By Diane Y. Welch
April was Sexual Assault Awareness month and in its timely recognition the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) held its largest fundraising gala of the year at The Grand Del Mar.
More than 600 attendees convened to celebrate and support the nonprofit’s 14th annual Tea and Tonic fundraiser.
Academy Award-winning actress, author and activist Marlee Matlin was the event’s keynote speaker. She spoke passionately about her own former abuse both as a child and as an adult partner. She also signed copies of her book, a memoir, titled “I’ll Scream Later.”
In her speech, Matlin talked about how she grew up in a very loving home but despite that secure environment — because of her deafness and an inability to speak — she was molested as a child by a non-family member. She shared her story about winning the Academy Award for her debut movie “Children of a Lesser God” and then finding her voice after she said she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of a former boyfriend. She will never be silent again, she said. “I will scream loud, if anybody ever does this again.”
Today Matlin is happily married, is continuing her career and has four children.
“She wants to speak out about domestic violence and sexual assault in order to give other people their voice,” said Verna Griffin-Tabor, CEO of CCS and a licensed clinical social worker.
“And that’s why we do this event,” she stressed.
Many times people who are vulnerable are sought out by perpetrators. And many crimes of sexual assault go unreported.
For this reason a large part of CCS’s work is in educating the public to prevent these crimes in the first place.
“We know and believe that this violence is preventable,” said Griffin-Tabor. “And we don’t want people who have been hurt to live in shame. They aren’t the ones who committed the crime. We should be holding the perpetrators accountable.”
At the event Crystal Harris was honored as a Community Hero and was presented with the Courage Award. Despite suffering from domestic violence, Harris was ordered in Family Court to pay her abusive incarcerated husband’s legal fees, spousal support and half of her retirement accounts.
The injustice sparked Harris into action when she helped sponsor a bill, last year, that is now law. It prohibits anyone convicted of a violent sexual felony from gaining financial awards from the separate property of the spouse.
It was anticipated that the gala would raise in excess of $200,000, funds desperately needed for counseling and legal services, said Griffin-Tabor.
The nationally recognized social service agency is 44 years old and is the only rape crisis center for the City of San Diego and 75 percent of the county. It works with victims of domestic violence and elder abuse and has locations in El Cajon, Escondido, San Marcos and Pacific Beach areas. It also operates a countywide 24-hour bilingual crisis helpline and provides emergency domestic violence shelters, hospital and court accompaniment.