Participants in ‘Sexual Violence as a Public Issue’ community forum held at Boyle Heights City Hall. Photo by Antonio Mejias

Participants in ‘Sexual Violence as a Public Issue’ community forum held at Boyle Heights City Hall. Photo by Antonio Mejias
Participants in ‘Sexual Violence as a Public Issue’ community forum held at Boyle Heights City Hall. Photo by Antonio Mejias
A man wielding a machete raped a woman in her home near Mariachi Plaza last week, only days after a community forum was held in Boyle Heights to address “Sexual Violence as a Public Issue.”

Ironically, the well-attended community forum held May 12 at the Boyle Heights City Hall had been put together after an attempted rape of another woman was reported not far from the most recent attack.

Police said the man broke into the woman’s house, disrobed and sexually attacked the 30-year-old victim who was in her bed, shortly after midnight on May 15. The man escaped and has not been caught.

On April 18, a woman was attacked while walking to her vehicle after leaving the Eastside Luv bar. According to Kimberly Bautista, founder of the Justice for My Sister Collective the 35-year-old woman was attacked a few feet away from White Memorial Hospital, yet –according to some accounts– an eyewitness there allegedly ignored her cries for help.

Bautista, who organized the forum, said she also heard comments from people who blamed the woman for the attack. “Very often in our communities we are questioned: ‘Why did you go there, what were you wearing, had you been partying…?’ As if that’s even a justification”, she said. “Its not.”

Nearly 100 Boyle Heights residents, men and women of various ages, attended the forum endorsed by several local organizations. Staff from the East Los Angeles Women’s Center were on hand to provide counseling and support, while members of the Mujeres de Maíz collective set up a table with holistic remedies for anyone feeling emotionally triggered by reliving their experience of sexual attack.

A speaker from the Warriors Self Defense program spoke about classes that help women become prepared in case of an attack, while another from the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles riding group shared their own empowering activities for local women.

Raquel Román, who directs the homeless shelter program at Proyecto Pastoral, spoke about how last year’s death of Lorenza Arellano, whose nude body was found floating in Hollenbeck Park, moved her and others to form the Eastside Mujeres Network. Arellano’s death was officially ruled the result of an overdose, but Román said the circumstances of her demise were never completely addressed.

Several community members who spoke at the forum addressed the question of how a single incident of sexual violence can affect a whole community.

According to police reports, the woman leaving Eastside Luv last month was attacked by a knife-wielding stranger. She was able to fight off the attacker who apparently fled with an injury. Police advised local hospitals of the incident and the man was identified by a nurse who treated him at LA County USC Medical Center and later arrested by police.

Participants in ‘Sexual Violence as a Public Issue’ community forum held at Boyle Heights City Hall. Photo by Antonio Mejias
Participants were reminded, however, that most incidents of gender violence are perpetrated by persons known by the victims: their own partners and even family members. Several participants spoke about addressing the issue of sexual violence in the home, particularly with young children.

“A lot of us, specifically in our communities of color, are often very silent about the issue”, said Felicia Montes from Mujeres de Maíz. “It’s not something that we’re supposed to talk about, it’s taboo, so speaking about the issues, educating ourselves and getting resources and help is really, really key.”

“It’s a dialogue that really needs to happen,” said Xochitl Palomera, who spoke on behalf of Corazón del Pueblo, another of the endorsing organizations.

Palomera said she had personally experienced violence in her neighborhood and within her own family, and would like to begin to address those issues at home. “It’s not an easy thing to do, so when I participate in these dialogues, it prepares me and gives me tools to use with my own family,” she said.

Bautista, herself a survivor of gender violence, said she began organizing events where she and others could tell their stories as part of her own healing process.

The 30-year-old filmmaker named the collective after her documentary “Justice for My Sister,” about the plight of the sibling of a Guatemalan victim of gender violence, to see the woman’s attacker tried and convicted. When she became the victim and survivor of a violent attack in that country, she found it difficult to tell her own father about the incident. “I knew he would say ‘You should have never gone there, I told you not to go.’”

Bautista said she wanted to provide a safe forum for survivors, who often fear being ridiculized or questioned, blamed for causing or provoking their own attack. “By sharing our story, by providing a place where as survivors we can talk about our survival, it’s allowing us to address the victim blaming and implode it.”

The filmmaker and activist said she also hoped the forum would convey the message that any act of sexual violence, even if it happens in a private setting, affects an entire community.

“Another really big goal for us is to empower folks not to just become bystanders, not to stand by and watch as other people are being attacked, as other people are screaming,” Bautista said. “We have to understand that we are part of a community, we have to look out for each other, and that’s pretty much the message of tonight. If one person is injured then it’s injury to all of us, and all forms of violence are public”.

Resources for women survivors of sexual attack in Boyle Heights:

East Los Angeles Women’s Center
(323) 526 5819
www.elawc.org

Eastside Mujeres Network
Facebook: Eastside Mujeres Network

Corazón del Pueblo
corazondelpueblo.bh@gmail.com
Facebook: Corazon del Pueblo

Mujeres de Maíz
www.mujeresdemaiz.com
Facebook: Mujeres de Maiz

Ovarian Psyco-Cycles
www.ovarianpsycos.com
Facebook: Ovarian Psyco-Cycles

Warriors Self Defense Community Programs
warriorsbjj@gmail.com
Facebook: Warrior Womyn Self Defense

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