My sexual assault survival students have few, if any, strong female role models from which they can draw strength and direction to make necessary life changes.
These female characters offer that direction.
Barkley Sound Secrets
Rebecca, Penelope and Gabriela were successful in meeting a number of teens in the park around 10 with coffee, tea and carrot muffins from The Toast. The latter was Gabriela’s idea, knowing from experience the girls were perpetually hungry, usually not taking advantage of the food service available for the homeless for fear of being harassed.
The girls, probably fifteen in total, knew Gomez and responded with a respectful nod, but they were leery of Penelope and Rebecca who, even in their kickaround clothes had the air of law enforcement or authority.
The girls all appeared healthy, albeit disheveled with hair that hadn’t seen a brush in some time and clothes which had seen better days. They all appeared to be around fourteen to sixteen years old and of various ethnic heritage.
Gabriela introduced them to Rebecca and Penelope. The women responded by extending an arm to shake hands. Most of the girls reciprocated while others stood back with arms folded across their chests, staring, challenging.
Gomez, quickly assessing the mood, took the lead and explained the project and its objectives. All the girls had seen the motel renovations to which Gabriela referred. The teen’s reaction was a collective sigh, all having heard plans for homeless housing before which never materialized.
“I appreciate your skepticism,” offered Gomez, “as I too have seen the broken promises over the years. I guarantee this project is going through with Rebecca and Penelope spearheading the effort. The old motel will be called Refugio Seguro and it will be opening soon. Each participant will have her own furnished room and private bathroom. There is a dining room where three, well- prepared meals will be offered in addition to a tea-time in the afternoon after school.”
Gomez paused to gauge the effect of the last comment and it took only a second for a reply, “Yeah, right, we are going back to school! Why? So the city or county can swoop in and put us in the system? No way. Not for me.”
Several other girls echoed their fear of social services and rightly so thought Gabriela, so she replied, “I get it, but come on girls, you all have been coming to the women’s center for a long time and you have never met anyone from social services and we have never contacted them. There is no reason for you to distrust me, my staff or the center.”
“It’s not you we distrust Ms. Gomez, it’s them two,” haughtily replied one teen, pointing an accusatory finger at Pen and Rebecca. “What are you two doin’ here anyway? What’s in this for you? You sure as hell ain’t never been homeless or wondering if you will make it through the day without being assaulted.”
Rebecca was sitting on a picnic bench with her feet up on the seat, leaning forward with her arms on her thighs. She said quietly, “You are right. Neither one of us have been homeless or kicked out of the family home when we were teens but that doesn’t mean our hearts don’t go out to you seeing you live this way. We have the means and influence to help make life better for you.
“And yes, we know what it is like starting each day worried that some guy is going to grab your butt, make a sexist slur, leer at you or outright attack you for being female. When I was your age a guy grabbed my butt in the hallway. I hit him so hard, he fell down unconscious. It never happened again. I know what you are going through, but I didn’t have to live with it 24/7.”
Several girls screamed and said, “No frickin’ way. Really? You hit a guy that hard? How did it feel to do that? Did you get kicked out of school?”
Now the entire group was interested in the strangers, so Rebecca capitalized on their enthusiasm by continuing, “It felt empowering. The bullies, both girls and boys, stood back fearful they would be next. I was suspended for a week and for the rest of my high school years no guy would date me and none of the girls liked me. When I got home after the incident, my folks already knew, met me at the front door grinning and gave me a hug. My Mom told me how proud of me she was for standing up against sexism and assault. My Dad hugged me too then told me to clean out the paddock.”
One girl asked inquisitively, “That is so cool. What is a paddock?”
The other girls laughed as Rebecca answered, “It is a fenced area at a ranch where horses are kept between being out in pasture and in the barn for the night.
“That incident wasn’t the last of the sexual harassment. I have received it for decades as have millions of other women, but I never accepted it and I fought back. In most cases I won the respect of my male coworkers but some remained my adversaries. I was okay with either, but it always annoyed me, and it does to this day, that women and teens have to deal with this behavior.
“Penelope and I want to help you with a leg up at school and in life. The school counselor is on board as is the city mayor, council members and police chief. Any problems you have at school or elsewhere will be addressed immediately. We want to teach you skills that will give you confidence to avoid or eliminate a physical encounter with boys and men.”
One girl interrupted asking, “What do you mean by physical skills and eliminating a threat?”
“We are martial artists and can teach you.”
“Really? You’re not just bullshitting us, are you?”
Dr. Penelope Barker
Penelope joined the conversation saying, “Absolutely not. Let me tell you this. When Rebecca and I were dating, we were staying at a hotel and were by the pool. Three drunks came by and were hassling us and wouldn’t leave. One grabbed Rebecca and she broke his arm. One of the others grabbed her as well and she flipped him and broke his shoulder.”
“Oh, come on. You did that Rebecca? No shit? And you can teach us to do that as well? That would be so cool to be able to defend ourselves and not be afraid all the time? Penelope, you do this stuff too?”
“I do. Rebecca taught me and she is a great instructor. That is just one of the things we want to offer you. We want to get you outfitted with new clothes and when you move into Refugio Seguro you can decorate your rooms anyway you want.”
“Clothes? What the fuck? Oh, sorry,” said one of the girls putting her hand over her mouth. “I mean, what the heck? What we have on is what we own. I can’t believe this is happening. There has to be a ‘but’ here somewhere. What do you want from us?”
