After Getting Shot, Survivors Of Gun Violence Struggle To Find Resources To Deal With Trauma

Aug 14, 2017

Megan Hobson was 16 years old when she was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting in Miami Gardens.

A bullet from a high-powered rifle tore through her sister’s car, ripped through her hip and left her with physical and psychological scars she continues to grapple with six years later.

“The big question would be, 'You survived a shooting, now what?' Once you get to the, ‘Now what?’ There’s no answer,” she says.

Hobson is 22 now. Since her shooting, she’s turned to the internet to help figure out how to cope with being a survivor of gun violence. When she googled “gun violence survivor” and “support” in Miami-Dade, she didn’t find anything useful. Going to community meetings and checking out local non-profits yielded little results for the type of network she was searching for: survivors.

Hobson joins a growing group of grassroots organizations and medical professionals in Miami-Dade who say resources for people who survive shootings are inadequate.

While there are a number of nonprofits and institutions that provide therapy or general social services, there isn’t a comprehensive system that specifically addresses survivors of gun violence.

Nearly 90 percent of the patients treated for gunshot injuries at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center, survive. And nationally, most victims of gun violence survive.

Read more: Young Survivors, The Unspoken Trauma Of Gun Violence

"My life is what it is now because of the shooting" - Megan Hobson

Hobson considers her life in two chapters: before and after she was shot.

“My life is what it is now because of the shooting,” she said. “It’s this new life I have to face.”

When she walks, she has to raise her left hip in a swooping motion to stop her foot from scraping the ground--a result of permanent nerve damage that makes it so she has little control of her muscles.

In addition to physical injuries, survivors often face layers of challenges from depression to anxiety to navigating bureaucracies like police departments and health institutions.

“Part of the reason why it’s kind of gone unaddressed is it just happens so often it’s become normal to us, and it’s not normal” - Wayne Rawlins

After shootings in Miami-Dade, Wayne Rawlins brings together counselors and social service providers to canvass neighborhoods for a "Walking One Stop." They ask people how they’re doing in the aftermath of community violence.

Rawlins says small organizations like his do what they can, but the approach needs to be long-term and funded by governmental bodies on a local and federal level. 

“It’s basically an act of love and passion, but very little resources to provide the counseling, rehab that a person is going to need to deal with their trauma,” he says.

In Miami-Dade, police departments track how many shootings happen within their jurisdictions, but there is very little information on actual survivors outside of police statistics--who they are, where they live or how they’re doing over time.

“Part of the reason why it’s kind of gone unaddressed is it just happens so often it’s become normal to us, and it’s not normal,” says Rawlins.

"The most annoying thing to hear is, 'But you don't look handicap.' What do you expect me to look like?" - Megan Hobson

In college, a few years after she was shot in Miami Gardens, Hobson noticed something had changed.

“It was the end of my sophomore year and I was like, ‘I think I’m gonna fail this semester because I can’t remember anything,’ ” she says.

Doctors tell her her intermittent memory loss is likely a result of losing a lot of oxygen to her brain the night of the shooting.

She says her new life comes with bouts of depression. She tried one-on-one therapy with three different psychologists.

“They asked me questions and I was like,  these are questions that I don’t know how to answer, so it wasn’t helping me,” she says.

She wishes outside of traditional therapy there were peer support groups for survivors of gun violence where she could connect with people who experienced what she’s living. A place to have conversations about chronic pain or just the insensitive things people say when they notice she’s parking in the handicap spot at the grocery store.

“The most annoying thing to hear is, ‘But you don’t look handicap.’ What do you expect me to look like?” she says

"Given that there are thousands of gunshot wound survivors in the last 10 years, it's a handful of my colleagues that said, "Oh yes, I remember treating such and such a person" - Dr. Lora Ospina

It’s not uncommon for people to want to work out the healing process in community-based settings, said Dr. Lora Ospina, who runs the Center for Behavioral Health at Jackson.

She says very few survivors --even when referred to the center -- visit a therapist there.

“Given that there are thousands of gunshot wound survivors in the last 10 years, it’s a handful of my colleagues that said,  ‘Oh yes, I remember treating such and such a person,'" she says.  "The numbers are pretty low."

Jackson does offer or host more than a dozen support groups similar to what Hobson has been seeking-- for parents of premature babies, for burn victims, for rape victims--but there’s nothing for gun violence survivors.

School-age survivors of gun violence have access to counseling through the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, but the district says it’s not aware of any peer support groups for students who survive gun violence.

For Megan Hobson, who was shot when she was 16--her injuries meant she had to re-envision her future.

"I know if I had full function and full form I’d be able to do whatever,” says Hobson.

She wanted to become a pediatric oncologist, but because of her memory loss she’s had to rethink what she thought was her dream career.

She’s still in college, now pursuing a degree in photojournalism to document lives. Hobson also wants to be an advocate for other survivors of gun violence to help build the support networks that do not currently exist.

She envisions a community center where “you can come and you can find out ways to get involved in your neighborhood, you can find out ways you can get help if you need help, even de-stress,” she says.  “It can be a place you seek inspiration.”