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The 24-Hour-Day War on Domestic Violence : Counselor Helps Assault Victims to Rebuild Lives

One of a series.

June 30, 1986|JOHN DREYFUSS | Times Staff Writer

As a rule there's nothing funny about Cory Rytterager's job. But there's an exception to every rule, as there was not long ago.

"The hot line rang," recalled Rytterager, a domestic violence counselor for the Santa Monica Police Department. "It was a little girl. She was very upset. I asked, 'What's wrong?' and she said, 'Something terrible happened. My insides are going to explode."

"I immediately thought, 'incest,' " said Rytterager, who dedicates her life to helping victims of family violence, mostly sexual violence.

After learning the girl was home alone, she instructed, "Lock the door. Don't go out and don't answer the door until I get there and say, 'This is the police.' "

Rytterager ran to her car and sped through Santa Monica's streets to the child's house, where she found a terrified, tow-headed 7-year-old who announced:

"I ate a tortilla chip and there was a spider on it, so my insides are going to explode!"

Rytterager worked hard not to laugh. She told the girl, "Once I swallowed a fly, and flies are dirtier than spiders. You'll be just fine."

And the counselor went back to work. Work for Cory Rytterager is a 24-hour-a-day war against child abusers and men who batter women.

'Most Dedicated'

Rytterager "is the most dedicated worker with whom I have ever come in contact. I cannot stress this enough. I have never seen such a strength of character, a warmth and a true feeling of caring for victims," wrote Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Lauren Weis to Santa Monica Police Chief James F. Keane.

"Most important," Weis continued, "is Rytterager's role as the victim's advocate throughout the court system. Not only is she a rock for sexual assault victims and their families, but she follows through and sets up a therapeutic network for these children, which ultimately provides them with counseling. She, in effect, helps rebuild the shattered lives of the victims and their families."

Although she is not a sworn peace officer, the 30-year-old counselor basically sees herself as a "a crusader for victims rights"--a helpful, teaching, caring crusader.

All three traits showed up early in Rytterager's life, noted her mother, Edwina, who recalled that as a fifth- or sixth-grader her daughter had set up a school for younger children in her backyard.

"I had a playhouse that I turned into a schoolhouse," Rytterager said. "I taught geography and English. I even gave out report cards."

Rytterager worked at outside jobs all through high school. She got excellent grades, and largely ignored both extracurricular activities and her social life, she recalls. It wasn't much fun. The blond, blue-eyed woman recently summed up her feelings: "I hated high school. But I stuck it out and I'm glad I did. Today I counsel kids to stay in high school, and my negative experience there helps me understand their point of view."

Enemies Out There

As a police official, Rytterager fears revealing facts that might let her enemies learn too much about her. And testifying in court against fathers who abuse their wives, girlfriends and daughters tends to make enemies of the fathers, she observed.

So Rytterager keeps secret the locations of her home and her family's home, and takes extraordinary precautions to keep her private life private. She goes home by different routes each night, and won't reveal where she went to school or college for fear someone will be able to trace her through those institutions.

She will say she attended a small, California college, and that she loved it.

"I liked the small-town atmosphere," she said. A social science major and journalism minor on partial scholarship, Rytterager was president of her service sorority two consecutive years. She started her own radio talk show at the campus station, was on the debate team, wrote a political column for the college newspaper, got good grades, was elected a homecoming princess and worked 25 to 30 hours a week as a secretary.

In 1978 she graduated with honors. "It was kind of like (I had) no place to go," the counselor said. "I went to my parents' house and thought about graduate school. But I knew I had to work to get some money."

That work turned out to be as a crime prevention specialist with the Redondo Beach Police Department, where her job included supervising neighborhood watch programs, giving rape prevention talks, and writing news releases.

Rytterager relates her attraction to police work directly to her having come from a closely knit family--she has an older brother and a younger sister--and having loved the small-town atmosphere at college. She feels law enforcement draws men and women with strong senses of loyalty and camaraderie. Besides, community service involves a lot of writing and public speaking, which Rytterager considers among her strong skills.

After 1 1/2 years at Redondo Beach, Rytterager felt ready for a larger department, and became a community services officer for the Santa Monica police.

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