Gail Abarbanel, founder and director of the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Loyola Marymount University on Wednesday, April 25.
At a ceremony in the Life Sciences Building auditorium, the university recognized Abarbanel’s vision, leadership and tireless commitment to social justice in her work with rape survivors, and the police and medical health personnel who assist the survivors.
Watch a video presentation about Abarbanel here.
“Gail Abarbanel embodies the values of our Jesuit and Marymount traditions, especially the cura personalis – the care for the whole person,” said LMU President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. “We honor Gail for her fierce advocacy and boundless compassion for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. She is a hero who lives the Lion’s Code and delivers hope and healing to those in need.”
Before an audience of students and faculty and staff members, Abarbanel explained how the landscape has changed for rape victims in the four decades since the Rape Treatment Center was founded – referencing new laws and policies, prevention programs and approaches to patient care, many of which she led the way on. And, she added, “we’re not done.”
“I think that this is a unique time – 2018 – to advance the issues that the Rape Treatment Center is dedicated to,” said Abarbanel, referencing the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have sparked disclosures and discussions about incidents of sexual harassment and abuse. “It’s on us to take advantage of this opportunity, more openness to change.”
Abarbanel’s focus on victims of sexual assault began when she was a social worker providing counseling at Santa Monica Hospital. In 1974, a young woman was brought to the ER after attempting suicide. She had been raped several days earlier and had told no one because she felt ashamed and feared her family’s reaction. After working with that young woman, Abarbanel became determined to ensure that no sexual assault victim in Los Angeles felt isolated and alone again.
Her work with the center extends beyond providing free, state-of-the-art treatment, medical and forensic services for victims of sexual assault. Her efforts have resulted in state and federal laws that benefit victims; training for thousands of police officers and prosecutors on how to respond to victims; and education about sexual assault and prevention strategies for hundreds of thousands of students in local high schools and middle schools.
She also launched a major education campaign to help universities develop effective new policies and programs to deal with rapes involving college students, including an award-winning prevention film, “Campus Rape.”
Lane Bove, LMU senior vice president for student affairs, said Abarbanel’s work exemplifies the university’s mission to be men and women with and for others.
“Gail has given voice to the voiceless and empowered those who feel powerless; she has made victims of rape, who often feel broken, whole again,” Bove said. “LMU is honored to pay tribute to her public service and commitment.”