AUBURN (CBS13) — Nina Salarno lost her sister to domestic violence more than four decades ago. Now, she is leading the charge to keep women safe.
Salarno's sister's death prompted her to become an attorney and start a group dedicated to defending women who've experienced similar violence.
"She was dating Steve Burns. He was kind of the high school football star," Salarno said.
At 19 years old, Salarno's sister, Catina, was shot to death after her ex-boyfriend stalked her all the way to her college campus.
"He shot her point-blank in the back of the head," Salarno said.
Salarno is now the president of Crime Victims United, taking up arms to defend other domestic violence victims after witnessing a flawed criminal justice system that wouldn't.
"[I] saw the treatment of our family and the victims," she said.
Her fight started in 1979 after her sister's murder.
"Started speaking out for victims. At 13 years old, I was the youngest victims advocate in the United States. I testified in front of President Reagan's task force."
But it wasn't until 1994 – 15 years later – that Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, the first piece of legislation protecting female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Since then, Salarno says California has taken significant steps backward.
"Felony domestic violence is no longer a violent crime in California. Rape of an unconscious woman that happens at every college campus is no longer a violent crime," she said. "We can't prosecute them."
According to RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network — 26.4% of female college students experience rape or sexual assault. But what's worse? That's not the real number.
"Eighty-four percent of sexual assault on college campuses don't go reported," Salarno said. "Domestic violence and sexual assault are still the most underreported crime."
That's for fear, she says, of repercussion or that the criminal justice system simply won't protect them
"As hard as it is bringing it to attention, reporting what's going on is so important," Salarno said.
So what's the end goal for Crime Victims United?
"Female victims have to start speaking out testify in the Legislature," Salarno said. "We want these people in power to start listening to us because these are our stories."
She added, "Let's make sexual assault and [domestic violence] serious crimes again in California."
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