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Trustee Says She Was a Victim of Sex Abuse : Molestation: Lynda Rocamora reveals her painful past in an effort to create a program to help others.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For years, Lynda Rocamora has lived in denial of a painful past while maintaining the composure of a happy mother, popular community leader and member of the Glendale Board of Education.

But on Tuesday, the 46-year-old, usually upbeat Rocamora went public with details of her past that even her closest friends could not have imagined.

Speaking before the City Council, Rocamora revealed she had been a victim of rape, incest and child abuse dating back to age 5. She disclosed her painful history as she sought support for a new “safe haven” for sexually assaulted women and children.

“For years, I had been trying to forget, to not feel the emotions,” Rocamora said in an interview. “But I have also known for a lot of years that one day I would put the pieces together and use what happened to me for some sort of good, to help others in the same situation.”

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Even with an array of counseling programs and medical treatment now available to victims of sex crimes, Rocamora believes something is missing.

Often, she said, a sex-crime victim has no family or other support to turn to for help. Victims often are forced to wade through a stream of police interviews, medical exams, court hearings and other procedures on their own.

Her proposal is to create a network of trained volunteers who would respond immediately when a violent sexual crime is reported, accompany the victim during police procedures, refer the victim to medical and counseling services, and even drive the victim home and make follow-up visits. If needed, the volunteers could accompany the victim to court.

“There is so much more available now than there was when I was in need,” Rocamora said, “but there is still a gap. It’s so important to have someone there right away, when the victim is so vulnerable.

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“All their barriers have been broken, their lives have been destroyed in an instant. Police officers end up doing double duty as law enforcement and trying to aid the person, but they can’t always be there.”

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Growing up in Texas, she was left one day in the care of a neighbor in the family’s boarding house and was sexually molested by a man who was staying there. She said she told her parents “as best as a 5-year-old can,” but she ended up feeling responsible and guilty for what had happened.

Two years later, her family moved to Georgia, staying with relatives. She was repeatedly molested by a cousin. This time, she kept it a secret from her parents.

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At 22, Rocamora, who had moved to California, was embroiled in a divorce while working nights to support herself and taking classes during the day. One night, a rapist broke into her Mar Vista apartment while she slept. She awoke with the man’s hand covering her mouth and a gun in her face--her gun, which she kept on the night stand next to her bed for protection.

“I thought I had taken every precaution,” she said. “I never knew I was being followed and watched by this man for weeks.”

The rapist was arrested and convicted of a series of crimes against women, including an incident in which one victim was rendered a paraplegic, Rocamora said. But the crime made her feel so unsafe that she left the state just a few days after she was raped, settling in a small Texas town to regroup.

She returned to California several years later and married her husband, Bill, in 1975. She left school to raise the couple’s two daughters, both of whom are now students at Hoover High School. For years, only Rocamora’s immediate family knew of her painful past.

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But in August, Rocamora said, she began confiding in several friends as her plans for the program, which she has been developing for more than a year, began to take shape.

“She related these things to me as a personal friend, and my heart just went out to her,” said Jeanne Bentley, president of the school board. “It’s a terrible trauma for a woman to have carried inside her for so long. Now she felt the time was right to try and turn something terrible into something positive, and I admire her tremendous courage for that.”

“It’s a subject that is uncomfortable to talk about,” said Jeanne Olwin, president of the board of directors of the Glendale YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter, which offers services for domestic violence victims.

“What she is proposing is simply the humane treatment of victims of these crimes, so the process is not so cold and sterile. I think everyone respects her bravery, and will support it.”

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Rocamora proposed the program be headquartered on city property, possibly at the police station, and that there be one paid administrator working about 20 to 30 hours a week. Volunteers would be on call.

In addition, the program would monitor legislation on court reform and victims’ rights, and organize public education programs on sexual crimes and how to avoid them.

Already, Rocamora said, Police Chief James Anthony and City Manager David Ramsay have agreed to meet with her and discuss the plans.

Rocamora said she has received an overwhelming number of supportive calls from friends and community leaders offering to help.

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Overcoming her fears of disclosure of very private matters had another meaning for Rocamora.

“I didn’t relish it, but there was a purpose,” she said. “If this is going to be a public project, then it needs to go before the people. If I couldn’t do that, then I couldn’t trust myself to carry through with it.”


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