Twenty years have passed since Nancy Georgiou prosecuted her first sexual felony assault, but she still remembers the courage of the young victim. A 5-year-old girl who'd been molested by her grandmother's relative had to testify twice because a hung jury necessitated a retrial.

Georgiou's most recent trial involved a 13-year-old girl who was so distraught after being assaulted that she ran away. Finally coaxed into taking the witness stand, her testimony helped result in the assailant, a registered sex offender, receiving a 514-year sentence.

"Human reaction is always different, how victims respond to attacks," Georgiou said. "I've been surprised by the strength people can draw from being a victim -- like a phoenix rising from the ashes."

Inspiration was in the air Tuesday afternoon, when the Contra Costa County senior deputy district attorney joined four "difference makers" honored at the Community Violence Solutions Champions Luncheon in Martinez. Also recognized were San Rafael police Detective Leslie O'Toole and program managers Molly Henricks and Sandy Marsh of the county's Behavioral Health Services Division.

More than 100 police officers, prosecutors and victims' advocates attended the event, which annually brings two realities into focus during Sexual Violence Awareness Month: A lot of people are working to end this societal scourge, and a lot of work remains.

District Attorney Mark Peterson said he chose Georgiou to head the sexual assault unit because of her experience, her empathy for victims and her willingness to shoulder a big load. "Our sexual assault unit is one of the busiest in the office," he said.

Among the speakers who addressed the teamwork needed in dealing with such cases was Danville police Chief Steve Simpkins, who related a personal experience. He said a friend called late one night in near hysteria, after learning his daughter had been molested.

Simpkins was on hand when a patrol officer took the initial report, and then for detectives' follow-up investigation. He stayed in touch as the DA's office and the victims' advocates conducted interviews, then through subpoenas for court appearances.

"Each stage was a new set of tears and a new set of emotions that this young lady should never have had to go through," he said. "What made it successful is what all the people in this room do; we care so much about our victims."

Peterson said his office handles "staggering numbers" of sexual assaults and child molestations, relatively few of which are perpetrated by strangers. Domestic violence is the most frequent crime his staff prosecutes.

"There's no discrimination when it comes to sexual assault," Georgiou said. "There are young children, boy victims, multiple victims, adults. It runs the gamut."

She said education is an important tool in reversing the trend.

"When I first started at this, we always looked to support and protect parents of daughters," she said. "But as parents of sons, we need to teach them what's proper and what's a coercive relationship. I think the younger generation is becoming more aware."

There will be a luncheon like this again next year. And for years after that. The bittersweet aspect of honoring champions against sexual violence is that they are needed.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.