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Local veteran named Unsung Heroine

Somerville resident Panayiota Bertzikis was one of 100 women from across the state to receive an Unsung Heroine award from the Commission on the Status of Women for her efforts on behalf of rape victims in the military.

During a ceremony at the State House last week, state Senator Pet Jehlen presented Bertzikis with the award, which is given to women who don’t often make the news, but make a difference in their community, she said.

“Everyone can contribute to their community,” Jehlen said in a press release. “Panayiota is a great example of one person who saw the need for something and used all of her ingenuity, resourcefulness and intelligence to fill it.”

Bertzikis was discharged from the United States Coast Guard following a sexual assault by a fellow shipmate. Despite reporting the assault and receiving a confession from the perpetrator, she was deemed ineligible for worldwide deployment according to Coast Guard regulations, Jehlen’s office wrote in the release.

After relocating to Somerville, Bertzikis founded the Military Rape Crisis Center, a forum for victims of sexual abuse to talk about their experiences in a safe environment and receive free legal advice and counseling.

Now the largest non-governmental organization of its kind, the Crisis Center assisted over 1,200 men and women in 2007 that had experienced sexual trauma in the military. The Center also lobbies Congress to pass laws that further protect members from rape and fund support groups for victims.

According to Jehlen, Bertzikis’s actions are representative of what the Commission looks for in determining its Unsung Heroine awards. This year marks the seventh year that women have been recognized in such a way.

“Panayiota is an individual who bravely survived a trauma and used the experience to create something that helps so many others,” Jehlen said. “Her story is one of strength, courage and resilience.”

To learn more about the Military Rape Crisis Center, located in Cambridge, click here.

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