(This guest post was written by my friend Susan Peterson – thank you for reading – H.C.)
On November 22, the Friday before Thanksgiving, I stumbled upon an article about my dear friend from high school, Dr. Patricia Esparza. It was unthinkable; Patricia was being incarcerated and charged with the murder of a man who raped her when she was 19 years old. I spent the week writing to sexual assault advocacy groups, the media, friends and politicians—desperate to find anyone that could help. Five months and hundreds of calls, letters and pleas later, Patricia is still incarcerated.
On Sunday morning, I will fly to Los Angeles to visit Patricia in jail. When I booked the flight as a leg of a business trip to San Francisco, I had not realized I would be visiting Patricia on Mother’s Day. On the flight there, I will speak to myself firmly about not crying during our visit like I did last time. I will tell myself to stay strong and positive like Patricia; I don’t want her to comfort me from the other side of that thick pained glass again. Some days, the sadness I feel for Patricia’s separation from her 4 year old daughter and husband is unbearable. Some days, the anger I feel towards society for treating rape victims this way makes my head pound. Some days, I feel like I cannot do enough to help Patricia or to support a better culture for our little girls.
Patricia’s story is not about murder. Her story is about overcoming adversity, surviving abuse and rape, becoming a mother and a professor. When investigators re-opened a 1995 case involving the death of her accused rapist, Patricia told her story. She cooperated with law enforcement, and was told she was not a suspect. Now, however, she is charged with the murder of her attacker: a murder she did not commit. The very notion that Patricia is being charged with murder has baffled notable legal scholars, like Emily Blazelon of Slate Magazine.
It’s baffling for me because I have known Patricia since I was 15 and I know she is not capable of this charge. I met Patricia in 1991 as a new sophomore at New Hampshire Boarding School, Phillips Exeter Academy. During the three years we spent together in high school, Patricia exhibited tremendous work ethic and compassion. In high school, Patricia had an easy smile and made other people feel welcome. In school, Patricia would speak out if someone was being treated unfairly, being left out, or being teased; the student body respected her and treated her a bit like a “knowing elder.” I was in often in awe of this maturity and integrity that my dear friend Patricia exhibited.
In hindsight, I think I felt so comfortable with Patricia because I saw something familiar in her patient, calm demeanor. She possessed understanding and burdens far beyond her young age. She reminded me of my father, who grew up in the projects of New York, worked since the age of seven, and prioritized education as a way to make a better life for himself and his family. Like my father, Patricia grew up too fast and coped with too much.
Patricia was born in the farming village of El Taray, Mexico and immigrated to California as a small child. She flourished in the midst of gang violence, economic hardship that forced her mother to work long hours and a father who sexually abused her from age 5 to 12. Despite this, Patricia excelled academically and athletically. At 12, she received a merit scholarship to Phillips Exeter Academy and won a Los Angeles county cross country award.
As a parent now, I can begin to understand how heavy the weight of the adult world can be for a child. Children that withstand this weight can grow into adults that demonstrate calm tenacity. They are armed with unflappable exteriors; they have seen much worse. In the time I knew Patricia best, she straddled the line between child and adult in a way few fully understood.
I spend two hours almost every weeknight after my little girl and husband go to bed writing letters, tweets, and Facebook posts to raise awareness and raise funds for Patricia’s legal defense. I feel morally obligated to do so. I believe that if I do not stand up for Patricia and rape victims that my silence would be consent to society that treats women in this fashion.
If you would like to help, here are some ways to get involved:
- Share this article with your own network, family and friends
- Donating to her legal defense fund: http://igg.me/at/setpatriciafree
- Signing Patricia’s Change.org petition asking for the OC DA to drop these unjust charges
- Writing to the Orange County District Attorney directly
- “Liking” the Set Patricia Free page on Facebook
- Following @setpatriciafree on Twitter
Thank you for reading and caring about another woman and mother on this Mother’s Day.