January 20, 2005 by

Lee Abrams


Categories: Heroes

When a man raped her 15-year-old foster daughter in the stairwell of her high school, Oleta “Lee” Kirk Abrams was horrified. When the authorities treated her daughter like a piece of meat, Abrams became infuriated.
No one offered compassion to the teen after she was assaulted. The police kept her from her family and refused to let her call home. At the hospital, the girl was kept waiting for an hour before a doctor examined her. And once the physician entered her room, he made jokes. The hospital never gave her a pregnancy test or checked her for venereal diseases.
In 1971, Abrams and two other women co-founded Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), the nation’s first rape crisis center. Based in Oakland, Calif., the center runs a 24-hour rape crisis hot line (510-845-7273), and provides counseling, educational programs and survivor advocacy services to hundreds of women each year. BAWAR also sends rape survivors to prisons to talk to sexual predators about the long-lasting impact of their crimes.
Abrams was the first person to accompany rape survivors to court when they testified against their attackers, and the first victim-witness advocate for the Alameda County district attorney’s office. In this position, she taught police investigators, hospital workers and prosecutors how to deal with special victims.
The Montana native earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from Emerson College in Boston. She was accepted into the master’s program at the University of Pittsburg, but left school to get married. After moving to Berkeley, Calif., in 1959, she became a stay-at-home mom and gardener. Abrams planted 250 rose bushes in her yard, and when they bloomed crowds gathered to admire her handiwork. From 1984 to 1999, she taught at Hintil Kuu Ca, a preschool for Native American children in the Oakland public school system.
Abrams died on Jan. 8. Cause of death was not released. She was 77. Services will be held in her garden next May or June, once the roses are in bloom.

6 Responses to Lee Abrams

  1. Leslie Henriques

    I joined BAWAR in the early 1970’s when Oleta was in full bloom. She was like a mother to those of us in our 20s, nurturing and strong. A wonderful roll model for me. I spent over 5 years in the organization…doing everything from counseling women, writing medical protocols for the state, speaking before the state Senate, securing money for the organization…all these things. And that was possible because a woman before me had the strength and determination to start an organziation that changed the lives of so many many women all over the country! Oleta you will not be forgotten.

  2. Jennie

    Oleta Abrams was my grandmother and what an amazing woman she was. I am still so amazed at what a difference one person can make in this world. We have put together a website to honor her life. If you would like to learn more about the lives that she touched and view some pictures of her, please go to oletaabrams.com
    Thank you!

  3. bob

    I met this incredible being through her daughter rebecca, Oleta was a very interesting woman, i enjoyed having a few meals and hangin with, she gave me compliments on my supporting others and i felt so much from that so heart felt she was a kind, careing person, the great spirit was felt through her… better for having met her

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