Homestead Councilwoman Judy Waldman stopped mid-sentence, her voice breaking, as she struggled to get back to the story she was reading.
“She trusted me to tell her story today,” Waldman read. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, your nationality, your gender, this can happen to anyone.”
Waldman publicly shared her story of rape for the first time at the annual M.U.J.E.R. luncheon on Oct. 28 at the Women’s Club of Homestead, as members celebrated launching the Rape Crisis 24/7 Helpline and the Sexual Assault Response Team, a team of 17 nurses trained to be first responders at Homestead Hospital.
But while she spoke in the third person, Waldman made clear she was describing her own experience. She said the legal system she relied on 30 years ago at the time of her abuse let her down, but was hopeful that M.U.J.E.R.’s partnership with Homestead Hospital would help other victims feel like they were not alone.
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“This is the first and only rape treatment center south of Jackson Memorial,” said Waldman, who hopes having the center in Homestead will encourage victims to seek help.
M.U.J.E.R., a nonprofit organization helping the South Dade community with issues of domestic and sexual abuse since 1997, wanted to compliment their hotline service with a local treatment center so victims would not have to travel 40 miles north to the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
“Because women had to drive all the way to Jackson to get help, they had second thoughts, they didn’t want to do it,” Waldman said.
Homestead Hospital paid for the 40 hours of training for the 17 volunteer nurses, who are using the skills they learned to treat victims, but need more training in order to be certified as sexual assault nurse examiners.
“We are happy to provide this service here in south Florida,” said Silvia Hill, patient care supervisor at the hospital’s emergency room and one of the new trainees.
The hospital wouldn’t comment on how many victims have been treated, but according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 32 cases of forcible rape were reported in Homestead in 2013.
Susan Rubio, executive director of M.U.J.E.R., says many sexual assaults are never reported.
“Last year we served close to 100,” she said. The nonprofit helps victims with services including legal counsel, relocation services, and individual therapy.
Rubio, a domestic-abuse survivor, said the partnership with Homestead Hospital was significant because the organization now has “everything in place” to help victims.
“Our main focus is to make them feel safe,” she said. “We want to tell people they don’t have to deal with this alone.”
Julie Weil, rape survivor and advocate, also shared her gruesome story of being raped. In 2002, while picking up her 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, she was kidnapped and raped four times by Michael Siebert, also known as the “Palmetto Bay Rapist,” who was later sentenced to seven life sentences.
Unlike Waldman, Weil’s experience with county officers was reassuring. The officer who responded to her call was well informed about what was to follow.
“The fact that she knew the protocol, and knew what was going to happen, made me feel like Dade County had it together,” Weil said.
But despite the positive first response, Weil said that having to endure the long trip from Palmetto Bay to Roxcy Bolton at Jackson Memorial was “disconcerting.”
“My experience would’ve been even better had it been here in Homestead,” she said. “If it happens to my mom, to my sister-in-law, they’ll be able to com here to South Dade County and get all the help they need.”