(NEW YORK) — When Robin Poor Bear was in her 20s, she asked for a Native American name. The Road Man, or spiritual leader, came up with Kind Hearted Woman.
There was good reason: After a lifetime of physical and sexual abuse, her heart was still bursting with empathy for others.
The daughter of an alcoholic mother, Poor Bear was molested by her foster father at age 3. But today, at 35, she gives a voice to others who have suffered sexual abuse.
“I remember it — not the rape itself, but the emergency room and the nurses trying to hold me down to examine me,” Poor Bear, now living in Minnesota, told ABC News. “I remember the door and being so terrified it would fly open and someone would get me.”
Poor Bear suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her foster father and two uncles until she was 13. Then, as a young wife, she was beaten by her husband.
That pain is revisited after the couple divorces and her ex-husband is convicted of molesting their 12-year-old daughter, as well as a teenage foster daughter.
The psychological anguish caused Poor Bear, an Oglala Sioux and member of North Dakota’s Spirit Lake tribe in North Dakota, to turn to alcohol. And when Poor Bear eventually spoke up about the abuse, her daughter and son, now 17 and 14, were taken away from her.
On Monday, April 1, and Tuesday, April 2, at 9 ET, PBS’s Frontline will air a powerful documentary, Kind Hearted Woman, about Poor Bear’s struggle to stay sober, further her education and heal herself from the deep wounds of sexual abuse.
David Sutherland, whose films The Farmer’s Wife (1998) and Country Boys (2005) also offer a cinema verite look at poor, rural life, spent three years with Poor Bear and her children.
The centerpiece of the film is Poor Bear’s battle to gain custody of her children while improving her own life.
Sutherland, 67, followed the family from Poor Bear’s first day out of alcohol rehab, through school and jobs, juggling being a mother and trying to become a social worker. Frustrated at every turn, Poor Bear fights a corrupt tribal legal system and a culture of domestic violence that pervades many Native American communities.
Native American women have the second-highest rate of rape of all races and ethnicities, at 27 percent, second only to mixed-race women, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. Nearly half of all of these women have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking in their lifetime.
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