By D’ANN WHITE | The Brandon News & Tribune
Published: September 17, 2008

TAMPA – The story spread like wildfire through the close-knit Vietnamese-American community.

In churches around the nation, they held special services to pray for the 18-year-old woman of Vietnamese heritage who was brutally raped and beaten April 24 at Bloomingdale Regional Library in Brandon.

In Westminster, Calif., Michael Nguyen, a member of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California, organized a carwash and bake sale to help pay her medical bills.

Closer to home, Michelle Phan of Tampa and her friends were considering a similar type of fundraiser after learning the victim likely will need expensive, long-term rehabilitation.

“I first heard about the rape victim on a MySpace bulletin,” said Phan, a 21-year-old student studying illustration at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. “A lot of young people were talking about it so, after hearing her story, how she had this full scholarship to college and so much promise that was destroyed, I just felt compelled to help her.”

Phan said their first idea was to host a barbecue or carwash. But when she announced her plans on her Web site,, the fundraiser evolved into Fashion for Compassion, a benefit fashion show.

“People just started offering to help,” Phan said. “We got the ballroom at the Tampa Convention Center for a huge discount, free food, and a lot of independent Asian and American designers from around the country contributed fashions for the show; everything from T-shirts and street wear to couture.”

Amid it all, Phan and her partners, Yvette Nguyen, 20, of Sarasota and Wey Nguyen, 25, of St. Petersburg, received an unexpected phone call two weeks ago.

The rape victim’s mother called to say she heard about the benefit and appreciated it, Phan said. The mom said her daughter, who is undergoing inpatient rehabilitation in Sarasota, can’t walk or talk and is partially blind, but she can smile in response to questions, Phan said.

“Our hearts just dropped when we got that call. She invited us to meet with her and her daughter,” Phan said, adding the women gratefully accepted the invitation. “The family is really private, and we felt so honored, so trusted and so inspired.”

i’m angry and frustrated about what happened to this woman, and why. it makes me feel sick and disgusted. it hurts. i wonder why people could be so cruel. and then i think about the people who have supported this woman, and women throughout the world, to stop violence. i think my role as director for Cal’s Vagina Monologues. my mission, my community. i think about the kindness and courage of such people like Phan and her fellow designer friends. and i am inspired.