Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Enraged People Against Rape's story recounted to aid sexual assault victims

The mementos are numerous. Boxes of scrap books. Newspaper clippings. Video tapes of television news broadcasts. Plaques on the walls. Letters. Lots of letters of appreciation, including a couple from a then-U.S. senator from Delaware named Joseph Biden Jr.

They could fill a book. But, they didn't, they just helped document a story that did produce a book, E.P.A.R., by Judi Barrett, a 73-year-old retired hairdresser now living in Bayonet Point.

The acronym and the author are synonymous and they are forever linked to the crime that spawned EPAR, Enraged People Against Rape — a horrific May 1990 home invasion and gang rape of an elderly woman in the Regency Park neighborhood. Three armed men, aged 18 to 20, broke into a home and hog-tied and raped a 79-year-old woman. They tied up her 80-year-old husband, beat him in the head with the butts of their guns and stole the couple's cash and jewelry. Deputies quickly apprehended the trio and a 16-year-old accomplice who had waited outside in the car.

The brutality of the crimes stunned the region and left west Pasco retirees fearful in their own homes. Barrett and the regular customers in the hair salon shared the outrage. It would have been easy to stew, maybe write a letter to the newspaper or offer up a usual demand that somebody should do something.

That somebody became Barrett, Charlotte Vita and others who formed EPAR. They didn't picket or throw obstinate tantrums. They researched. They informed. They wrote letters. They spoke to community groups. They collected petition signatures. They lobbied for the rights of rape victims. They appeared on the national news broadcasts and on their own public access cable show. They supported rape victims during their court dates. In less than four years they successfully pushed for Biden's Violence Against Women Act (passed by Congress in 1994) and several state statutes including legislation that outlawed gain time (early prison release) for convicted sex offenders, eliminated the statute of limitations on sexual battery cases and prohibited the early release of people convicted of sexually assaulting children younger than 12.

Barrett now recounts the legislative triumphs in E.P.A.R, a self-published 71-page book she completed in May. It took four months to write, she said, but it was 24 years in the making. It's her legacy to the Regency Park rape victim, a woman named Phyllis, who Barrett met coincidentally while sharing an airport shuttle ride from west Pasco to Tampa International Airport.

The book also is an expression of gratitude to the people who assisted EPAR, from a then-unknown Pasco Commission candidate named Ed Collins to Pasco Sheriff's officers like Jim Driscoll and to legislators including Mike Fasano.

Many of the key players are no longer living. Phyllis' husband, Alfred, never recovered from the attack. He developed dementia, was unable to testify at trial and died shortly afterward. Vita died in 1995. Barrett's partner at the hair salon is gone, too, and Phyllis died in hospice care 14 years ago. Barrett wrote the book with the blessing of Phyllis' sister, who recently passed away in Arizona at the age of 90.

The epilogue contains no information on the assailants, so I checked the Florida Department of Corrections out of curiosity. The getaway driver received a 12-year sentence. His whereabouts are unknown. Two of the rapists are in their early 40s and serving life sentences in Florida's state prison system. The acknowledged leader of the gang, then-20-year-old Robert Kaczmarek, spent the final 21 years of his life behind bars. He died in prison nearly three years ago.

"Good,'' Barrett said when told of Kaczmarek's death, "Well, I guess I shouldn't say that. But he was the most belligerent. He was spitting at the (television) cameras.''

Indeed. A snarling, mullet-wearing Kaczmarek being led from jail to court is one of the indelible images of the atrocity. (The photograph is not included in the book.)

Perhaps the other tragedy was the demise of EPAR. Barrett and Vita folded the group in October 1993 after participation waned. Barrett also noticed candidates for public office joined the group as a resume-builder and she and Vita feared the group's nonpartisan mission would be politicized by electioneering opportunists.

Nope. That's a clear message in the essay. Don't let others take advantage of you. Barrett hopes the book can offer help and support to sexual assault victims. It is available on Amazon.com.

"This is Phyllis' book,'' Barrett said. "The community of Pasco came together and really rallied around for support, but Phyllis was really the true hero. I hope people will say, 'If this elderly lady can do it, I can do it too.' ''

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