Justice Department Recognizes Florida Sexual Assault Survivor and Advocate with Special Courage Award
WASHINGTON — The Office for Victims of Crime, a component of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, presented the Special Courage Award to Gail Gardner, a sexual assault survivor, advocate and activist from Ocoee, Florida.
This Special Courage Award category honors a victim or survivor who has shown exceptional perseverance or determination. It may also acknowledge one who has acted bravely to aid a victim or to prevent victimization.
“Ms. Gardner survived the horror of sexual assault then waited decades for her assailant to be identified, all the while standing tall against the unknown and remaining determined to help others,” said Amy L. Solomon, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP. “Through her fortitude and resilience, she became a strong and vocal advocate for victims of sexual assault and has become a source of inspiration and hope for victims throughout Florida and across the country. A survivor in every sense of the word, Ms. Gardner exemplifies courage.”
In 1988, Gardner, a single mother, was raped by an unknown perpetrator during a home invasion. Her case remained open for more than 30 years, but with the advancement in DNA testing and a 2016 law that mandated testing the backlog of sexual assault kits, she finally learned the identity of her attacker, a serial rapist known as “the Malibu rapist” who was already serving a life sentence for another sexual assault. Through DNA testing, he was connected to 26 additional sexual assaults.
Ms. Gardner is the namesake for Florida’s Gail’s Law, recently enacted legislation requiring sexual assault evidence kit tracking via a database designed to keep victims aware of the status of evidence in their case throughout the testing process. State law now requires kits to be submitted for testing within 30 days and that laboratories process them within 120 days.
Gardner advocates for social justice on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence who struggle with addiction or arrest after their victimization, and has helped to bring the topic of sexual assault out into the open.
“Ms. Gardner is a woman who endured a devastating sexual assault, yet had the resilience and courage to not only fight for her own justice, but to be an advocate and voice for so many other sexual assault survivors,” said Kristina Rose, director of OVC. “It is an honor to present the Special Courage Award to someone who embodies the very essence of what it represents.”
Every April, OVC leads communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. President Ronald W. Reagan proclaimed the first Victims’ Rights Week in 1981, calling for greater sensitivity to the rights and needs of victims. This year’s observance is taking place April 24-30, and features the theme, “ Rights, Access, Equity, for All Victims.”
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, advance racial equity in the administration of justice, assist victims and enhance the rule of law. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.