainly, she lost her emotional home. Being left with no reason to stay, she left her community and came to the big city and joined its population of the chronically homeless.

I cannot recall when she told me she started drinking, but I remember it being young – shockingly young to someone like me, maybe only eight or nine years of age. That would explain how at the age of twenty-six she could walk around with a blood alcohol level of 0.32 and still carry on a conversation. I would probably be dead with a BAC of 0.32 – and think most of us would be. Some people dismiss her as an incurable drunkard, but I know too much of her story to be so cold.

Our paths crossed while I was working in the security department of a local hospital. Rose was a regular in the emergency room and well-known by the staff for causing trouble. This time she was brought in by ambulance because she had passed out on the railroad tracks – not near the railroad tracks – ON the railroad tracks. She rarely drinks alone and whomever had been with her just left her there either because they were too drunk themselves to help or too callous to care. She could have died from intoxication, the elements, or a train. Fortunately, she was found before anything like that happened.

I was new to the department at the time, but what my colleagues had to say about Rose was upsetting to say the least. They made the most awful jokes at her expense. They laughed together about how she was probably raped several times that night, but was too drunk to remember it. “Can you even call that rape,” asked one security officer in jest. I wish I would have confronted them in the moment, but I was stunned and too appalled to say anything.

What makes that memory so horrifying is these were security officers who held the responsibility of protecting the safety of staff and patients on the hospital grounds. Despite it being their duty, they weren’t protecting Rose. Many of these men were using this job as a stepping stone to become sworn law enforcement officers – and this was the attitude they had towards an impoverished young woman who had been violated more times than she could bear to remember. They objectified her. They stereotyped her. They ignored her humanity. They didn’t know her story and didn’t care. They failed to ascribe to her an ounce of human dignity.

And these men were so bold as to make these jokes in front of me – a new member to the department and a woman to boot. In a world where one in four women experience domestic violence, one would hope that these officers would have at least enough common sense to reign in their “jokes” around a female colleague.

But they didn’t. They probably still don’t. And some of them have likely gone on to become sworn police officers in my community. I have worked with enough other police, deputies, and officers to know that men like that are in the minority. But as the saying goes, a few bad apples can ruin the whole bushel.

***

I did reach out to “Rose” about six weeks ago to get her opinion and permission to tell her story, but unfortunately she has not yet replied. Due to the struggles of women (and especially Native American women) during this tumultuous time, I feel this is an important story to tell. I hope I have honored Rose’s story and that I hear from her soon.

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  1. Being a “bystander” of abuse | Just One Take

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