Rebecca responded with, “Nothing. When you finish high school, university or technical school, there won’t be any cost. You could even go to Santa Barbara City College or UCSB and live at Refugio Seguro, Gabriela and her staff have developed the plan and can’t see any downside.”
Just as Gabriela was going to join the conversation, a vehicle approached, and all heads turned to see the brightly colored Girl Power food truck pull up beside them.
Gomez said with a swoop of her arm, “Girls, may we introduce you to the most delicious food in Santa Barbara. Please, tell Girl Power your desires and take some for later too, if you like.
The teenagers approached the truck with considerable trepidation. They had no money and had never been able to purchase food like this before. As they got closer the vehicle’s side panel opened and they were greeted by a 40-something woman with a LA Angels t-shirt and baseball hat on backwards saying, “Good morning girls, or I guess it is afternoon now. What can I make for you today?”
Several girls had the veggie wrap; a spinach tortilla with cucumber, avocado, pickled red cabbage, goat cheese and arugula. They also ordered Sista smoothies with dark chocolate, homemade peanut butter and almond milk. Girl Power choices were a cornucopia of delicacies including a veggie lasagna, stir fry, quinoa salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and a sunflower and almond dressing, veggie pizza and mac & cheese.
The women ordered as well and joined the girls around the picnic tables and continued the conversation with Gabriela saying, “We would like to see you girls off the streets as soon as you are interested. We have cots arranged in the women’s center with Girl Power delivering meals every day until your new home is ready.
“Some of you may be thinking this all sounds like a cult and the sermons will start but that is not the case. If you think of the failed proposals of the past, this is a version of apartments for homeless folks with a twist. We not only want you off the streets, but we want you to be happy, productive citizens and succeed in life. No sermons.
“This is strictly voluntary on your part and you can leave any time you want, but of course we hope you will stay, enjoy your new home, your education and lifestyle and then move on when you are ready.”
One girl tried talking with her mouth full and put her arm up to reserve her speaking spot, like a talking stick. Swallowing, she asked, “There have to be rules. What are they? And also, who is paying for all of this?”
“Excellent questions,” offered Penelope. “No drugs, no alcohol, no males. The main door will be locked with a guard 24/7 with CTV cameras in the halls and outside for your safety, but you can come and go at your leisure. You will have your own bus to ride to and from school, cell phones - not smartphones - but if you have one, we will pay the service fee. Each of you will have a personal laptop and Wi-Fi. You’ll each have a laundry bag with your name on it. The cleaners will pick up and deliver several times a week.
“As far as who is paying for all of this, it is primarily Rebecca, me and a lot of very successful people who have wanted to see this develop but didn’t know how. Other than Gabriela and the women’s center, there are no government agencies involved.
“Before you ask, we are retired; Rebecca from government and me as a veterinarian.”
Penelope was surprised that none of the girls had a question about their former jobs, money or rules, so she continued, “I almost forgot, if you want to get started today, Gabriela will set you up with a cot at the center and you can order clothes online from local stores and they will deliver. If you want to go to Nordstrom or another department store, that’s doable too. We both know,” she pointed to Rebecca then back to herself,” about the fun of trying on clothes.
“Por eso, este lugar de la calle se llama Refugio Seguro?” asked one of the girls.
Gabriela responded with, “Sí. Refugio Seguro le brinda un refugio seguro para que sus años de adolescencia crezcan, aprendan y se conviertan en mujeres saludables y felices. (Yes. Safe Haven, is providing you a secure sanctuary for your teen years to enable you to grow, learn and develop into healthy and happy women).
As the women prepared to leave, Gabriela said, “Thank you for your time and conversation. We look forward to more of both and that you will join us today at the center.”
Rebecca slid off the picnic bench and reiterated Gabriela’s comment, gave a little wave and started to walk away with Penelope when one of the girls walked up, gave each of them a hug and said, “I’m going with. Anything has to be better than the hell I am going through now.”
Another girl walked up to their opposite side and said, “So Rebecca, when are you entering the UFC?” referring to the Ultimate Fighting Championship/Mixed Martial Arts/MMA, the first of which was won by Brazilian Jiu-jitsu martial artist Royce Gracie in 1993.
Pen, Rebecca and Gabriela were so taken aback by the off-handed comment, they started to laugh with the girls joining in. Soon all the teens were laughing at the humor.
They walked out of the park as the food truck closed down and prepared to head to their next client. Left behind were two teens, one of whom was the most skeptical of the group sitting on a picnic bench, her body language difficult to read; sullen, angry, perhaps rejected?
Gabriela took one last glance back before they turned the corner and walked back to her office with Rebecca and Penelope.
“You know what? Bitches get stuff done.”
“Every girl, no matter where she lives, deserves the opportunity to develop the promise inside of her.”
“I close the door to the past, open the door to the future, take a deep breath, step on through and start a new chapter in my life.”
Barkley Sound Secrets draws the RCMP and Secret Service closer to tracking the California cartel’s cocaine expansion into Canada. RCMP Sgt. Karen Winthrop, Kimberly Breyman, and Tom Hortonn are challenged to locate the Vancouver suspects financing the cocaine shipments. They are aided by retired Members, CST Roy Davidson, CST Rick Drought & current Member Inspector Lorne Wood.
Their investigation is aided by California detectives, Elise Pelini, retired Secret Service agents Rebecca Simpson, Elisabeth Peltowski, Jackson Pennington, Jason Spencer and Detective Dr. Penelope Barker.