On April 13, 2014, Foundation Board member, John Varvatos, hosted the 11th Annual John Varvatos Stuart House Benefit – Bring Your Heart to Our House. Presented by Chrysler, with Honorary Co-Chairs Amy Adams and Darren Le Gallo, and an amazing kid’s tent created by Hasbro, the event featured a live concert performed by Willie Nelson and Sons. More than 1,500 guests enjoyed an afternoon of great food, luxury shopping, live and silent auctions, and fun filled children’s activities. Held at the John Varvatos boutique in West Hollywood, the event raised funds for Stuart House – the UCLA Rape Treatment Center’s internationally recognized model program serving sexually abused children and helped shine light on the special needs of these young victims.
The Rape Foundation Annual Brunch, held on September 29, 2013, was hosted by Emily Deschanel (Bones), and Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) and emceed by Board member, David Schwimmer. Deschanel and Radnor spoke to an audience of close to 700 people with powerful statements about their experiences visiting the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House.
The Foundation also recognized three special dads, Judd Apatow, Albert Brooks and Eric McCormack, for supporting The Rape Foundation’s work and helping to educate other men about their unique roles in the prevention of sexual violence. Founding Board member, Norman Lear, was also honored for his groundbreaking work that raised the nation’s consciousness about rape.
The Rape Foundation also honored LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and personnel in his department for outstanding investigative and forensic crime lab work that led to a conviction in a complex case involving the sexual abuse of two young children.
Some atrocities are so repugnant, that we are loath to even think about them, let alone utter the words. Rape of children is an unspeakable atrocity. Child sexual abuse is a crime that thrives in a climate of silence, secrecy, and shame. Unspeakable! It is so horrible that the victims — some so young that they haven’t yet learned to speak — are burdened with a physical and psychological trauma that robs them of their innocence, their confidence, their vitality, their sense of self-worth, their happiness, their health, and sometimes, their lives.
So if it’s so hard for us to talk about it, how can we expect these young victims to be so brave?
Here are some facts that may shock you. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused, and 90 percent know their abuser. And these horrible acts are not just happening in someone else’s community. You’ll find child victims everywhere, in every single socioeconomic bracket, in every neighborhood. They are babies, three-year-olds, nine-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. These children are living in poverty, and living in luxury. They are being raped by teachers, coaches, scout leaders, priests, fellow students, family friends, and family members. The rapists are people who generally have power over the children; people the children are typically trained to trust. Often, they are people the kids thought were friends. Friends? The act is unspeakable. The perpetrators are predators. Rape and sexual molestation are criminal acts. We read about these stories in the news and squirm. But these are not made-up stories. These horrible things are the truth — and these unspeakable atrocities are happening much more often than any of us want to believe.
The children who have been raped run the gamut of our society, and they are scared into silence. Often, they feel isolated and fearful about what will happen if they tell. Can you imagine? They have a right to be afraid, because their attacker may threaten them with every nightmare imaginable. The fear of what else might be done to them or done to others they love stuns them into obedience, making them even more vulnerable. Children are easy targets — easy to manipulate, easy to humiliate, easy to bully, easy to scare.
This atrocity tears our social contract to shreds. How can we allow this to continue? How can we sit on the sidelines, silent — while we know this is going on?
I’m a rape survivor, and though I talk about it now, I was silent about it for years. I know firsthand how long it can take to reclaim some semblance of self-worth, vitality, and self-esteem after being brutally violated. I know how long it can take to feel safe again. And I wish it could have been as easy as taking a self-defense class, like Krav Maga, but trust me — those classes don’t repair the inside damage. When I was a rape victim, I didn’t have the benefit of psychological help, nor was there a program that taught the police how tointerview, not interrogate rape victims. In my case, the police were insensitive, and made me feel worse. Suffice it to say, I was re-victimized by the system, which is often how a rape and assault victim feels. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While it may be next to impossible to prevent every case of rape and molestation, I’ll be darned if I’ll sit by silently and watch these children continue to suffer. The very least we can do as a society is provide a safe place where they can tell what happened to them — where they can heal, and begin to live again.
Stuart House is such a place. A nationally recognized model, it’s an extraordinary program of the Los Angeles Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, and a partner of the LAPD, and other law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Children and Family Services. Its mission is to serve sexually abused children. At Stuart House, a child will see every professional she/he needs to see, and it will all occur under one roof. There are specially built, non-threatening child-sized forensic examining rooms, where evidence is gathered in the gentlest way, with the end goal of sending it to a criminal court. There are comfortable rooms with toys where children can relax and just be kids.
Stuart House therapists, social workers, police officers, and prosecutors treat the children with the kindness, gentleness, and respect they deserve. Stuart House helps the families deal with the trauma of knowing their child was raped, and helps them navigate the justice system. Stuart House helps their young victims heal, and protects the rape victims from more harm.
Stuart House in Los Angeles is a beacon of light, safety, and healing for these violently wounded, frightened children and their families, and that’s why Viola Davis and I are Co-Chairing The Rape Foundation Capital Campaign to expand Stuart House. We’re raising money to build a larger building so we can help even more children and their families. It’s heartbreaking that we need such a place, but as I mentioned at the onset, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused. We must take care of them.
One father, the parent of a 13-year-old, had this to say about Stuart House:
When our daughter was raped, every strength my wife and I had established over three decades of marriage — and the raising of our three children — was marshaled in the battle to bring our daughter back from the brink, and rescue her from the terror and loneliness into which she had disappeared. Stuart House understood the scope and urgency of that battle and, in times of our deepest despair, they stepped up and fought it for us. They gave our daughter her life back, and they gave her back to us. That is the gift of Stuart House.
