March 8, 2011
Young Women United (YWU) is a Third Wave grant partner organization working to end violence against women with a two-fold campaign: calling attention to the deaths of young women in their community in New Mexico, and holding the media and public officials accountable for the ways these women’s lives and power are erased, even in death. In the wake of the mass shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford‘s town hall in Arizona, YWU’s director Adriann Barboa shares a powerful remembrance and vision for “an America to be as good as these women needed it to be:”
Two years ago today, in a story that shook me to my core, a woman walking her dog found a femur in the desert. She alerted the police, who began a three-month dig, covering a vast area of the mesa near my home. The police found the bodies of 11 women, one of whom was four months pregnant. Many of the women were close to my age and grew up here like me. Were brown like me. Had struggled here, like me.
But when these women were found dead, President Obama did not come to town. There was no jam-packed memorial to mourn their lives cut short. What we had instead were devastated families whose greatest fear had been realized when their daughters’ remains were discovered on the mesa.
As the story unfolded, terrible sounds echoed in my ears. Not the sounds of shovels in the desert, but the sound of these lives being erased. Not only through death, but through the official description of the events. The women were not brave heroes who faced histories of poverty, abuse and trauma with the best tools they could find. They were “addicts.” And because they used drugs, many earned money the best way they could—by selling sex. And so they were “prostitutes.” The authorities thought the story could begin and end there: bodies found, case closed. 11 more prostitutes dead. Done.
Written by: Melissa Gira Grant