"The rape victim is not just the kid in a miniskirt hitchhiking home from Georgetown at 2 a.m.," said one of 20 trained volunteers who works for Arlington's newly formed Rape Victim Companion Program. The volunteer, now 38, was raped at knifepoint by a burglar who broke into her Arlington home one sunny summer morning five years ago.
"Your home is your sanctuary and that makes it extremely traumatic," said the woman, who has two teen-age daughters whom she has never told about the attack. "A lot of fear remains and there is still this irrational guilt. I was extremely well-treated by the police and Arlington Hospital, and my friends were very supportive, but a lot of victims, especially teen-agers, aren't so lucky. They're really vulnerable and need a companion."
Arlington's program, patterned after a similar one begun in 1975 in Alexandria, provides trained companions who are on call around the clock to aid rape victims, their families and close friends. The companions, who include several men, one of them a District of Columbia police officer, do no actual counseling but may make referrals to mental health agencies, accompany victims to court, the hospital or police station and in general provide sympathetic long-term attention if necessary.
"Frequently family members will blame the victim," said Peggy Farney, an assistance to the county manager who spearheaded the Arlington program. "Some women are embarrassed to tell anybody because they'd been on a date with the man who raped them: And there are some private physicians who refuse to treat rape victims because they say they don't want to testify in court."
According to officials at companion programs in Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria, calls from victims or their relatives are often anonymous and are usually made a day or two after an assault. FBI statistics show that rape, which occurs far more frequently in the summer, remains one of the most under-reported crimes. Reporting the crime is not a requirement at any of the companion programs.
Adam Falato, a computer specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration, is a companion with the Alexandria program. Before moving to Alexandria he worked with a similar program in Kansas.
"Teen-age girls are afraid that their fathers won't understand," said Falato, who says he frequently receives calls from male relatives in the middle of the night.
"A father's concern is that he is somehow responsible," he said, adding that the reaction of boyfriends and husbands often is, "Hey, you abused my property." We try to educate them to what a woman goes through; shock, self-blame, depression, withdrawal."
Falato, one of 45 volunteer companions, said his most difficult case involved the father of a 9-year-old girl who was raped by a next door neighbor. "His reaction was, 'I'm going to take care of this thing myself and if anybody gets in my way . . . 'I got him talking, trying to answer what that would solve."
"The screamers aren't the problem," Farney said. "Those victims who seemingly take trauma well, who seem claim and mature about it often have the most difficulty coping."
Ann Warshauer, founder of the Alexandria program, said, "The only staunch resistance has come from Alexandria Hospital. The police have always been fantastic and the commonwealth attorney's office has been very cooperative. But there is a great resistance by the emergency room to adopting a uniform protocol for sexual assault cases (such as Arlington and Fairfax Hospitals have). There is a standard way of treating everything in medicine, but in rape cases each physician does it his own way. Some are very good and some are very bad."
Spokesman David Norcross said that Alexandria Hospital has a uniform protocol. He said that there have been differences between the companion program and hospital in allowing companions to stay with a victim during a physical examination.
Alexandria companions also function as court-watchers. "One of the reasons we were founded was that women didn't report the crime because of the treatment they'd received in hospitals and the courts," Warshaper said.
"Things have changed in the courts. I saw judges going to sleep and those who seemed to lack empathy for the victims, but I was at a trial recently where a judge told a defense attorney he'd face contempt charges if he kept badgering a witness."
Farney said that Arlington companions tend to be single, working women in their 30s, who live alone. "Perhaps they are most conscious of the crime, but rape doesn't just happen to young, single women," she said. According to 1977 Arlington police statistics, rape victims ranged in age from 14 to 73.
"We need to get some involvement from retired people and the Spanish-speaking and Vietnamese communities," Farney noted.
Alexandria officials say they have received several calls from males who claim they were assaulted by other men. At its next session, the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to consider revising the state's rape laws to include rape of men and, in the words of one companion, to shift the emphasis of the law from sex to violence.