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July 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - JULY

Kimberly Arnal
WLALA President 2015-2016

Over the last month, the news and internet has been filled with stories about campus rapes and “rape culture.”  Much has been written on the subject, yet not enough could possibly be said about the courage of the victims who came forward to tell their stories with raw brutal honesty; and the people who did something to help – the people who stopped the attacks or reported the crime when others stayed silent.

By now most, if not all, of you have heard about the Stanford rape case and the fact that a former Stanford University student and athlete was sentenced to six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the school’s campus.  Some of you may have even read the letter she read aloud during the sentencing hearing. The letter is a powerful and courageous retelling of her rape, her struggle to survive and move forward with her life. Two Swedish exchange students riding their bikes across campus spotted the attack and thankfully stopped the assault. They chased the assailant, tackled him and held him until the police arrived.

You may also have heard about the recent retrial and rape conviction of two former Vanderbilt football players in the 2013 rape of an unconscious female student in one of the dorms.  Four football players are accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student while they took photos and recorded the incident on their cell phones. The victim has no memory of that night. She has testified three times now due to a mistrial; each time having to identify herself in cell phone pictures taken by her assailants. Earlier this year, two of the men were convicted in separate trials and are scheduled to be sentenced on July 15th. The other two men are still awaiting trial. The crime was reported to the police by Vanderbilt housing staff who reviewed surveillance footage from that night while investigating vandalism of the dorm.

Less well publicized is the story of the three women in Santa Monica who this past May prevented a rape when they saw a man slipping something into his date’s drink while having dinner at a restaurant. One of the women waited in the bathroom for the would-be victim and told her what she saw. The three women notified the restaurant manager who called the police. Ultimately, the police arrived at restaurant and took the man into custody. The three women posted the story on Facebook; ending the post with “thank you in advance to everyone who sees this and shares this and reminds each other that yes, you SHOULD say something. Even if it's awkward or weird or just uncertain if anything can be done. Know that YOU did something. And that it helped.”

These incidents are heart wrenching. Yet the courage and strength of the victims and the people who stepped forward to stop the assaults, to report them and to prevent them is laudable. To echo the sentiments of the three Santa Monica women who prevented a rape, we can and should do something to help. I hope most of us will never be faced with witnessing, preventing or stopping an assault but, we can still help by assisting the victims with their legal needs.

WLALA members routinely support and volunteer at the Sojourn’s Court Advocacy and Legal Assistance program - a weekly pro bono clinic that assists the victims of domestic violence. Members can also volunteer through the Inner City Law Center’s Homeless Veterans Project. ICLC specializes in psychological trauma claims, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) arising from combat or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). The Homeless Veterans Project utilizes pro bono attorneys to represent homeless female veterans in connection with their disability benefits claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Please consider volunteering at Sojourn, ICLC or one of the many other pro bono programs in the Los Angeles area.