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Rape Counseling Center for Blacks : Support Group Offers Cultural Insights for Survivors

August 28, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

After a knife-wielding man kidnapped and raped her in 1983, her sister accompanied a fearful Carolyn Johnson to her attacker's trial.

The sister also regularly drove the South Los Angeles woman to the closest support group 45 minutes away in Santa Monica.

Johnson felt the rides were an imposition on her sister. As the only black in her support group, she also felt that she might be better understood by a group in her own neighborhood.

Angered when her aunt told her that strong faith in God would dispel her terror, she refused to discuss the issue with her group because she didn't want the aunt thought of as a religious fanatic.

Now Johnson is an administrative assistant with the Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center, which provides post-rape support groups.

The center is part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization started by Martin Luther King Jr., at 4182 S. Western Ave. A large sign on either side of the building proclaims "We Still Have a Dream."

The 21-month-old Crisis Center, the first of its kind in South Los Angeles, provides rape survivors with free counseling, transportation and housing referrals. It will also accompany survivors to hospitals, courtrooms and police stations.

Its predominately black counselors and black support groups also offer cultural insights for black victims that sexual assault centers in other ethnic neighborhoods may not have, said SCLC executive director Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Most of the same services are provided at the Sexual Assault Crisis Program started only six months ago at the Compton YWCA, 509 E. Compton Blvd. It is the first such program in Compton.

The Rosa Parks Center is named after the black woman whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, in 1955 started the Montgomery bus boycott at the outset of the civil rights movement.

The center serves an area bounded by the Harbor Freeway on the east and La Cienega Boulevard on the west and by the Santa Monica Freeway to the north and Imperial Highway to the south.

Funded by an annual $175,000 from the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning in Sacramento, the Center sees about 30 survivors a month.

Continuing Services

Marcia Kapuniai, emergency room clinical social worker at Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital just east of that area, said the Rosa Parks Center could provide continuing services that her hospital was not equipped for.

Kapuniai said that after the hospital emergency room sees and examines rape victims, collecting evidence for police, the victim is automatically seen by a social worker who determines her emotional status and her needs.

She said the social worker makes sure rape survivors have a safe place to go, acts as an advocate when the police interview them and informs them of compensation for victims of violent crimes and of the availability of further counseling.

The hospital has no staff for the follow-up work, however, and Rosa Parks' five permanent staff members and 47 volunteers can provide it.

"It's imperative that they (survivors) get ongoing support and follow up," Kapuniai said. "If you're talking about going to trial (for the accused rapist) you're talking about a long time.

"They accompany the victim to court. They do a lot of advocacy. They help provide transportation. If the victim had a housing problem they are as aware of resources as we are. They do much more than provide emotional intervention."

Detective Betty Marlow, a 12-year veteran of the Compton Police Department who worked with sexual assault cases for more than three years, saw an equal need for the Compton YWCA program.

Funded by a yearly grant of $161,000 from the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, the six permanent and 17 volunteer staff members see about 20 survivors per month.

"I think it's a long-needed service for the area," Marlow said. "The surrounding areas seem to have had the support systems but not Compton."

After Jane, 78, was raped by a young intruder in her Inglewood apartment a year ago, she said trained volunteers from the Rosa Parks Center got closer to her than her children.

The volunteers visited Jane (not her real name) in the hospital following the attack, accompanied her to court, and were available to come to her home 24 hours a day.

"I felt afraid," she said. "I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want anyone to get near me.

"I felt (like I was) sinking . . . and that I was just going to pass out at any time. Whenever I would call this girl and I could see this boy's face, she had the words to . . . bring me back from the place I was in.

"I felt like I have a lot of friends all over and was advised to go to other places," she said. "But this girl was everything I needed and I didn't attempt to go other places.

"I couldn't have gotten what I needed at that time from other places. They couldn't have reached what I was feeling and what I was going through."

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