Shock and Anger

Rape victims feel betrayed by gang-rape trials outcome

Some people travel California to see the oldmissions; others to follow its undulating, dramatic coastline. When Heather Bañuelos and Dawn Foor traveled California last summer, it was to attend sexual-assault seminars.

They expected to field questions about their work as sexual-assault counselors in Orange County. But they didn't expect to be asked the same question at each stop.

Whether in San Diego or Sacramento or anywhere in between, the question most on attendees' minds was—all together now: How the hell did accused videotape rapist Gregory Scott Haidl go free?

"For the past three months, I've done tons of speaking at virtually every college in [Orange County], and nearly every question I receive is about the Haidl case," says Foor, 52, who supervises the county's rape-crisis center for Community Service Programs (CSP). "The community is not seeing any consequences for these actions. People say, 'He's rich.'

"I can say, 'I assure you they put people away for these crimes,' but they just don't see it."

Founded in 1981, CSP's rape-crisis center works with local law-enforcement agencies. The center also sends representatives to local colleges and schools for sexual-assault-prevention education.

The Haidl trial became a focal point for discussions at CSP and helped victims speak more openly about their experiences. CSP even noticed an increase in rapes reported. But when Judge Francisco Briseño declared a mistrial on June 28, the atmosphere changed. According to Bañuelos, 32, program director for CSP, the announcement brought tears to the eyes of some of the counselors and victims at the center. Foor took it as a "personal failure."

"What upset me most and continues to upset me," she said, "is that there's something wrong with a society in which 11 adults find it acceptable to insert a pool cue into a 16-year-old girl."

Most responses were of shock and anger, according to Bañuelos. She handled the majority of calls to the CSP regarding the trial. "We received calls from victims, volunteers and our own family members about the case. They all wanted to know our opinion and express their own about the kids involved. The most common question I got was, 'How typical is this [case]?'"

Such a reaction concerns Foor, herself a sexual-assault survivor.

"[Rape] is an epidemic," she says. "People are reporting it now because there's a lot more education. Last year, rape was the only felony crime that increased—by 16 percent. Everything else went down."

"Everyone who's been raped feels violated now because of this case," Bañuelos adds. "Victims are real skittish now, especially in OC. They're thinking, 'If this is a typical jury pool, who would I get on mine?'"

Community Service Programs, Victim Assistance, (949) 975-0244; 24-hour sexual assault hot line, (714) 957-2737, (714) 836-7400 or (949) 831-9110.

 
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