Debby’s Story – by Heidi Miller
God’s Answer to an Abused Black Woman’s Prayer
I received a phone call at five in the morning, a request for a rape crisis volunteer at the county hospital. I was doing the midnight to six shift for the sexual abuse hotline, and had handled several calls during the night, but this was the first one for a hospital volunteer. I had also been sorting through a bunch of my personal papers in between calls, and to my dismay I discovered I had lost the phone list of the volunteers to call to send out on the visit.
I looked frantically through the papers, feeling an unusually strong sense of urgency. I racked my brain for someone I could call, and meanwhile woke up my husband and oldest daughter to help look for the phone list, all to no avail. At five thirty a.m. I looked at my husband and said “I’m going to have to go out on this one myself, we have a one hour commitment time for the volunteer to go out to the hospital, even if I got a hold of someone else they would not have enough time.” I got ready and at five forty five left the house, knowing that the phone shift would turn over at six and the next volunteer would take over.
I drove as fast as I could to the County Hospital, parked my van and walked in, announcing to the first person who’s attention I caught that I was the rape crisis volunteer. A young black intern came up to me and asked me to follow him. As we walked, he said that he thought he had been able to establish some rapport with the client, and mentioned that he was Christian. We walked into the room and he introduced me to Debby and left.
She was a thirty eight year old black woman, shabbily dressed and looking frightened. She told me that she was a prostitute, and that when she tried to get out of the business that her pimp had arranged for her to be gang raped and had threatened her life. She told me that she had prayed to God about what to do and that God told her if she reported the rape and went to the county hospital that someone would give her forty dollars so that she could buy a bus ticket and get out of town.
She said that she had told the white police officer about it and that he told her no one would pay her forty dollars, in fact no one would even pay her twenty dollars. Debby said he told her she was nothing but a filthy stinking whore. Then he told her he would pay her twenty dollars if she —- — —-. (An oral sex act). She told him that she was going to report him for what he was saying and he replied, “I wear a badge bitch. No one is going to believe you.” He also told her that she would be out on the streets by that night, and he would be able to get her then. Then Debby reported that when they were in the hospital room she asked him if he was going to repeat those things in front of the rape crisis volunteer, and said the volunteer would be arriving soon. The police officer then left shortly after she said that. I asked her if she had his badge number and name, and she showed me that she had written them down. I told her that I believed her, and would report him. Debby said she was afraid of him. She showed me a list of the shelters that the hospital social worker had called, and told me there was no room available anywhere. Then I asked her if there was anything else she needed to tell me.
“Well, I’m a murderess,” she said.
“How’s that?” I queried?
“Well when I was five years old my daddy raped me. And he kept doing it and when I tried to tell my momma about it, she either said I was lying or blamed me for causing trouble. Our family was real religious, we got several ministers in it. Anyway when I was ten and a half I put poison in my daddy’s food, and he died. The authorities investigated and declined to press charges, by my momma said I was a murderess and was going to go to hell.”
“Sounds like justifiable homicide to me” I observed.
“My momma said it was my fault and I would burn in hell.”
“Your mom was wrong.” I stated.
Debby looked at me for a moment with a frown on her face, then smiled and said, My grandma always said it wasn’t my fault. She is a retired minister up in Flagstaff. My two kids are living with her.”
I then asked her if there was anything else she needed to talk about.
Do you know about Father Ritter? she asked.
Yes, I know about Father Ritter, I said. And I really did know about Father Ritter. I had read his book, “Sometimes God has a kid’s face”, telling the story about how he started Covenant House, shelters for runaway teens. I also had read the book about his downfall, he had been removed from his position for sexually abusing teens.
“Well, Debby said, I believe in forgiveness and all that, and I think he was sick and needed help. I think they could have kept him in his position and just gotten him help. But when I was a teenager and I ran away from home I spent some time at Covenant House and he had sex with me.”
I told her that I believed in the principle of forgiveness too, but that he did need to be removed from his position, that what he had done was a violation of trust and that was sexual abuse, and that any kids that were left around him would have been in danger of being abused.
“Well I don’t understand about God and how all this is fair,” Debby said. She then told me how once she was going to get out of the prostitution business before and she started going to a church, and she thought the minister was really nice and the people too. Then she found out that the minister had gone downtown and bought the services of one of her friends and had sex with her in his car, and she quit going out to church. She told me about other religious men who frequented prostitutes, and the business men and even the police, all the pillars of the community. Meanwhile, the prostitutes got treated like scum of the earth and looked down on. She showed me a big gouge in her thigh where she said a police officer had shot her, and other scars from her pimp. And she wanted to know where was a just God in all this.
