For more than a decade, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has ruled the cable airwaves. His controversial nightly show, The O’Reilly Factor, is cable’s highest rated news broadcast, with an average audience of six million viewers. The program is known for its mix of news analysis and investigative reporting and its popular “No Spin Zone” feature, but occasionally O’Reilly sneaks in plugs for charitable causes.
That’s one way O’Reilly’s fan base may have heard of the It Happened to Alexa Foundation, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to the families of rape victims for travel-related expenses incurred during an attacker’s trial.
The foundation was created in 2003 by the parents of Alexa Branchini, a Boston University student who was assaulted and raped in her BU dormitory bathroom in 1999—just two weeks into her freshman year. Her attacker was caught by the BU Police, convicted, and is serving 40 to 45 years in prison. Beyond the emotional burden of the 16-month trial, the Branchini family endured the financial strains of traveling from their Buffalo, N.Y., home to Boston for each court proceeding. The experience made the Branchinis decide to help other families in similar situations with travel and lodging costs.
Foundation board member Wendy Murphy, who was Alexa’s lawyer and who teaches at New England Law, says O’Reilly has been an unwavering supporter of the organization since she first approached him more than five years ago. His response was simple: “‘That’s a great cause. Sign me up,’” she recalls him saying. “That’s really all there was to it.”
Tonight, in the Metcalf Trustees Ballroom, O’Reilly (COM’75) will address a group of foundation supporters as the keynote speaker for its fourth annual Justice Is Served benefit. VIP ticket holders will have a chance to meet the Fox News star beforehand. The VIP event includes a book signing for O’Reilly’s latest work, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever, and a photo opportunity with O’Reilly.
The foundation’s mission aligns with a topic that O’Reilly’s show has frequently covered—sexual violence against children and the at-times inadequate response of the U.S. justice system. Murphy has been a guest on his show several times and says she’s grateful that he has drawn attention to such a critical issue. “He really did bring a consciousness that I think shifted the paradigm of the way people have understood this problem,” Murphy says. “I can’t encapsulate simply how much it’s meant to have him on board with us.”
According to the foundation, 85 percent of the cases where the foundation has provided financial assistance to a victim’s family have resulted in a conviction. That number drops to just 5 percent, the organization notes, when it is not involved.
Murphy says she hopes that because of the foundation’s work, “no one will choose to seek justice based on whether or not they can afford it.”
Tonight’s Justice Is Served benefit for the It Happened to Alexa Foundation is being held in the Metcalf Trustees Ballroom, One Silber Way, starting at 5:30 p.m. with a VIP reception in the adjoining lounge. O’Reilly will deliver his keynote address later that evening.
For more information on the It Happened to Alexa Foundation, or for tickets to the Friday, March 16, benefit, visit the foundation’s website or call 877-77ALEXA.