Vigil in Marin County for sexual assault survivors

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month, an annual campaign across the country. 

In Marin County Wednesday night, a vigil was held honoring survivors, and reassuring undocumented victims they should come forward. 

"I didn't speak the language, I didn't have information, I couldn't get out of a violent situation," Marta Garcia told a few dozen people gathered at San Rafael's Pickleweed Park. 

Garcia recounted her trauma trapped in an abusive marriage for a decade, undocumented, afraid and the mother of a young son. 

"You should know that if any of these crimes happen to you or someone you know, knowledge is power," Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli told the gathering. 

Several community-based organizations and non-profits set up informational tables at the vigil, publicizing help that is available. 

And advocates come in many forms, including 2-year-old Lbrador retriever, Reiki, who was at the event. 

Reiki's calming presence supports victims, in interviews and during court testimony, as they tell their stories.    

"We've had interviews where the children won't speak with an investigator, but they'll tell Reiki everything that happened to them," said Reiki's handler from the District Attorney's office.   

The vigil concluded with the names of victims from 2018 in Marin County read aloud. 

"Natalie, 14 years old, Claire 45 years old," intoned one speaker, 

On the lawn, small flags bore the names and ages of each person as well, all survivors of elder, domestic, or sexual abuse.

"It's extremely heartbreaking, the toughest crimes I've investigated in my career, " San Rafael Police Lt. Scott Eberle told KTVU.

Whether the perpetrator is boyfriend, spouse, or pimp, investigators say power and manipulation are often at the root of these crimes.   

"Master manipulators, who make these victims believe they actually love them and care for them," noted Eberle, "and then the cycle of violence will start."

Frugoli believes awareness and resistance, fueled by the MeToo movement, is helping. 
"Men really do have to empower men to be responsible and understand that no really does mean no," Frugoli told KTVU. 

But she worries about immigrant communities like the Canal District in San Rafael, where victims may not feel empowered to report. 

Soon, posters will go up in bus shelters  with the message, "Crime Has No Boundaries."  

"You don't have to be a citizen to report a crime, and we would like to make that message clear that we're here to protect everyone." 

Marta Garcia's son was seven when she finally broke free of a violent marriage. 

"My son gave me the strength to report it, to not accept it, " she told KTVU, hugging her advocate in the DA's office, Nilda Fernandez.

The two women have remained close, as Garcia now has residency, a good job, and her son in college.
She says she will always be grateful to those who helped her find a way out.    

"They are angels in my life, I'm very happy," Garcia smiled.