To tell my story as a date rape survivor and communicate my message in a way that can help the most people.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

NOVA Conference Workshop

A few months ago after submitting for the 2nd year in a row I was chosen to conduct a workshop at the annual (National Organization for Victim Assistance) NOVA Conference. I was excited, honored, nervous among many other adjectives since this was going to be my first workshop. It's content would be me sharing my story of date rape, the legal process, counseling and life following from a victim's point of view to an audience of professionals mostly made up of victim's advocates.

The 41st NOVA Conference was held in Dallas this year and it would be a whirlwind 2 days for me flying in on Tuesday afternoon to check in, get acquainted, on Wednesday attend other workshop/events, then it would be my turn to speak. We were set up at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel with the entire Ballroom floor and I was surrounded by other attendees wherever I went feeling right at home with all these compassionate people who understand me and what I've been through. 

Wednesday morning was a Victim's Tribute with speakers who had impressive resume's and numerous awards. There was song and dance presented by two very talented women and a father from MADD who lost his precious son to a drunk driver and shared his story and memories. I had a chance to briefly speak with him after as his son & have the same birthday which immediately made me feel connected to him. The event ended with a beautiful candlelight ceremony that represented all categories of victim's and their survivors.

Then I went back to my room to mentally prepare for my speech which was scheduled from 1:00-2:30 pm. The previous day I scouted out my room/venue to become familiar with the layout so I knew what I would be walking into that afternoon. This workshop would be the longest time frame to fill since I began speaking over 6 years ago but although anxious it would allow me to share many details I sometimes can't due to time constraints. As the 1:00 hour approached I gathered up the few materials I had along with myself and made my way down to The Spectrum room.

Before entering my room I was greeted by my assigned volunteer, a lovely woman, who was going to take care of distributing my presentation handouts to the room full of participants prior to my speech and as they departed handing out the Workshop sticker for the conference booklet so the attendees could document each one completed. The room was nearly full and as I set myself up it approached capacity just before I began speaking with a few joining in the minutes after I started. The room was perfect for the type of workshop I was running which was me telling my story and no use of the AV or Flip chart provided. It was intimate and filled with an estimated 75 NOVA members. 

After introducing myself and laying out what my objectives were for the workshop I began telling my story and filled it with as many specifics as possible hoping there was something in it to benefit each and every participant somehow. During particular high and low points of the details I shared the group would react which I found very comforting. They were in this with me from start to finish and I liked that very much. I remember looking down at my watch to get a sense of where I was in time and an hour had passed by seemingly effortlessly. At this point I could reassess how to bring it all together leaving 15 minutes for Q & A. These were much different questions than posed to me by college students welcoming the challenge to answer them efficiently. 

Relieved and satisfied when it was over I was greeted by many thanking me for telling my story and others sharing stories of their own or asking additional questions. They were an amazing group of women and men making me feel as if I contributed positively to the subject which was my only goal. I took a moment to accept my success for having done something new and different that I ultimately enjoyed. 

Before leaving the conference there was a closing ceremony I wanted to attend since I was only there for a day and a half it was important that I experience everything I could in that short period of time. Even more people approached me in the lobby area and inside the ballroom saying that had attended my workshop offering kind words. 

What I got out of this was knowing I can expand my speaking horizons and that it's something I would like to do again. I left the conference and Dallas very happy!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Life's Challenges

Los Angeles was the most recent host of the Special Olympics World Games and I was lucky enough to have been a Volunteer and selected to be a part of the Media Operations Team as a Steward. My assignment was for the 1st day of the games when they conduct their Divisioning round at the Table Tennis event. I worked with several other volunteers sharing the same post and we connected immediately. It was a fun, exciting, upbeat atmosphere and we didn't find out until later that our event was one of few that had a DJ playing music the entire day which only added to the spirit and energy. 

I sat at the bottom of the viewing stands meeting not just other volunteers, but athletes, coaches and delegates from around the world. I observed the athletes/kids, despite their various challenges, acting just like any other no matter which country they were from. It struck me how amazing that is to see them tease each other, be competitive also sharing in each others joy when winning or consolation when not moving ahead in the event. I observed many other inspirational moments that day.

