COLUMNS

The Streets - May 2009


a column by Paulette Lewis

 

I can’t just leave. I don’t know how to do that. Even if I am going to another room I always ask permission first.”

This was just one of the many disturbing conversations I’ve had with a victim of incest and rape that was still being victimized in her own home at the age of 18-years old.

By now, I know that God brings people to me in a variety of unusual ways in order for me to help them; so when I got a text message from someone that needed help with a situation but was afraid to say too much, even their names, it was nothing new. However, the depth of abuse that was revealed to me in the days and weeks to follow was new and shocking.

For over 10 years this particular young woman was raped and sexually abused by one relative. After another relative encountered the abuse, this relative abused her as well, as opposed to attempting to halt it.

When she told her mother at age 11 about the abuse and received little to no satisfactory help, she kept quiet. But the first relative didn’t stop the abuse. In fact, it intensified. From then on, she kept quiet and endured more years of pain and suffering alone.

Finally, when she was 16, she confided in the family’s pastor and his wife about the abuse and they approached her parents and the first relative. The abuse issues were soon distanced as her life went on, although her proximity to the abusive relative prompted the young woman to experience drastic coping mechanisms such as cutting and anorexia.

The young woman is technically an adult now, so I don’t have to navigate through the tangled web of child protective services and legal duct tape. On the other hand, it has become clear that the mental health system servicing adults is in desperate need of restructuring and better avenues of accessibility.

She contacted my organization, Urban Success, about the abuse and a desire to be free of it. She wanted to be freed of that kind of existence. The idea of Urban Success easily intervening in helping her transition out of her house was seemingly lost. It would be a very challenging undertaking.

Almost immediately after she contacted me, we created a safety plan. She had been home schooled her entire life and had not left her house very often. My team reviewed the plan daily to make sure we were both clear on what to do in case of an emergency. Several times she tried to leave a bag packed by the window containing her identification and other important documents, clothes, money and a personal security item. However, when her parents would find and question her about it, they would promptly unpack it. They became suspicious.

Most of my assistance had to be via cell phone texting and I was merely trying to build her up mentally and emotionally to become strong enough to make the transition. I provided as much prayer and encouragement as I could during times I knew she was hurting and struggling. She slowly began to trust me and became more confident and stronger every day. She could hardly make any of the simple every day decisions others take for granted and don’t even think about. For years she had been torn down and told she was worthless and weak. She believed these lies until I started telling her otherwise. I acknowledged every positive thing that she told me about and praised her for finding me on the internet and for her many talents and skills. This laid an important foundation of confidence.

Every plan we made and every attempt to transition her out was blocked in some way. If I was able to meet with her briefly, I always brought one big guy from my team with me (preparing her ahead of time) because I wanted her to see that not all men would inflict hurt. The first time I introduced a team member to her, she saw us coming down the hallway and froze in her tracks. She backed up against the wall. I noticed but ignored it and gave her a quick hug. My friend said hi and stayed a nice distance from her. We spoke for only a few minutes.

For awhile, I had no contact with her. But, eventually, after another series of frustrating obstacles and only by the grace of God, we were able to continue talking, planning an “out date” for us to relocate her, and, finally, the ability to do so. She did tell her family. Her parents told her that they couldn’t keep her at home since she was 18. Her father asked her to have me call him and arrange a time to bring her to my house. (That’s not how my organization works.) I spoke to the father and arranged a meeting place and agreed to meet them at 5:30 p.m. By 6:00 p.m. I knew things had changed. I kept calling but only getting the answering machine. I drove by the house. Everybody appeared to be home. I continued calling. Nothing.

Finally, two police officers pulled into the parking lot where my team was waiting and I asked them to go check on her. They did and, when they came back, they said she was waiting for her father to come home from work to say goodbye and they would call me in about 15 minutes to let me know if she was still leaving or not. At 8;30 p.m. I asked the same officers to return to the house and make sure she was still o.k. because the call never came. This time my team waited outside the house. The girl was quickly able to sign to me that her parents were taking her to a local hospital and that her psychologist had agreed to put a 72-hour hold on her for her parents. I told her to just walk to me and we would leave for the safe place that was ready for her, but the officers would not let her off the porch. My heart sank. There was nothing I could do about it.   

I felt defeated. My team is very good – very good at assisting victims of domestic violence and abuse and we had never “lost” a client like this before. I asked God, “Why would you bring her this close to freedom and not give it to her? Were all the sleepless nights crying and praying and encouraging her all for nothing? What can I do now?” Then it hit me. She told me where they were taking her before the police shuffled me off of the property and told me not to come back. Fortunately, I have connections there so I started making phone calls. I told my contacts to expect her and that she was not crazy. I told them, however, she was traumatized. My team picked her up at 5:00 in the morning and took her to a secret safe house where she remained for a period of time. [Note: the young woman transitioned to a new living arrangement in summer 2009.]

Thus began the lightning-fast “learning curve” for me regarding assistance for mental health and mental illness. It’s incredibly frustrating and time consuming to sort through the services agencies provide and try to get their help. I had absolutely no luck for weeks in finding a program that this girl “fit” into. She was either too old, didn’t qualify because she was not currently out on the street or didn’t have kids, or bruises, or had too many issues to be addressed.

I called every agency and community program in our city at least twice. I finally got an appointment for her to have an assessment for services. So, in the meantime, we still searched for resources and planned to stay positive.

Recent Past

She enjoyed her new-found freedom and her safe environment. This still included men (the guys that make up my team). She had understood that my men team members are safe for her to be around and will only work to protect, not harm her.

Every day seemed new to her. She was making incredible progress. She learned to do laundry and to cook, make good decisions, maintain her education, and even obtain a job. She was growing into a terrific, fear-free young lady. She was making an amazing transformation and I was honored to be a part of it.

This young girl’s journey is just beginning. She has a lot of work ahead of her before she is completely healed. God himself was revealed so clearly for all to see.

 

“Quite honestly, you never had to do the things you did. You could of just ignored me, or left me at the hospital, but you came back for me. At 5 in the morning you came back. I thought at that moment, when I was sent to the hospital, that no one cared any more. Then when I heard you had called it was the best feeling ever. I felt like someone really cared. Like I really had value.”

For more information on columnist Paulette Lewis’ work, or to schedule her to speak, email her at cincymentor@hotmail.com. Paulette is an innovative gang interventionist.

 

***

Response, 7-6-09: A Brief Update by the Woman (in column above) Assisted by Urban Success