RAPE VICTIM TURNED ACTIVIST TELLS HER STORY TO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S ORGANIZATION
This post is dedicated to all my friends and colleagues who support me in my journey from rape victim to advocate and activist.
For me, the saddest part of the press reports on gang rape at UVA and Bill Cosby’s accusers are that none of the women involved went to the police immediately. One who did waited a year, and although the prosecutor believed her, he lacked enough evidence to go to court. Whenever I speak publicly, I say, “Report your rape! Right away!”
On November 12, I spoke to Soroptimist’s chapter in Lake Oswego/West Linn, two Portland suburbs. Soroptimist is an international women’s volunteer organization. Two women’s issues they’re most concerned with raising community awareness about are domestic violence and sex trafficking and sexual violence.
Many relatives, friends and clients who have been my crucial sources of support were in the audience. I choked up as I opened my talk by thanking all of them. For my father and my mother-in-law, it was the first time that they had heard me tell my story in public. Steve Doell of Crime Victims United of Oregon recruited me to help abolish our state’s statute of limitations on rape, and connected me to Meg Garvin of National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) who helped me sue the parole board successfully in 2012.
Unfortunately, Multnomah County DA Russ Ratto, who prosecuted the man who raped me, Richard Troy Gillmore, and comes to all of his parole hearings, couldn’t attend. I would have liked to have told Mr. Ratto publicly that along with my husband Gary and Steve Doell, he is the hero of my journey from victim to advocate and activist. I know he second-guesses calling me and Gillmore’s other victims in 2008 to ask us to speak at his parole hearing. If Mr. Ratto hadn’t picked up that phone, I never would have become the outspoken advocate and activist I am today!
I told the Soroptimist audience my story of being raped. “We think being raped is like breaking a bone or getting a deep cut,” I said. “We get the care we need – a cast or stitches – and then the pain goes away. Over time, the pain of rape does lessen, but it never goes away.”
I talked about my fight to keep Gillmore in prison, and how scary it is to face him at parole hearings. But I’ve done it twice, and I’ll do it again in April 2016. “I found out I had grown up,” I said. “I’m not the same person I was in 2008, or even a few months ago. The more I face my fear, the more fearless I become.”
Then I told the audience about Oregon’s attracting more and more sex offenders. Multnomah County alone has almost five sex offenders per 1,000 residents. Sex offenders move to Oregon because they are treated leniently here – much more so than in, say, California. For example, in Oregon sex offenders are allowed to register as homeless, which means that without an address, they cannot be tracked. It’s easy for them to slip away and move to a community where no one knows who they are.
Right now, our registry of sex offenders is at least a few years out-of-date, and the state doesn’t have the budget to pay staff to update it. In fact, our registry is so out-of-date that law enforcement doesn’t bother to use it.
I could see looks of shock crossing many faces in my audiences. But I had even worse news about Oregon. In 2013, a new law mandated that names on the state’s sex offender registry are going to be divided into three tiers, with Tier One comprising the least dangerous, and Tier Three the most. The parole board will oversee classification. If your name ends up on Tiers One or Two, you can apply to the parole board to have it removed.
To determine what tier an offender belongs in, the parole board has been using a testing instrument known as Static-99. Gillmore has had a Static-99. Because he’s in prison for only one rape, the test assigned him to Tier One, the least likely to reoffend – even though psychologists who have examined him before parole hearings have assigned him a recidivism rate of 60 to 75 percent!
“The parole board is asking for input from victims,” I said, “so I’m raising my hand.
“Most of us don’t realize that the sex offender community has their eyes on Oregon,” I added. “Some sex offenders have tried to bully me on Facebook. I’ve gotten comments like, ‘You are so wrong! Oregon is going to be the first state where the sex offender registry is made private.’ If that happens, the public will have no way of knowing how many sex offenders are here and where they are living.”
If you’d like to check on what sex offenders are saying, here are two sites:
As always, some women came up to me after my talk, and told me that they too had been raped, and had never told anyone. One young woman’s mother discouraged her from calling the police, because she would bring shame on her family. Like me, she locked away her memories. When the same rapist was finally caught and sentenced for another rape, this victim found that her own attack came flooding back.
If I am able to create a safe place where even one victim can tell me her story for the first time, and I can tell her how to find support, then I feel that I am accomplishing at least part of my mission.