There's a movie out now about our women, though the word "prostitute" is never used. It tells the story of a girl named Precious whose father rapes her from the time she is three until she is sixteen. I call her prostituted, and thus, one of "ours," because her mother knows about the rape and allows it. She lets her husband have sex with their child in exchange for his remaining in the marriage. And then, unsurprisingly, she hates her daughter for being "loved more" than she is.
Turned into a sexual object by the most dominant person in the home, while the rest of the family both benefits from her abuse and despises her for it, Precious acted out on the big screen what we at YANA see in the faces and lives of our clients everyday. But for me, the most telling part of the movie is not what happens to Precious, but what she dreams could happen. Imagine a girl whose parents rape her, beat her, call her an animal and tell her she's too stupid to learn anything. You might imagine that going inside her mind would be like entering a sort of macabre fun house of twisted images, revenge fantasies, black despair. Instead, Precious holds on to the same hopes almost all of us have. She wants to be pretty. She wants to be loved. She wants to be a good mother. She wants a happy family. She wants to achieve.
I watched Precious fantasize her life on screen, and I thought of the YANA women every step of the way. I thought of the women who gathered around Liz and Tina, praising them when they dressed up in donated clothes and how all them understood the importance of that moment of beauty. I thought of the shy smiles on the women's faces when they tell me they have a new boyfriend -- a great guy, someone who doesn't use. I thought of a woman who blinked back tears when her friend told the rest of us that she was a caring mother. I thought of the day I took Janet to the hospital to see her baby once more before the social worker took him away. Most of the time, Janet watched while I held her little boy, and afterward she told the staff all about how I talked to him and rocked him in my arms. Janet's own family began raping her when she was three. They tried to keep her away from the funeral when her father died. Janet called me her mother, and I think she longed for her child to be held by a loving grandmother, in exactly the same way that Precious did. Precious took pride in her steadily improving test scores. Sheri was overwhelmed with pride when she got a diploma from the "Phenomenal Woman" course offered by the health department through YANA.
Precious is a hit movie. It's obviously gunning for some academy awards. I left the theater thinking that maybe people do want to know about "our women." Maybe they can believe how brutal their lives are. Maybe they want to know how prosaic, how deeply held, how enduring their dreams are.