Gail Frances Gardner | Special Courage Award
Survivor, Advocate, and Activist
Gail Gardner is a survivor who experienced a home invasion and rape by an unknown perpetrator as a single mom in 1988. For many years, she waited to learn her perpetrator’s identity.
Advances in DNA testing, and a law passed in 2016 to tackle the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits, finally helped identify Ms. Gardner’s assailant. After more than 30 years, Ms. Gardner walked into the Orlando Police Department seeking her case files. She met Detective Graham Cage, who noticed similarities between her case and other contemporaneous cases.
After retesting her sexual assault evidence kit, Ms. Gardner’s perpetrator was identified as the “Malibu rapist,” who was already serving a life sentence in prison for another sexual assault. Retesting of similar cases from that time connected the perpetrator to 26 additional sexual crimes. He will face 15 new charges, including in Gardner’s case. Eleven of the 26 victims died before their attacker was identified and had no closure to their assaults.
As a life-long advocate for victims of random or familial sexual attacks, Ms. Gardner is the namesake of Florida’s Gail’s Law, which requires sexual assault evidence kit tracking via a database for victims to be kept aware of the status of their case evidence throughout the testing process. Florida cleared a backlog of 8,000 unprocessed kits in 2019. State law now requires the kits to be submitted for testing within 30 days and that laboratories process them within 120 days.
Ms. Gardner advocated for social justice on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, who would not be eligible for local and state-level committee leadership roles due to struggles with addiction or arrest after victimization. Organizations modified volunteerism policies to allow for considerations in a more equitable and understanding manner.
She has spent over 35 years in church ministry in Orlando, Florida, and Poughkeepsie, New York. Ms. Gardner has spoken publicly to communities that “what goes on in this house, stays in this house no longer applies.” Her dedication has made a difference in the lives of many sexual assault survivors, and will continue to do so for years to come.
2022 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Tribute Video
Watch this video to learn more about Gail Gardner, 2022 recipient of the Special Courage Award.