Two Very Different Experiences

From “Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future” by Patty Krawec – Broadleaf Books

Before I studied social work, I worked for a sexual assault center. In the United States and Canada, victims of sexual assault are seen by a specially trained nurse, often in a separate suite of rooms where they receive medical care and can speak with police if they wish. My role was to go to the hospital and provide support while the medical treatment and collection of evidence was completed.

One weekend, the police brought in a young white woman who was intoxicated. Officers explained that they had found her wandering a downtown street, and since she looked disheveled, they wanted to be sure she was okay.  She insisted that she had not been assaulted, that she had been out drinking with friends who ditched her and she wanted to go home.  The police officers left, and we continued to speak with her about the evening. She maintained that there had been no sex, consensual or othrwise, and she wanted to go home. We gave her information on sexual assault and called her a cab.

A few days later, another young woman, who was Native, called the center wanting to talk to a counselor. She had been sexually assaulted after a night of drinking, and when police found her, they picked her up for being drunk and disorderly and held her in custody overnight. She had been distraught when they found her, disheveled and crying, and they must have attributed this to her intoxication. When she was released the following day, she went home. By the time she contacted the center about the assault, several days had passed. I don’t know why she didn’t call the 24/7 crisis line, but I do know that sometimes when we experience a trauma, we focus on our immediate need for safety and comfort, and that’s what she did. She showered, bathed and washed her clothes. Any evidence that might have been collected was long gone. We provided her with counseling and support, which was all she was asking for. She was not interested in reporting the assault to the police.

What accounted for these two very different experiences? Was it just different police officers with different experiences? Or was it because the first young woman was white, and the second was Native? Did the police see a Native woman and assume that she was just drunk and sexually available anyway? We are all haunted by this question: When we are assaulted, is it just because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is it because we are Native? Both?

When we are assaulted.