People Issue

People 2015: Bobbie Villareal Speaks Up for Rape Victims

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The bizarre sentence a Dallas judge gave a confessed rapist in spring 2014 might have gone unnoticed by national media if not for Bobbie Villareal.

Villareal was then executive director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, a nonprofit agency that assists rape victims from two locations and over the phone. People who run nonprofit health agencies are typically cagey with the media, especially when it comes to criticizing public officials. Villareal was refreshingly honest.

Judge Jeanine Howard had given the rapist probation without any of the restrictions typically mandated for sex offenders, such as therapy. To a Morning News reporter, Howard then implied the teenage rape victim was promiscuous. Rather than prison time, Howard sentenced the rapist to volunteer at a place none other than Villareal’s rape crisis center. “We all read it [the sentence] and we’re like, ‘Wait a minute,’” Villareal told the Observer last year.

“I think it was what she did afterward that was so telling, the victim-blaming … that was so horrendous. The fact that she changed his terms and conditions to what appeared, to those of us that were looking at it, to be vindictive,” Villareal says now.

The story of the Texas judge who sentenced a rapist to counsel rape victims went viral, with Villareal speaking out in subsequent interviews as the voice of reason.

“I was the person most vocal in the area about it, and that’s how it should have been,” she says.

Villareal is a former prosecutor in Tarrant County and Dallas County who handled domestic abuse and sexual assault cases. She sees herself as an advocate for victims.

It’s familiar territory. As a child, she witnessed her mother’s abuse at the hands of her father, she says. Her mother left the marriage when Villareal was 5, and remarried a man who would become Villareal’s loving stepfather. The change helped Villareal understand what was wrong earlier in her life.“I think that it’s very helpful to not victim-blame,” she reflects now. “When you’re a child, you don’t understand, and you say, ‘They must have done something to deserve this.’”

Villareal recently left her leadership role at the rape crisis center, seeking a professional change. She hopes the crisis center, in its fifth year now, will eventually become a mobile clinic that travels from hospital to hospital. She now works with SecureEd, a young company founded by a law firm that consults with universities and Greek life on reducing sexual assault on campus. She still volunteers at the rape crisis center, taking about two shifts a month on the crisis hotline or at the clinic.

Soon, Dallas County will begin testing some 300 untested rape kits thanks to a government grant, work that Villareal says is important but will lead to more questions for law enforcement and prosecutors about what comes next. “We really haven’t had a meaningful discussion yet on what’s going to happen when we get 40 or 50 hits on those first 300 kits that are sent out,” she says.

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn