Kristene Chapa, then 18, and girlfriend Mollie Olgin, then 19, stopped by a park on their way to see a movie on June 23, 2012. A horrifying encounter with a stranger ended with both young women sexually assaulted and shot, left for dead in that park. Olgin died of her injuries, but Kristene Chapa survived and took the stand to testify against David Strickland more than four years later.
It took the jury less than six hours to return a guilty verdict. Four years, 3 months and six hours after their horrible ordeal, there was finally some justice for Mollie and Kristene and, hopefully, some closure for Kristene.
David Strickland was given an automatic life sentence because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, a decision supported by Chapa.
She has struggled these past four years to reclaim her life and the full use of her body after literally being outed to her family by that fateful call the morning after the attack. There’s a lovely article on Autostraddle profiling Kristene in great detail. I urge you to read it to better understand how this strong young woman perseveres in the face of tragedy.
There is also an ongoing crowdfund site set up to help Kristene with her medical expenses, many of which are not covered by health insurance.
As I write this on October 5, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that this is both National Hispanic Heritage Month and LGBT History Month which includes National Coming Out Day. Kristene’s story as a Latina woman is both sobering and inspiring this year. Every year. She’s a true ‘badass lesbian’ as dubbed by Autostraddle – surviving a hideous ordeal and rebounding to pursue college and write a book with her thumb while continuing to heal. With her thumb. Her Roman Catholic Latino family learned about her lesbian identity the same moments they learned about her assault and they have embraced her, loved her without hesitation, defying stereotypes left and right.
The Chapa family is Mexican-American. When I heard Mike Pence make a despicable comment last night during the VP debate about “whipping out that Mexican thing again,” my thoughts immediately turned to Kristene and her family. Trump and Pence have insulted their daughter via multiple surrogates – as a woman, as a lesbian, as a Latina and as a person living with permanent disability. They don’t allow for the fact that she is a survivor whose family ties and family values have supported her in her recovery. They don’t allow for the fact that her extended family has paid tens of thousands out of pocket to supplement a terrible health insurance plan. They don’t honor the courage that takes her back to the site of her shooting to honor her girlfriend and brought into the courtroom to face her assailant, her rapist, and testify against him.
I think of those qualities and I can’t wait to read her book.