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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Rally and March Honor Victims of Sexual Violence

April 06, 2000|KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — Tracy told virtually no one after she was raped at age 19.

Her friends, she said, wouldn't have believed her. Her parents, she thought, would blame her and make her quit the New York theater conservatory she attended.

Tracy, an Ojai resident who asked that her last name not be used, now works as a rape crisis counselor for the Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. She was one of the featured speakers at the third annual Take Back the Night rally and march in downtown Ventura on Wednesday. The coalition sponsored the event in honor of victims of sexual violence.

"I wanted to tell women how they could survive it," said Tracy, who was raped 10 years ago and is now married. "How they could thrive as a woman, a wife, a mother."

In her case, she said, she remained quiet about her attack for five years, until she saw the name of one of the two men who raped her on a Los Angeles theater playbill. "I couldn't think straight, I couldn't see straight," she said.

At that point, she sought therapy and began to volunteer at the coalition as part of her recovery.

After her testimonial, a crowd of the nearly 200 people who had gathered in Mission Park for the event raised their lighted candles and marched down Main Street to California Street and back.

"A parade like this empowers women to take back their life," said Constance Bryant, the coalition's rape crisis program manager. "And it empowers everyone to take back their night and make it safe to walk the streets at night."

Another goal of the rally was to encourage victims of domestic and sexual violence to report the crimes.

As in Tracy's case, most rapes go unreported, Bryant said.

Although the number of reported rapes dropped from 183 in 1997 to 117 in 1998, the most recent countywide statistics available, Bryant said that only one in 10 rapes is reported to authorities. This is in contrast to domestic violence incidents, which police believe are being reported more frequently.

According to authorities, rape victims often don't report the crime because they feel ashamed and sometimes wrongly assume they are to blame for the attack.

"Women are afraid of being re-victimized and traumatized by going through the criminal justice system," said Dee Corona, supervisor of the district attorney's office's sexual assault unit.

Bryant said representatives from her center responded 16 times to hospitals to monitor physical exams being conducted on rape victims in March. Based on that, she speculated that more than 150 rapes may have occurred in Ventura County last month.

Officials credit the rise in the number of reported domestic abuse cases to events like the rally that raise public awareness.

"Nobody is spared this type of victimization," said Lela Henke--Dobroth, chief deputy district attorney with the sexual assault and family protection division. "It can be your neighbor, your loved one, your mother, your brother."

The Sheriff's Department statistics show an increase in the number of domestic violence incidents to 1,581 in 1999 from 1,542 in 1998.

"I don't think more is occurring necessarily," Henke-Dobroth said. "Victims are feeling more secure in reporting.

"The more you do to make people aware of the issue, the more law enforcement becomes well-versed in it; the more reporting you get, the more prosecutions you get," she said.

Robert Fisher, a wide receiver for the California Lutheran University football team, said he came to the rally along with four teammates to provide security for the marchers.

"This kind of violence is an issue for everyone," he said. Still, he said he was surprised at the number of domestic and sexual assault victims.

"I didn't realize how much it happens," he said.

Times Community News reporters Holly J. Wolcott and Catherine Blake contributed to this story.

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