A young guy in his 20's named Sergei from Sochi, Russia flew here to be a volunteer for the week. He caught the "bug" when he volunteered for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in his hometown a few years ago and shortly thereafter signing up for the Special Olympics World Games planning his first trip to America. We talked for about a 1/2 hour sharing our life stories with his English being excellent. I was so impressed by him, his spirit of adventure and interest in giving back at such a young age and honored to have had that time getting to know him.

That day I took a lot of pictures for the purpose of not only posting them on social media and raising awareness for the Games that week but so I wouldn't forget a moment of my experience. My volunteer partner had stepped away for a few minutes so I was left alone to people watch. Because of the Divisioning round scheduled that day it was a less formal atmosphere for the athletes and many of them sat in the stands instead of their designated space which was further away from the competition area. I turned around to observe a very sweet gesture between the athletes from Pakistan and Hong Kong neither of which shared a common language. They were digging into their backpacks for pins from their country and exchanging them. I waited until they were done and then asked if I could take a group picture for which they then posed. A few minutes later I was approached by one of the Hong Kong athletes and presented with one of their country's pins. I was so touched and said thank you several times noticing that she was bowing to me so I did the same in return hoping I was being respectful. This nearly brought me to tears and I turned away thinking about the experience wanting to remember that moment for a long time.

Several days prior to the start of the Games many towns in the Los Angeles area were chosen as Host Towns and assigned country's in which they would act as their ambassadors showing the athletes and delegates the local sites and culture. Two women from the Pakistani delegation started to chat with me and my fellow volunteer. We asked how they were enjoying LA and who their host town was telling us it was La Verne. Their faces beamed with smiles as they described the hospitality shown them and what a great time they all had. One described the experience as "Feeling it was a home away from home". I couldn't get those words out of my head and was so proud that the true spirit of Americans comes through when it matters most.

A little bit later after a 3rd volunteer joined our post a delegate from Ireland approached our table with a question (as did many others that day) and we struck up a conversation with her. I shared having previously traveled with my mother to her country and how much I loved it there hoping to return someday to see more of it. Just as she was about to leave she dug into her official fanny pack (one that we all received as part of our World Games uniform) and presented each of us with her country's pin. This was my 2nd on a day I didn't even consider getting one. I proudly pinned it to my credentials along with the other. My fellow volunteers promised to reciprocate with a US pin once they acquired one as they would be there for the entire week. 

It was very fulfilling and I am thankful to have been a part of such an important event. As I met the athletes who live with their various challenges yet go on with life as usual it got me thinking. Each one of us has a different story to tell and our own challenges that we face, some being so much more difficult than others. It is how we face them that really matters and how we choose to let if affect our lives and the outlook we have going forward.

My awesome fellow Volunteers on each side of me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Solving Unsolved Sex Crimes

A little over a year ago I received an email from my colleague at Strength United, a community agency affiliated with CSU Northridge committed to ending abuse, empowering families and developing leaders. I have worked with them most recently as a sexual assault survivor speaker to their Advocates. Ann Conkle, Outreach and Engagement Officer reached out to me after receiving a request from the production company for Cold Justice a show that follows detectives around the country as they solve cold cases. The were developing a spin-off show that would focus on sex crimes with particular emphasis on cold cases related to untested rape kits. An issue that has been brought to light within the past few years. They were in the process of picking detectives for the new show and needed sexual assault survivors to role play with the potential detectives. The producer ideally wanted victims who had been through the prosecution process and comfortable speaking about their experience. Ann said she immediately thought of me and if I was interested in participating provided me with the contact information for the producer along with the date in which it was scheduled.

I had watched every episode of the original Cold Justice show with my boyfriend and was excited that this potential spin-off show could help solve sexual assault victims cases in the way it helped murder victims families. After letting Ann know all this and thanking her for the referral I emailed the producer with my story and background which began our correspondence in preparation for the day ahead and what I could expect.