I looked at her and said, “You know what the scripture says. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will say unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity. *see notes
I told her that I thought those men who engaged in sexual abuse and assault, those men that used prostitutes and despised them, definitely were guilty of iniquity in my opinion, and that there was probably going to be a lot of surprises come judgment day. I reminded her that the Savior said “in as much as ye so it unto the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto me, so that meant that the treatment she had received was also done to the Savior. I also pointed out that the Savior said whosoever offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better that a millstone were hanged around his neck and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea. In another place He said it would be better for him if he had never been born. I told her I though one of the worse offenses against a child had to be sexual assault, and it was even worse when the man doing it violated a sacred trust as her father.
She then seemed to change the subject and started talking about herself, how she had tried to help people out, had given someone food or a place to stay, and then I realized she was concerned about how God would view her.
I told her that loving others and loving God was the acid test come judgment day according to the Savior. That when he divided the sheep from the goats, it was what you had done to others that mattered, it showed where your heart was, and from what she was telling me, it sounded like she was in with the sheep.
She looked at me in astonishment and exclaimed, but I’m a prostitute!
I replied, show me anywhere in the New Testament where the Savior is critical of a prostitute.
She sat and thought and then said, “Well I remember about the woman caught in adultery, but you’re right, he wasn’t critical of her. In fact he told the people gathered that he that was without sin should cast the first stone.”
“Not only that but after they all left he told her” neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” He wasn’t critical of her. Who was he critical of?” I asked her.
“Well, I don’t know,” Debby replied.
“ He was critical of the scribes and Pharisees, the Saducees, the religious leaders of the day and the rich men of power that were hypocrites. He said that they were like whited sepulchers, outwardly appearing righteous, and inside full of iniquity.”
It was about then that a blonde nurse came in asking if we were ready to start the forensic exam. She had Debby lay down on the table, and taking a comb began yanking it through her pubic hair.
“Ow, Ow, that hurts,” Debby cried out. I looked at the nurse and asked if Debby could comb the pubic hairs out herself. The nurse replied that she was the one that would have to be a witness on the witness stand. I pointed out that whether she combed it herself or watched someone do it, she qualified as a witness. The nurse handed the comb to Debby who carefully and gently began combing out a few hairs at a time. The nurse impatiently grabbed the comb back and stuffing the few hairs into an evidence envelope stated, “Well, if there isn’t enough evidence here it’s not my fault.” The nurse then took a pair of scissors and pulling on Debby’s pubic hair began cutting a hank off. Sensing that Debby was reaching her limits, I asked the nurse if I could talk to her outside for a minute. Debby did not want me to leave her alone at all, and I reassured her I would be coming back, look I am leaving my purse and my keys and I promise I will be back in just a minute. The nurse and I went out into the hall and I told the nurse that I thought we needed to be careful in how we treated this client, because I thought she was MPD. *(see notes.) “What’s that?” the nurse wanted to know. “Multiple personality disorder” I replied. Rolling her eyes the nurse commented “Looney Toons” and walked off.
I walked down the hall and talked to a doctor. He told me he didn’t see much point in finishing the forensic exam as the case would never go to court anyway. She had been living with the guy for and been beaten up by him for several years, and the police officer had already left.
I thought to myself, yeah she was what they call a bad victim, black, a prostitute, and the pimp she was living with was one of her assailants. I could just picture how that would go over in court. I told the doctor I understood what he was saying, and quickly reviewing the situation came to a decision. I walked back into the hospital room where Debby was waiting and said to her. “Look, if you want to prosecute this case you’re going to have to go through a pelvic exam and these other procedures and it may not go to court anyway. “you can stay here or you can go home, which do you want it to be?
Debby had had enough of hospital care, she said “I want to go home”. I walked back out to the doctor and said that she didn’t want to press charges and she wanted to leave. The doctor said she would have to sign herself out and went with me to ask Debby if the hospital could at least address her medical needs. Debby was having no more of the hospital by this point, she said she would see a doctor later that day. The doctor hurriedly got the paperwork while she dressed and she signed herself out. We went out to my van and started driving back to my house via the freeway.
On a part of the freeway that had no grass shoulder area I noticed a truck that was disabled and a man trying to fix it. Farther down the road was a lady with two little boys waling along the freeway. To top it off, each little boy was carrying a puppy in his arms. I sighed inwardly and pulled over, it really wasn’t safe for them to be walking along the freeway like that. I asked the mother if I could give them a ride somewhere. She looked at me and she looked at my passenger and she hesitated. Debby began telling her that it was safe for her to get a ride with me and we would help her out, and then shifting into a childlike personality, told her in all sincerity that I was her momma, and that we would take care of her problem, and she and her kids could ride with her momma and her to where they needed to go.
By this time I had been up all night, and it was around nine thirty in the morning and I was just functioning on a basic level. I looked at the woman and asked if she wanted a ride or not, and when she said no, I then asked her if there was someone I could call that could help her ( this was BCP, before cell phones) and she gave me a phone number and we drove off. It did not dawn on me until much later what it must have looked like to the mother standing on the side of the road. Here is a thirty six year old white woman driving a van with a thirty eight year old black woman passenger that is claiming in a childlike voice that this was her momma. No wonder the woman declined the ride.
