Home News Local news FRIENDS OF VICTIM SHARE SOLIDARITY, ACTION IDEAS

FRIENDS OF VICTIM SHARE SOLIDARITY, ACTION IDEAS

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March 3, 2003 – Several dozen people showed up Monday evening for a rally in Emancipation Garden — most, it seemed, in outrage and shock over what had happened to someone many of them called "friend," but also to address the epidemic of rapes and assaults, especially by repeat offenders, of the women of the Virgin Islands.
Michal Rhymer-Charles, executive director of Family Resource Center, had called for the rally after police charged a 20-year-old man with the brutal rape and attempted murder last Wednesday of the St. Thomas woman. The man had been released from jail a month earlier after authorities dropped charges against him in connect with the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl. (See "Brutal assault spurs march for victim justice".)
Among the speakers Monday night were several men who declared their commitment to protecting the women of the Virgin Islands.
"Today I join forces with you women," Paul Walwyn, a government employee, said. "Real men don't do this kind of thing."
Later, Walwyn said: "It is usually the male that offends the women … As a man, I am going to try to reach them [the men]."
Walwyn said he had come to the rally because the victim "is my friend." But his commitment, he said, would go beyond his friendship and the rally. "This has to stop," he said. "We're losing too many of the young men to crime. We're too busy to love them."
Sandra Hodge, a Family Resource Center therapist, told those gathered that too often "we blame the victim." But "the victim is not the problem," she said, adding that people can't "dissect the victim, saying what the victim should have done."
Hodge, who works regularly with victims of domestic abuse, said love and education are key to solving the problem of violence the community is facing. But "how can we love our children if we don't know how?" she asked.
She added that community members need to come forward and report abuse, no matter who the abusers are. "We know people with big names" who are abusing children, she said, and it is time to stop the cover-up.
Kevin Rodriquez, a Senate candidate last November, said: "We men need to give women all the support they need." He added, "We need to see more men out here and more senators out here."
There were no senators in attendance.
A former senator, Stephanie Scott-Williams, also a friend of the victim, said that after last week's attack, another friend of hers confided that she had been attacked and was being stalked.
"We've got to stop the secrets," Scott-Williams said.
Post-rally discussions on what to do
As the formal part of the rally came to an end, the group chanted, "If you do the crime, you do the time … without bail."
Several of the protesters carried signs. Among the messages:
"Victims have rights – right to be safe – to see rapist arrested – to see rapists prosecuted"
"No excuse for sexual abuse"
"Children were not born to be raped."
There also were signs in Spanish, all bearing the same message: "¡Las victimas tienen derechos tambien!" ("Victims have rights too!")
Scott-Williams said the victim had asked her just days before the attack what they were going to do this year to mark International Women's month, which is March.
"This is what we are going to do!" Scott-Williams, a longtime community and women's activist, said, gesturing to the people, most of them women, gathered around the park in small groups. As the sun was setting, they were discussing how best to give support to the victim of last week's attack, how to make their demands for justice known, and how to support community groups that give shelter and assistance to victims of violence.
Several called for attending the suspect's arraignment on Thursday as a show of support for the victim. Others talked about soliciting donations or holding a raffle to raise money for the victim — and for Family Resource Center, which in addition to the normal demands for its services also is struggling to fill the gap left by the demise of the Victim Advocate Program two months ago.
According to one friend of the victim, she had never seen her assailant until the day before the attack, when he had approached her to help him with his car.
"We're so vulnerable," one woman said. "They come to us, we try to play good Samaritan and then we become victims."
Earlier Monday, however, Deputy Police Chief Theodore Carty had said it appeared that the victim and the assailant were known to each other. "He knew where this lady was living," Carty said. "They were not strangers."
Carty said the suspect, Michael Turbe, may have recognized the victim after visiting his mother in the government agency where both women work.
However, Carty said police have drawn no conclusions. "As far as we're concerned, we don't see any past connection now," he said.
Tight security for victim at hospital
As investigation of the assault continued Monday, police questioned the victim at Roy L. Schneider Hospital, where authorities said she is recovering from 18 or 19 stab wounds sustained during the three-and-a-half hour ordeal. A close friend of the victim who tried without success to visit her at the hospital said tight security was in place there.
As word of the woman's identity spread by word of mouth, many who know her called in to radio talk shows to express concern and solidarity. Sen. Lorraine Berry extended her sympathy on her weekly radio address, acknowledging her as a member of the committee that puts together the senator's annual women's conference.
Berry also said "it was a shock" to learn of Turbe's having recently been freed from jail after being detained in the child sexual assault case. Police charged him and another male in that case, according to Carty.
The other individual admitted his role in the assault and was sentenced to six months in jail, Carty said. Turbe did not confess and because prosecutors could not get the victim in that case or her parents to cooperate, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said, the authorities released him in January.
Berry criticized the Attorney General's Office for dropping the charges, citing a bill she sponsored that was passed by the Legislature last year. It provides, among other things, for the submission of videotaped testimony by minors in court, a step Berry says prosecutors could have taken to make their case without putting the 11-year-old on the witness stand.
Stridiron railed against both Berry and Rhymer-Charles in response to their remarks, stating that his office has a record of more convictions for sexual assault "on average" than many U.S. states.
"Yes, it is unfortunate, it is regrettable that this young man was not prosecuted for the earlier sexual attack on the minor," Stridiron said, referring to Turbe. But he said the reality was that "we could have put an 11-year-old on the witness stand who could have lied, and that would have put us in the position of 'What are we going to do next?'"
As far as investigators could ascertain from conversations with the girl, Stridiron said, she viewed Turbe as her boyfriend. Stridiron said he hopes she will change her mind in light of what happened last week and provide testimony that could strengthen the case against him now being prepared.
Turbe is charged with attempted murder, rape, burglary, extortion and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Police said the woman's assailant broke into her residence and accosted her when she came home early last Wednesday afternoon. They said the attacker raped her repeatedly, held her for ransom and then stabbed her
multiple times and slashed her throat after a friend brought the money he demanded.
"It was a vicious act by a sexual pervert that should have been put behind bars," Stridiron said.

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