As I arrived to the production offices that day I was greeted and introduced to the staff and crew then settled into a waiting area where three other survivors of sexual assault joined me. While alone we introduced ourselves and shared our stories of (coincidentally) date rape and the paths that our lives took subsequently. It is always a safe space when surrounded by only survivors with no one else listening in on our conversation. We can share as much or as little as we like with each other knowing we have been in the same shoes, so to speak. The women I met were all so brave and strong moving on successfully with their lives except for one young girl. She was openly telling her story for the first time trying as best she could to navigate her way through the experience. The three of us knew what that first time was like and offered what we knew she needed as far as support and guidance. 

A representative of LA's Peace Over Violence, a rape crisis organization, arrived and would stay in our waiting room to be there as we each returned from role playing with the detectives. She checked in with each of us and if necessary would provide one on one counseling. Every victim/survivor reacts differently after retelling their story and it's important to have someone there to provide counsel. 

I would be the third called in by production to role play. They introduced me to two very seasoned special victim's unit detectives who told me about their background and experience investigating these types of crimes. I remember thinking how similar in demeanor and compassion they were to Detective O'Malley who was the law enforcement professional that took my statement and the first person I told my story to in its entirety. The crew explained that everything was going to be recorded on video. There were cameras in and outside of the room and I was fitted with a microphone similar to my doing an interview. The "interview" took about 45 minutes to an hour. The idea was for all of us to react as if we were meeting for the first time, having my statement taken and being provided the information on how the legal process would move forward as a victim. Once finished I met briefly outside the room with the producers while they asked me for my feedback of the detectives performance. Then I rejoined the ladies, each time one of us returned we discussed our experience and opinions with the others. Before leaving we exchanged each other's information.

Shortly thereafter the producer came to thank us for our help and we all discussed our hopes and excitement for the show to air on television. Cold Justice airs on the TNT network and about 2 months ago during one of their recap shows they introduced the legal team who would be part of the Cold Justice: Sex Crimes spin-off and I couldn't have been happier. The new show will premiere Friday July 31st at 9:00pm East and 6:00pm West. I hope it's a success, helps a lot of victims heal and puts their attackers behind bars where they belong.

Additionally this week I received my RAINN Newsletter with an article providing information about the assistance they provided to each victim for each episode as well as details about Cold Justice: Sex Crimes and RAINN. See link below to read more.

RAINN Partners with TNT's Cold Justice: Sex Crimes to Provide Support to Survivors

Friday, June 19, 2015

Misguided Justice

I have been following the news reports quite closely from the moment I heard 2 prisoners escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility a NY State maximum security prison. This story is very personal to me as a victim of a violent sexual predator who currently serves a 21 year sentence in a Pennsylvania maximum security prison and then will be transferred to an Idaho maximum security prison to serve a Life sentence. In the time period leading up to my attacker's, Jeffrey Marsalis, trial and during my counseling I shared my fear that he would escape, somehow find and harm me for testifying against him. Although seemingly irrational and I've spent a lot of time working through it, there was and (now proven) is a very small chance it could happen.

The two convicted felons (Richard Matt & David Sweat) now on the loose were heinous, vicious murderers and I can imagine what the victims are thinking and feeling until they are finally caught and returned to prison. As the details unfolded and continue to do so every day I think about them because I know from personal experience the fears I had that they are now living out in real time. If I could I would speak to them or meet with them face to face to show my support and share that I want to be there however they may need me.

As if it wasn't bad enough that these violent men were now free it was then reported that a prison employee took it upon herself to not just decide that a judge and jury conviction was incorrect but to help the two escape. I don't care that she may have been charmed by one or both of them or whatever else her attorney may explain away her behavior but she went to the next level by assisting them. Since her arrest I watch the footage of Joyce Mitchell online or on television and get extremely angry. My disgusted reaction is a result of my knowledge and experience of what it takes to put a criminal behind bars no matter what the crime and how high the stakes and the personal investment made not just from the victims and their families but from law enforcement and the prosecutors office. Every step throughout the legal process is, as I see it, another hurdle to get over in order to get justice as a victim. The stress and anxiety experienced can only be described as all consuming until the verdict comes in from the Jury and they say the magic word "GUILTY". But even then there is still one more hurdle to overcome and that's the sentencing by the judge. Will it be what the accused and now convicted deserves?