Debby was then commenting that she was thirsty and could we stop at a Circle K and get a soda. I explained to her there was a good cheap place to get sodas a block from my home, and we could stop there. We pulled up in front of the M&M market and I took a dollar out of my purse and gave it to her, and we went in and both got sodas and she paid for them. I said hi to the clerk that I knew and then we went to my house.
I introduced Debby to my kids. She was especially interested in my half black granddaughter, exclaiming how cute she was.
Debby wanted to take a bath so I got a bottle of Irish Spring liquid soap and gave it to her and while she took her bath I called the number and told the person on the other line about the lady and her two boys that needed a ride. When Debby came out of the bathroom she was commenting how good it felt to be clean and I noticed that she had used the whole bottle of Irish Spring soap. I had also noticed that her shoes were basically worthless so I brought out a pair of mine and she tried them on and they fit. She asked if I had some clothes that she could have so that she had something decent to go home in so I brought her into my bedroom and gave her some underwear and helped her pick out a shirt and jeans. Looking at the closet of clothes she commented that I must be rich, but I explained to her that I bought most of them at thrift stores and some of them had been given to me. I had only bought a very few things new at a regular store, I had to be careful with my money. She then commented that it was nice people liked me and gave me clothes. She didn’t particularly like my taste in clothes and my oldest daughter let her have an outfit from her closet to change in to that was much more to her taste.
I told her it was time to go to the bus stop. Her face crumpling like a child’s, she picked up my wallet and with tears in her eyes pointed out that I had no money in it. I explained to her that I needed to go to the bank, and we put her newly acquired clothes in a bag. I asked her if he wanted her old clothes and she said no, she wanted to start a new life and leave the old clothes behind.
As we were driving away she commented that my younger daughter had been caught trying to sneak something out of my older daughter’s room and that if you steal you should have your fingers cut off. I told her not in my house, that was way too severe. She told me that was what her momma always said, that if she caught Debby stealing she would cut off her fingers.
As we drove out of my neighborhood Debby commented on the numerous churches. I said yes, there were a lot of churches around. She asked if I went to one of them, and I said yes and then smiled and changed the subject, I didn’t think she should choose her church based on where I went.
We went to the bank and then stopped at McDonalds. I bought her a sandwich and drink and a pop for me. As she was eating her sandwich she looked over at me and asked me if I was hungry and wanted the rest of her sandwich. I smiled and said no and she finished wolfing the rest down.
On the way to the bus stop she confirmed my decision to ask the nurse to leave during the forensic exam. She said that she had been ready to pull the nurses pants down and see how she liked having her hair pulled out with that comb. Or she thought of decking the nurse. I told her I agreed that the nurse shouldn’t treat people that way, but I was glad she had not hit her. I took her to the bus stop and gave her the two twenties and as she started to walk away I asked her if I could make two requests. She turned back to me with some apprehension in her eyes until I told her that the first request was that she promise to take good care of herself, and the second request was permission to tell her story. She hugged me and with tears running down her face said she would take care of herself and that if it would help anyone then she would be glad to have me tell her story.
I went home and got a phone call asking me if I could go do a hospital visit. I said that I had just come from doing one and could not go out again as I had been up all night doing the hotline. I also said that I needed to be taken off the hospital visits until after I talked to the supervisor because I had violated several agency policies. I had transported a client, I had personal contact with her after the hospital visit, in fact I had taken her home with me and given her money. Until the matter was resolved with the supervisor I felt I should not make any more visits. The caller thanked me and hung up. When I did talk to the supervisor she just showed me another possible resource to send people to for shelter and told me not to do it again, to call her if there was a situation like that.
I don’t know if Debby followed through and went to her grandmother’s and her kids and turned her life around. I remember reading the Cross and the Switchblade and how David Wilkerson discovered that one encounter rarely was enough to help someone turn their life around. Most people needed follow up support and help and even then some don’t make it. I hope Debby did go to her grandmother and kids and got the help she needed. To me, even if she didn’t I would still do the same things over again.
I think about the fact that normally I would not do a hospital call if I was on the hotline shift, except I could not find the phone list until I got home after it was all over, and then it was easily found. I think of the fact that probably no other volunteer would have known about father Ritter or done the research on Christian religious issues and sexual abuse. I think of the fact that probably no other volunteer would decide that the health and wellbeing of the clients super ceded agency policy and then act upon that decision. I think of the fact that someone did come and give her the forty dollars in answer to her prayer. I think of how much faith she had to have, to persist in telling her story, to the white police officer, the hospital social worker, the young black intern, and finally me. And it humbles me to think that God may have chosen me to answer her prayer. I think of the words of the Savior when he said:
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked and ye clothed me, I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we a stranger, and took thee in, or naked and clothed thee>
Or when saw we thee sick or in prison and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I read these words, and I think of Debby, and I weep.