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.
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
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.
(not her real name)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
And All That's Left Undone
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;
- Officers should get
a statement from the victim.
- 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
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
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
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
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.