So the trial and sentencing are over and the convicted are "safely" away in prison only does the real healing begin for the victims and families. But not in this case! If this was happening to me I would show up in court every day that Joyce Mitchell appears and write as many letters as humanly possible to the judge and prosecutors office asking that no mercy and the harshest penalties be imposed on her for undoing what a jury and judge had done. Since it, thankfully, not happening to me what I can do is share my experience and publicly show my support for the families of the victims who crossed paths with those awful men.

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Not OK

The past few weeks have been happily busy for me as I work and volunteer and throw in a few social activities here and there. I've had the opportunity to meet some amazing new people some of which have become my friends. Since moving out to LA new friendships have been slow in coming but I knew if I was patient those important connections would cultivate. My recent part-time job has allowed me to be exposed to some very interesting people all with their own unique story to tell. Each also accepting and supportive of my own story. It's inspiring! Recently, as a large group of us sat around chatting, discussions of a previous work environment involving a very uncomfortable experience some women had were brought up. I listened to what several had to say and filed it away in my mind. We were separated for the remainder of our work day and the subject wasn't revisited.

I got home late that night but when I woke up the next morning I started to think more about what was shared with me by those women the night before. I became angry about what they had to experience and decided when I saw them that evening I would bring up what I do as a public speaker and advocate of sexual assault awareness and offer my support. My instincts told me that these women were strong and outspoken and most likely receptive to what I had in mind. I approached one of the girls shared my idea and she couldn't have said Yes to me fast enough telling me she had already considered taking action. She provided me her information along with a friend of hers also and I told her I would get working on some ideas how we could move forward to report the offensive behavior.

Although I can't discuss in detail just yet what happened because it's not my story to tell I can say that a man hired as an entertainer frequently used vulgar, offensive language, stories and jokes in his routine. The women were working while this was going on. He is clearly only moderately talented because there are plenty of entertainers out there who do not lower their standards to such a level in order to get reactions from an audience. We all have varying standards of tolerance when it comes to things that may be considered off color and even one woman's disapproval should not be ignored but this was more than enough women to organize a group and lodge a complaint. Especially when one woman has heard the dialogue repeated from this "entertainer" before. We have power in numbers.

The point I'm trying to get across is that women should never be hesitant or afraid to speak up because there may be others who are thinking the same thing. The only way we can stop this type of bad behavior is to call out the offender to someone in authority and make them aware that It's Not OK!

Monday, May 18, 2015


This originally appeared as a Guest Blog for The UnSlut Project. Please check out their website & "work to undo the dangerous sexual bullying and 'slut' shaming in schools, community, media and culture".

On Saturday May 9th I participated in the 2nd Annual Lace Up for RAINN 5K. I was really looking forward to the event again this year since it had such a positive affect on my life and career as speaker and advocate for sexual assault awareness. Originally I found out about the event as a proud member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau.

The event is set up as a virtual 5K so you can join in with your team or as an individual from wherever you live at whatever time of that day is convenient and for someone like me who would be walking by myself it's perfect. The goal is "to raise awareness in a fun, approachable way and to connect with others who are passionate about the cause". Last year the event did just that for me. At the time JoAnnSpeaksOut only had a website and Twitter account so once I completed the 5K I posted my picture and comments on Twitter with all the hashtags and as a result I connected with an amazing girl (also a sexual assault survivor) from Michigan. We became fast friends over social media having many things in common and in part because of her I was inspired to start my blog which is now going strong almost a year later.

Within the past few months I have expanded my social media presence for JoAnnSpeaksOut onto Facebook and Instagram and knew I would be able to spread the message of Lace Up for RAINN much further. I even had the confidence this year to create a fundraising page with a template provided by the event organizers. I set a modest goal and with the help of my always supportive boyfriend who assisted me in spreading the message I reached that goal. Because of all those generous donations 10 victims of sexual abuse will receive the help they so desperately need and deserve.

