Get me a woman

The incident

A homeless man with an amputated leg. During his stay in the hospital he was constantly training himself with physical exercises, doing push ups. One day he drove himself to my colleague in his wheel chair with the request: “Evike, get me a woman! I want to rape her!”

1. Identities of the actors in the situation

A nurse in her 40s working in a hospital dedicated for homeless patients. She has been doing this job for 3 years now. She is married, with a daughter. She is from a middle class background, her parents are doctors and his brother is a doctor too.

The homeless man is in his 30s, information around his past or social background is unavailable, he was amputated recently. It is probable that he has been homeless for a long time, sleeping rough.

Nothing really brings closer the protagonists except for the fact that they both experience homelessness in a way the majority society does not, and because of this experience they both feel marginalized to some extent.

2. Context of the situation

The nurse does not know the patient very well, they have only scarce contact, but observes him trying to remain in good physical condition despite his amputated leg (he got to the hospital for a different reason), doing physical exercises.

The nurse who the homeless man addresses is the one that regularly takes care of the patient, they have a more intimate relationship. We do not know of her emotional reaction, the narrator did not ask.

The public opinion of homeless people is deteriorating steadily, in some municipalities there are new laws against them.

3. Emotional reaction

The narrator was shocked, she experienced disgust and moral revolt.  She suddenly “hated” the patient for what he said, finding him openly disrespectful towards women in general, and to those who could hear him. The word “violate” evoked violence and aggression. She felt some amount of fear and anger at the same time. Her frustration was only worse because before she had felt some sympathy towards the man. She could not understand how such a demand may be laid down seriously to a health professional, she asked herself if this was provocation or a deliberate attempt to mock them.

4. Representations, values, norms, ideas, prejudice: The frame of references of the person who experienced the shock.

She is an experienced nurse, having seen all kind of things in the homeless hospital. Considers herself as having a great empathy towards her patients, which puts her somehow in opposition with her environment.

Often, she also feels that public opinion identifies easily homeless people and professionals (social workers, health workers) working with them. She knows she has a low status job for this reason but she does not mind, she considers her job somehow as challenging public opinions of homeless people.

Pushed to a situation where she “hates” her patient seems to her as a major threat, a betrayal, a clear cut of an alliance that constitutes her ethics both in work and outside: always defending homeless people in public.

For her, sexual relations should be conceived in loving relationship. She despises both men who go to prostitutes and prostitutes themselves. She believes in equality in relationships and sex based on equal consent.  She militates against gender based violence which is not treated with all the necessary seriousness by politicians that it deserves.

She has a clear image of a nurse as a helper but she had never faced such an openly sexist demand.  She could not decide if the man was deliberately provoking her and her colleague.  She felt that the patient openly and willingly disregarded them as professionals and as women at the same time.

5. What image emerges from the analysis of point 4 for the other group (neutral slightly negative, very negative, "stigmatized", positive, very positive, real, unreal) etc?

Very negative view: all of a sudden, she feels all prejudices against homeless people are justified. She has no empathy for the man whatsoever.

6. Representations, values, norms, prejudice: The frame of references of the person or group that is causing the shock / that caused the shock in the narrator.

A relatively young man, having lost one limb, struggling to keep his self-image as a man. Having lived for many years now on the edge of society, probably lacking in social skills to deal with emotional relationships. Sex for him might appear as a physical necessity, provided by women, with whom he does not expect to be involved. He might have used prostitutes in the past or had relations with women who also did not regard sexuality other than a basic physical need.

Verbal abuse does not mean he had resorted to aggression against women, although it does not mean he had not. “Violate” might be the word he simply uses to denote unilateral sexual intercourse, the only type that he believes he is entitled to in his condition (as a homeless and as a disabled person) now.

Nurses are sympathetic aid personnel to him, caring for his physical wellbeing and sexual relationships belong to the category of physical needs.  So he expects that he can get help in this respect too.

7. Does the situation highlight any problem concerning the professional practice, or in general about the respect of cultural differences in intercultural situations?

Institutions dealing with marginalized patients struggle to establish boundaries with their competences: putting medical assistance at one side, and any other social need at the other. While this is an understandable position, with these patients it just does not work, as their social vulnerability and poor health go hand in hand and in fact are extremely interrelated. Instead of putting energy in safeguarding the limits of the medical staff’s sphere of competence, it would be more useful to work more efficiently in teams, social workers and psychologists working more directly and more systematically with patients and with health personnel.

Staff working with marginalised groups often feel marginalised themselves. There is a need to empower the staff structurally by recognizing their work (also financially) and by offering them regular supervision.