VACAVILLE — Hazel Payne was a victim.
The 21-year-old Miss Vacaville was a victim of sexual abuse at a young age, but at 18 she shed the moniker of “victim” and changed it to “advocate.”
“At 18 I decided to speak up,” she said.
Both she and her twin sister went to the Police Department in Vacaville and the accused was convicted in 2010. Payne said not coming forward earlier had nothing to do with whether people would be believe her.
“I was worried about what would happen if I said something,” she said. “How would my family life be? I just chose to kind of keep it inside.”
But having her predator put in prison wasn’t the end of the story for Payne.
The Sacramento City College student aligned herself with the advocacy group Darkness to Light and, using her Miss Vacaville platform, is working her way through local organizations, including the Vacaville City Council, advocating for children who might be going through the same traumatic experiences as she did as a child.
Her goal is to require sexual abuse education for the adults who work with children in youth organizations. The two-hour educational program she’s introducing gives adults signs on what to look for in abused children, how to approach them and how to prevent abuse. It also requires all volunteers to commit to background checks and would limit child and adult one-on-one time without another adult being in view.
“I want to change the way adults work with kids,” she said. “You’d be surprised, there are tons of places that don’t require (background checks).”
Firmly in her corner is Martin Ayala, board president for the Vacaville Youth Soccer League. The league has 2,000 children and more than 100 adults who are involved with those children. Ayala has known Payne for several years as a young soccer player and said it took courage for her to speak out.
“I think what she’s doing should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “What she’s bringing out is a great thing . . . in my opinion, it’s just about awareness. People should not be quiet or afraid to say anything.”
Ayala and Payne are working out a schedule for her to speak to the soccer league board. She spoke recently to the Vacaville City Council. She also started a petition on www.change.org and she is an advocate of Erin’s Law – passed in several states, but not California – that advocates for educating children about sexual abuse, focusing on subjects such as safe an unsafe touches, safe and unsafe secrets, how to get away from an abusive act and how to tell someone.
Payne made it clear that her interest in pageants is about the message she can spread from her position and the fact it allows her to advocate for something she’s passionate about.
“That’s my whole reason to do pageants,” she said. “It’s not to wear crowns or a sash or the pretty dresses. For me, I would do it without any of those things.
“The great thing about having a title is that you have a microphone.”
Payne’s reign will end May 10 but her advocacy won’t. She plans to compete in a statewide pageant and maybe even nationwide – all in a bid to continue her message. It’s a message that, crown or not, she’ll continue to spread.
“(Child sexual abuse) is definitely something that happens everywhere,” she said. “We’re not in this little bubble in Fairfield and Vacaville. Even if I could change just one person’s life, this would be validated.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.