The numbers came in for the 2015 Lace Up! RAINN reported 210 participants nationwide with 651 miles run in communities across the country to raise awareness. Most importantly $20,879 was raised to support more than 2,000 survivors of sexual assault.

My fundraising page will continue to be active through the end of May. If you are interested in helping to make an impact on the lives of many survivors please consider a donation.

JoAnnSpeaksOut Fundraising Page

Maybe next year I will go the next step and organize a team but for now here is my picture as an individual participant.

Monday, May 11, 2015

SAAM 2015 Recap

I am excited to share that with a very full April calendar Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2015 (SAAM) was a great success. I attended many events, delivered several speeches and as the month progressed the availability on my calendar decreased. Interviews were conducted, articles and podcasts were posted, press releases were sent out and local TV news reported on my work as a speaker and advocate. It can best be described as a flurry of activity for 30 continuous days and at the end I was left with a overwhelming feeling of hope for the future of date rape and sexual assault awareness and prevention.

The month began by my meeting up with a date rape survivor just like me except in addition to counseling she found healing through yoga. Justine then used her writing talents to create a screenplay and develop a movie project called 2000vinyasas, a story similar to her own. You can learn more in my post 2000 Vinyasas - The Movie

The next day I was interviewed by an impressive young woman Jessica from GirlsSpeak. She was writing a series of articles for SAAM to be posted on her website blog. As a result of the interview I was quoted in two articles posted within as many weeks the 1st about Sexual Assault Myths the 2nd about Helping Survivors

The following week my podcast interview, recorded in March, with the awesome ladies of the Vagina Chronicles was posted. We were connected initially from my work as project adviser on the Tell The World music video being developed by Rob Hustle hip hop artist and activist. This project, currently in production, allows sexual assault survivors to speak out. Angela & Nicolle contacted Rob to say they would like to promote the project by interviewing any of the project advisers available. They generously allowed me to take up most of the podcast telling my story and then provide information for Tell The World. You can listen via this link Vagina Chronicles.

In the 3rd week of April I had the pleasure to attend an Evening of Innovation at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. Through my work as a RAINN Speaker's Bureau member I completed an interview questionnaire for Prevail Games developing Bridge to Solas a mobile role-play designed to help survivors on their path to healing. Alexx Murphy and her intelligent, talented team of women went up against 5 other student teams in the 2015 CRUNCH Student Design Challenge + Incubator for a $10,000 prize for startup funding. Although the ladies did not win the ultimate prize they took home the People's Choice Award. A huge accomplishment in its own right.

Week 4 & 5 of SAAM brought about my scheduled speaking engagements. As a result of my E! True Hollywood Story interview in February I was contacted by a former Philadelphia DA intern who worked on my case 10 years ago asking if I would speak at their annual National Crime Victims Rights Week ceremony. It was a beautiful event honoring families of murder victims, reported on by the Merced CA newspaper and ABC30 Fresno in which both highlighted my speech and message to sexual assault victims.

Norco College invited me to speak at their very first Take Back the Night. I was impressed by how well organized it was and the number of students that came out to participate. I presented my entire story of being sexually assaulted by a serial date rapist, the legal and court process, counseling, healing and finally moving forward with my life. There were beautiful student singers, poems read and a quilt with squares made by attendees including myself.

Finally, even though it was the 2nd Annual Denim Day Rally & Press Event it was my first time attending. Peace Over Violence, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence of any kind in LA since 1971, joined forces with Guess? Foundation to promote Denim Day LA & USA and beyond. There were guest speakers such as the Mayor, Police Chief and District Attorney of Los Angeles along with performances by Aloe Blacc and Maya Jupiter. I befriended a young masters degree student in social work and intern at POV. It was motivating and a lot of fun and you can read more about the message and how to get involved here Denim Day 2015.

SAAM was first observed in April 2001 growing out of Sexual Assault Awareness Week from the 1980's. In 2009 President Barack Obama was the first president to proclaim April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it's been growing stronger ever since then. I was significantly more involved than last year and I hope next year will be that way for many other advocates and activists alike.