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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Sometimes, the Hysteria and Outrage Just Aren't Enough

October 25, 1995|Robin Abcarian

Last Thursday was a typical workday in the life of prosecutor Lydia Bodin: a brief appearance in West Los Angeles Municipal Court followed by long interviews with a couple of new victims back at the office.

One was a 15-year-old mentally retarded girl who had been raped by a 22-year-old man. He locked her in his car and left her overnight on a street in the Crenshaw District.

"He brought her a pillow and blanket," Bodin says dryly. "Very considerate."

As a deputy district attorney who spent two long, intense years prosecuting domestic abusers, Bodin sought a curious kind of respite a year ago. She asked to be transferred to a place that specializes in one of the few crimes more revolting than spousal battering: child sexual abuse.

She is now one of two prosecutors assigned to Stuart House, a centralized Santa Monica facility designed to reduce trauma in young victims by allowing them to tell their stories to doctors, cops, prosecutors, social workers and therapists without being hauled all over town.

You'd think that the 41-year-old Bodin, a prosecutor for eight years, might have developed some sort of psychic levee, some way to wall off her heart from the ravaged human stream that flows in and out of her professional life every day.

But now, in early afternoon, she is pressing her temples with both hands and ripping open a packet of aspirin.

The rape of the 15-year-old she could handle. It is the day's second victim that claws at her.

"I have a terrible headache from that case," she says. "We can do the case because I have irrefutable medical evidence, which is actually the opposite of what normally happens. But I just feel so awful about what the rest of her life is going to be like."

Picture this: For a year or more, a 7-year-old child has been raped and sodomized by her mother's boyfriend. For three months, she bleeds vaginally. She cannot walk normally. Teachers notice she is depressed but do not ask why. Finally, when she begins to hemorrhage, her mother takes the child to a hospital. There, among other horrors, doctors discover a condom inside her.

Bodin says the child's injuries are nauseating, her little body stretched grotesquely. She has charged the mother's boyfriend with continuous sexual abuse and torture.

"She is totally ruined," Bodin says. "She'll never have children. She is in tatters. It's all scar tissue. All they could do was stitch her up."

Siblings?

One, Bodin says, a month-old sister, removed from the home as well.

"You know what the mother said? She said it wasn't so bad because she hadn't really bonded with the baby yet."

The mother has been charged with felony child endangerment.

This is not an easy business to be in. And these are not easy times for prosecutors. Because of her expertise in domestic violence, Bodin was the prosecutor who presented to Judge Lance Ito the long, tawdry list of offenses that O.J. Simpson was said to have committed against his wife. The acts, prosecutors said, surely established an escalating pattern of cruelty and violence that culminated in the gruesome murders.

Jurors, we now know, found the connection uncompelling.

When one of them--Brenda Moran--dismissed the domestic abuse evidence against Simpson as "a waste of time" in her post-verdict news conference, you can hardly imagine how Lydia Bodin felt.

"I heard her say that, and I felt that what my life is about just isn't worth it, what I know just isn't worth it, what battered women say just isn't worth it," Bodin says. "We spend hours and hours trying to convince battered women that they and their children are worth it. I can't even tell you the despair I felt."

After the verdict was announced at 10 a.m., she wept for three hours.

The last couple of weeks have forced her to look long and hard at her work, and, in a curious way, she says, the Simpson verdict has re-energized her.

"We have a lot of work to do. We have to educate the public and get them to understand the living hell that these women and kids are undergoing. I gotta do a better job than I've done. The time I've spent whining, I am now gonna spend improving my trial skills."

On Friday, Bodin is in back court.

Now it is a 20-year-old man--a shaking boy, really, who is quivering behind his lawyer--charged with digitally raping his 6-year-old niece. The defendant's mother--the victim's own grandmother--has encouraged her son to fight the charges, even though he admitted to his family what he had done. The attitude seems to be: Hey, it's not like he really raped her.

Bodin, appalled, will do her best to put him away, not just for the sake of a small, guilt-racked child who feels she is the cause of her family's upheaval, but for the sake of all the victims that come her way--the bruised and bewildered 2-year-olds, the silent 7-year-olds, the sullen adolescents.

"You hear so much about the hysteria that surrounds child sexual abuse," Bodin says. "Believe me, there isn't enough."

* Robin Abcarian's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. Send e-mail to HBZK23A@prodigy.com.

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