Ledora Ferguson hooked her worn wooden cane onto the lectern and began describing a horror that she said never leaves her mind.
"He pushed me on the ground," the 81-year-old Alexandrian said. "I hit my head and I lay there I don't know how long. My head hurt. It was bleeding."
Lifting her hand to the spot where her head was cut when a man knocked her to the pavement outside her apartment building last December, Ferguson pleaded last night with Alexandria officials to increase protection of the elderly.
She was among 15 persons who spoke at an unusual City Hall forum attended by police, prosecutors, firefighters, hospital staff, and others concerned with the aftermath of violent incidents. The speakers told how they were treated after being assaulted, robbed or raped.
Ferguson made a point of saying she spoke on behalf of senior citizens who were too frightened to unlock their doors. "We need a guard or a policeman to watch our places," she said. "There is a lot of bad going on."
In 1985, 318 aggravated assaults and 52 rapes were reported in Alexandria. Nationally, 5 million people are assaulted each year and 178,000 raped, according to the National Organization for Victims Assistance.
Last night's session, cited as part of the growing national movement to provide restitution for victims and compassion during the trial process and in observance of National Victims' Rights Week, was convened by a special Alexandria task force.
Some speakers said they had been aided greatly, while others voiced frustrations.
While calling for increased protection, Ferguson praised the assistance she had received from the Red Cross, which is helping her pay medical bills, and the Alexandria Office on Aging, which is helping to ease her out of her fright.
A 28-year-old woman who said she had been raped last October, said the police, a magistrate and the courts failed her.
"I assumed when the officer found me beaten and half naked in the middle of the street," she said, that he knew she had been raped. But because she didn't actually use the word "rape" when she filed a report with the police, she said, it was more difficult to prosecute her case. The man charged with raping her was acquitted.
"The police didn't ask the right question . . . . The magistrate didn't tell me to go to a rape crisis center . . . . The police photographer didn't take the pictures of the bruises and scratches on my body."
Marge Guimbellot, 48, who said she was attacked by a crazed woman at the car repair shop she managed, said, "I thought I was strong, I thought I would have little difficulty getting beyond it. But the trial was postponed three times, and each time, I couldn't sleep or eat. I'd start living it all over again . . . . That woman grabbed me by the throat and ripped handfuls of hair out of my head . . . . " A woman was convicted of assaulting Guimbellot.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney John Kloch, whose office administers a victim assistance program, said Alexandria victims should contact his office for emotional and financial assistance. For crimes committed elsewhere in Virginia, the Industrial Commission of Virginia offers funds to cover medical expenses and salary loss due to a violent crime.