Their faces are etched in her memory.
In her 40-plus years in law enforcement, O.C. Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens has encountered countless victims of domestic violence.
The faces of the youngest victims haunt her the most — faces “filled with fear after witnessing verbal or physical abuse in their home, where they are meant to be safe,” Hutchens said in brief remarks at a fundraiser Saturday for Laura’s House, a shelter for abused women and children.
Hutchens, who is retiring in December after serving as O.C. sheriff since 2008, received the Crystal Heart Award at the 24th annual gala fundraiser for Laura’s House, held Sept. 22 at Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.
“This is such an incredible honor for me, this is such an important cause,” Hutchens said.
“It’s a cruel fact that domestic violence still lives and breathes among us,” she added. “We would like to believe that we as a society have evolved beyond … this mental and physical torture that is called domestic violence.”
Hutchens said breaking the cycle of domestic violence requires educating young people about healthy relationships and boundaries, as well as self-esteem.
She praised Laura’s House for creating programs including a free, one-hour interactive program for schoolchildren who are on the cusp of exploring relationships.
“The work of Laura’s House is so vital,” said Hutchens, as she acknowledged board members in attendance, including Undersheriff Don Barnes.
The fundraiser, called “Ports of Call — Bon Voyage to Violence,” featured cocktails, dinner and dancing.
The Mistress of Ceremonies was TV news journalist Vikki Vargas of NBC4.
The night’s other big honoree was Steve Hittelman of Hittelman Strunk Law Group LLP, who received the Legal Leader Award
Laura’s House Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Margaret R. Bayston said the Crystal Heart award is for people who show tremendous support for Laura’s House’s mission, and who are dedicated to justice and helping victims of domestic violence.
“Thank you for your outstanding commitment to providing vital support to victims of domestic violence,” Bayston told Hutchens.
She said the sheriff exhibits the “highest levels of sincerity and integrity” in addressing the needs of the community.
“She’s a strong … leader, and an important guide and mentor to many at Laura’s House,” Bayston said.
Steven Georges contributed to this story.