Please help us do something vitally important for children who need us now. Call us, (310) 451-0042 or visit us online. www.therapefoundation.org
It didn’t take long to settle the fate of Edgar Humberto Somoza.
Few people were present that morning in the small 15th-floor courtroom. Somoza chose not to speak. The judge said he hoped “two sweet little girls” would not be permanently scarred.
Then he sentenced Somoza to the maximum 65 years to life for sexually assaulting his 7- and 8-year-old stepdaughters.
On a bench in the back, one of Somoza’s adult daughters burst into ragged sobs.
For others in the room, though, this was a moment of triumph.
LAPD Det. Supervisor Moses Castillo had worked the case from Day One. At the start, he said, there were big challenges. There was no DNA evidence on the children. No confession. All the prosecutor had was the girls’ story.
Success was possible, Castillo said, because of the work done in a pale-pink, two-story building in Santa Monica.
The mission at Stuart House is to fight for child victims — and make them feel safe. An enormous plush dog sprawls in welcome just inside the entry, next to a playroom full of toys and games.
When investigating sex crimes against children, so much can go wrong.
A child can tell, but not be heard or believed. Evidence can be neglected or collected too late. Shuttled from office to office to be questioned by stranger after stranger, a young victim can shut down. Even strong cases often come undone as they bump slowly through the system.
Stuart House, a program of UCLA’s Rape Treatment Center, was created in part to improve the odds. Here, in a setting that isn’t institutional or scary, traumatized children and their families receive the help they need — and all the key players required to build a legal case share their expertise and collaborate.
On March 10, 2013, Foundation Board member, John Varvatos, hosted The 10th Anniversary John Varvatos Stuart House Benefit – Bring Your Heart to Our House. Presented by Chrysler, co-chaired by Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, with an amazing kids’ tent created by Hasbro, and featuring a live concert by Steven Tyler, and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, with special guest, Slash – the event was a spectacular success. Over 1,500 people came together to enjoy good food, shop, participate in live and silent auctions and listen to a spectacular musical performance. The event shines light on the issue of child sexual abuse and the work of Stuart House, the Rape Treatment Center’s internationally recognized model program created to meet the special needs of child victims.
The Rape Foundation Annual Brunch, held on October 14, 2012, was hosted by Academy Award nominated actress, Viola Davis, and honored Foundation Board member, Norman Lear. Davis spoke to an audience of 800 people with powerful statements about her experience visiting the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House in addition to sharing her personal connection to sexual violence after seeing how it affected a family member.
This year’s event honored Norman Lear for being a pioneering male voice advocating for victims of rape. He raised national awareness about rape in 1977 after creating an episode of All in the Family that focused on one of the main character’s experience being raped. This episode, “Edith’s 50th Birthday”, reached 40 million people and forever changed the nation’s consciousness about rape.
Special guests this year also included Pennsylvania Attorney General, Linda Kelly, and her Chief of Staff, Bruce Beemer, who were recognized for their work in prosecuting Jerry Sandusky.
Foundation Board member, John Varvatos, hosted The 9th Annual John Varvatos Stuart House Benefit – Bring Your Heart to Our House on March 11, 2012. Presented by Chrysler, co-chaired by Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow, with an amazing kids’ tent created by Hasbro, and featuring a live concert by Dave Matthews – the event was a spectacular success. Over 1,500 people came together to enjoy good food, shop, participate in live and silent auctions and listen to an unforgettable Dave Matthews performance. The event shines light on the issue of child sexual abuse which for too long has been shrouded by shame and secrecy.
The Clothesline Project is an annual event that takes place on college campuses across the country to raise awareness about sexual violence. Victims of rape, childhood sexual abuse, and other forms of violence against women decorate t-shirts as a way to tell their personal stories of abuse.
The t-shirts are hung on clotheslines, creating a powerful, visual representation of the prevalence and impact of sexual violence and abuse. The display represents the voices of survivors who refuse to be silenced.
The Clothesline Project was started in 1990 by the Cape Cod Women’s Agenda.
The Rape Foundation supports Clothesline Projects on college campuses throughout Southern California.
Untested Rape Kits
The science of DNA can now be used to identify rapists and prosecute them.
In a rape case, the victim’s body is a crime scene. When victims consent to the collection of evidence during a medical examination, the evidence is packaged in a “rape kit.” The kits are sent to police crime labs for processing.
Historically, many of these rape kits were never tested. For example, in Los Angeles alone, over 12,000 rape kits sat unopened for years in police departments and crime lab freezers. This means rape cases are not fully investigated and dangerous criminals who could be identified by DNA in these kits instead remain on the streets where they can commit more crimes. Victims are denied justice, and public safety is jeopardized.
The Rape Foundation helped bring this issue to light, and continues to work with law enforcement agencies and public officials to remedy this injustice.
Last Sunday, I read an article buried below the fold in the metro section of the New York Times about a high school football coach who abused his players over a 25-year period starting in 1966. Despite eyewitnesses and school officials who were made aware of the abuse, the coach was never brought to justice. He was feted in a retirement dinner in 1991, seven years before he died. A RICO case has now been filed around the circumstances at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep.
As the Penn State, Syracuse and Poly Prep cases unfold in all their disturbing colors, the list of bystanders keeps growing. By bystanders, I mean not just those who witnessed the abuse and did nothing, but also those who were informed or sensed something was wrong and still chose silence. So far the master list includes a district attorney, child welfare investigators, a coach’s wife, a myriad of school administrators and employees, campus police, multiple coaches, athletic directors, and at least one university president. Continue reading