Best of America

It Happened to Alexa: Helping the Families of Rape Survivors

It Happened to Alexa: Helping the Families of Rape Survivors© 2011 Tamara Reynolds

Our Heroes: Alexa, Stacey, and Tom Branchini

Where they live: Lewiston, New York

How they help: It Happened to Alexa Foundation

One September morning in 1999, Stacey Branchini woke up to a nightmare when she picked up the phone and was informed that her daughter Alexa, 18, had been raped inside her dormitory on the campus of Boston University, where she had just begun her freshman year. While her daughter’s attacker was arrested later that night, his trial didn’t take place until a year and a half later in January 2001. In the intervening months, Stacey, her husband, Tom, and her daughter faced a traumatic legal process. The family flew to Boston for each part of the trial. When they would land at the airport, “my daughter would break down in front of us,” says Stacey. “We were appalled to learn how poorly [she was] being treated by the system.” Alexa, who testified at the month-long trial, says, “I wouldn’t have testified if my family hadn’t been with me.”

Her experience cost the family dearly in other ways as well, especially in travel expenses and lost income. Tom says now that he’d shake his head and say to his wife, “What would people do if they couldn’t afford this? We’ve got to do something.” Two years later, the Branchinis started the It Happened to Alexa Foundation to help families who might endure the same hardships. The only organization of its kind, the foundation provides funding for victims’ families so that they are able to accompany their loved ones to court. In its first year, the foundation dispersed $7,400; in 2009, more than $100,000 was raised to help 174 victims and their family members and friends. Alexa is now pursuing her PhD in criminal justice and is dedicated to assuring rape survivors that, despite their ordeal, they are not alone.

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