Years after being raped by three men at a party, Laura Hamby discovers she can’t have children because of a disease she contracted during the brutal assault. Married and wanting to start a family, she’s determined to seek justice against her attackers.
Through his novel, “Judging Laura,” 87-year-old Chapel Hill local, Peter Rizzolo, aims to show that survivors can get help, even if years have passed since their assault.
“What I hope is that women will choose to report the incident but also choose to get help early on,” he said.
“Judging Laura” is Rizzolo’s third novel and was self-published three weeks ago. He will read from it at Flyleaf Books at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 7.
At the reading, he’ll discuss his experiences, why he wrote the book and how to use fiction to tell a powerful story.
Natalie Ziemba, the crisis response coordinator for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center (OCRCC), will join him for a Q&A session after the reading.
As a retired professor and doctor at UNC Family Medicine, Rizzolo has treated women who’ve been raped.
“I’m just appalled by the prevalence of sexual assault in our country, on our campuses, and I want to express my feelings about that in a story context,” he said.
Anonymous help line
Bethany Wichman-Buescher, the Rape Crisis Center’s client services director, said they help 500 to 600 clients a year.
The center has an anonymous help line – 919-967-7273 – and about half of the clients remain unknown to the agency.
Of their known clients, 68 percent are 25-59 years old and 22 percent are 18-24.
Gentry Hodnett, administrative services coordinator, said people don’t usually come forward right away, like Laura who was 18 when she was raped.
“I do believe it’s very common for people to not want to deal with it at first and to kind of tuck it away and dissociate from that trauma,” Hodnett said.
The Rape Crisis Center helps survivors and teaches secondary survivors how to support survivors. Anyone who has a relationship with a survivor is a secondary survivor: parents, friends, significant others, etc.
Since they believe sexual assault comes in different forms, the people at the center “are there to talk to anybody about any kind of crossing a boundary that they may have experienced,” Hodnett said.
They have support groups and monthly workshops for self-care.
In addition to the clients they serve each year, the center reaches 15,000 children, students and teachers through its community education program.
They teach preschoolers boundaries and respect, while their middle and high school programs focus on gender, sexuality and how to be an active bystander by speaking up to prevent or disrupt a potentially harmful situation they witness.
“We’re aiming to change the cultural norms that are related to consent and flirting. We go in there and tell them the difference between flirting and sexual harassment,” Hodnett said.
Since survivors sometimes face judgment and the perpetrator is assumed innocent until proven guilty, Rizzolo said the survivor faces an uphill battle.
“It’s frightening to want to take that on, but if women don’t do that then these perpetrators go on and they commit more heinous crimes,” Rizzolo said.