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Of Courage and Contribution

Six Women and Girls Who Made a Difference

One of the most important contributions to improving Sonoma County's response to violence against women has been the willingness of some exceptional individual victims to tell their stories. By making the problem vivid and human, these women and girls have moved the system to change. Risking additional danger and pain, they not only tried to get help for themselves, but to do something more, to assure that other women don't suffer the same injustices.

In Sonoma County, a high number of these courageous women have been Latinas. They often face greater risks on telling their stories; risk of deportation, language barriers, and the dangers of speaking out in a society that even on a good day can often treat them as less than equals.

Women's Justice Center honors these women, and thanks them for their commitment to justice, to community, and to the freedom of all women. The following women are just a few of many.

Maria R.
ost people in Sonoma County remember Dr. David Noles, the chiropractor who for years lured third world women out of their countries to his office in Petaluma by promising them a job. Once there, Noles held the women in sexual slavery for himself or bartered them out to other men.

And people remember Maria, the 21 year-old mother of three from Sayula, Mexico who in 1991 exposed David Noles and eventually brought him down. Less well known is the fact that at great risk to herself, Maria submitted tape-recorded testimony to the 1993 UN Human Rights Commission in Vienna. On the basis of this testimony from Maria and other women from around the world the UN endorsed the principle that women have the right to all human rights.

Lupe (not her real name)
n 1994, Lupe, a 12-year-old Spanish speaking girl wrote a heartrending and articulate plea to her teacher to put an end to the sexual abuse she was experiencing. The teacher called the police. But none of the officers spoke Spanish and the investigation lagged.

Despite losing their home and fearing retaliation, Lupe and her mother decided to put their case before the press to highlight the need for Latino and Spanish-speaking officers. This resulted in the rapid hiring of four Latino, Spanish speaking officers. It also heightened awareness in our county of the need to make our police forces representative of the communities they serve.

Maria V.
aria V was held in virtual labor and sex slavery on a dairy ranch for more than a decade. The day she found out the rancher had sexually assaulted her 13 year old daughter, Maria broke into a long, fierce struggle to escape. In 1995, barely settled into a new life, another daughter was raped by a gang. In the prosecution of that case, many of her daughter's rights were disregarded. Maria took up the struggle again.

With the family under threats from the gang, with the kids crying in the mornings that they were afraid to go to school, Maria daily talked with her children about the importance of standing strong and speaking out against wrong. Together, she and the kids decided to tell their story to state officials in the hope it would help change things for all girls. Shortly thereafter the state took action against the District Attorney for the office's disregard of children's rights.

hen 21-year-old Leonesia was badly beaten by the father of her baby, police arrested her. Driven into homelessness and fearful of police, Leonesia determined that things needed to change for the next woman in her situation. She put the details of her case before then Santa Rosa Police chief Sal Rosano. Soon after, Rosano wrote the modern, 1996 Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chief's Domestic Violence Policy that governs our police response today.

Sarah Rubio Hernandez
or over a year before her death, Teresa Macias did everything right to bring the abuses and violence of her husband to the attention of local authorities. But Teresa's pleas for help were ignored at every turn. On April 15, 1996, Teresa's husband Avelino murdered Teresa and wounded her mother, Sarah Rubio Hernandez.

"If I die", Teresa had told her mother in the weeks before her death, "I don't want other women to suffer what I am suffering. I want them to be listened to." While still recovering in Sonoma Valley Hospital, Sarah Hernadez vowed to help fulfill her daughter's wish. She did so by speaking out and by opening the events of her daughter's life and death to the public.

Today, on any day or night of the week, in every town of northern California, professionals are listening more carefully to victims and responding more knowledgeably because of Sarah Hernandez' concern for all women. Throughout northern California Teresa Macias' story quickly became, and remains today, the reference story of every women who has struggled to escape from violence and been rebuffed by those who should have helped.

Antonia's Story,
And All That's Left Undone

n January 1996, the police chiefs and Sheriff of Sonoma county signed onto a modern, domestic violence policy. The policy gives detailed intructions as to how officers must handle domestic violence calls. Two of the most basic mandates of the policy are that;

  1. Officers should get a statement from the victim.
  2. A crime report must be written on every domestic violence related call.

Antonia's story shows that when people speak Spanish, police may ignore even the most basic rules for protecting the safety and rights of victims.

At the end of September 1998, Antonia could no longer take her husband's screaming threats to kill her and their three teenage kids. Over the last year it had only gotten worse. One day Pablo had put a loaded gun in his daughter's hand and told her to shoot him.

The weekend before Antonia called police, Pablo's threats to kill continued nonstop, all night and all day and then into the next week. Pablo raged after Antonia as she tried to serve the customers in the restaurant they own. Antonia dialed 911. She told dispatch about Pablo's threats to kill.

Antonia's story of what happened next after police arrived was confirmed in a separate interview by Women's Justice Center with the customer/witness who was asked to translate that morning. Only the names in the story have been changed.

As soon as the two police officers walked in, Pablo began screaming at the officers with a tirade of accusations about Antonia. Antonia was trying to tell the officers her story, but Pablo just kept screaming over her voice.

Instead of calling the AT&T translating service that police have for just such occasions, the officers asked a restaurant customer to translate. He was a local businessman for whom English is still a very difficult second language.

Instead of taking the couple to separate parts of the room, the two officers, Pablo, Antonia, and the businessman remained knotted together tensely in a corner of the restaurant. Pablo continued to scream every time Antonia tried to talk.

One of the officers kept turning to Pablo, telling him to to be quiet. Antonia would try to talk again, the businessman would start to translate, but Pablo just bellowed over them, and again the officer would yell at Pablo to shut up.

One of the officers became so frustrated he slammed his hand on the table and screamed, "Quiet!". The officer rattled handcuffs at Pablo and told him if he didn't quiet down he would be arrested. Pablo was quiet for a moment, but soon resumed screaming at the officers.

The officers didn't arrest Pablo. The officers didn't take any notes. The officers never quieted Pablo sufficiently to get Antonia's story. Nor did they offer to write an emergency protective order, nor explain Antonia's right to make a citizen's arrest. The officers never even wrote a report. All these things should have been routine police response to a domestic violence call.

"If the police won't help me, then who?"

Instead, one officer speaking directly to Antonia told her that if the fighting didn't get stopped, they (the police) were going to have to arrest the two of them, and then the children would be taken away to a children's home. The officer's threat of arresting Antonia and taking her children stunned Antonia.

The officer then said that for now one or the other of the couple had to leave. Antonia was dumbfounded. Pablo made no move to go. The officer turned to Antonia and told her, "Go"! Antonia left the restaurant.

In a later interview the businessman said it seemed to him the police just wanted to wash their hands of the whole thing.

Antonia got in her car and started driving aimlessly, reeling from the police rebuff. "If the police won't help me," she says she kept thinking, "then who?" Over the weekend, a friend had told Antonia about the restraining order clinic at the courthouse. When Antonia arrived at the restraining order clinic, she was told no one there spoke Spanish and she would have to return another day.

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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