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

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Predator

...I walked out of the SVU building with my mind racing. How could I have looked into the face of a monster and not even known it?! Well you know how? The most practiced frauds use the same story and details over and over again and in the case of Jeffrey Marsalis he wasn't living a lie apart from another life like most other criminals/abusers/assaulter's this was his "life". His name was the only real thing about him, the credentials in his wallet, the profile and his apartment were all set up with the one and only fraudulent story that he was telling his victims but it was a part he was playing as others would testify to in court i.e. a neighbor, landlord, etc. The reason why I believed what he was telling me is because he believed what he was telling me. It took me several years and countless counseling sessions to come to terms with this. I had very good instincts, was a 37 year old independent woman, with a college education, owned my own home, traveled the US and internationally by myself and been single (no long-term relationships) for most of my adult life. Although I admitted in my statement to the detective, there were tiny red flags that went up on two occasions, one being the unusual number of pictures on his dating profile (pre social media so yes it was odd)  and the other being some timelines that weren't fitting with his supposed medical education, hospital residency and astronaut training but I told myself "well it's a first date and you don't want to be conducting a lie detector test". I could ask more questions at another time. We were having a good time, the conversation was easy, he was charming, good looking and a veteran predator!!! It's why I say in every speech I give and in every interview why it's so important to trust your instincts. You know what's right for you and what's going on around you. If something doesn't feel right then it's probably not.

As the trial process moved forward I was going to meet many other women just like me. He had a type. He was arrogant and a narcissist and only "dated"  educated, independent, good looking women. I know this because I sat in court with them and in interviews with them. I also know that from speaking with them how similar his "courting" process was, the things he said to us and even the bars he took us to. It was like they knew my story somehow but they didn't because it was their story too. These women are the only ones in the world that know how I feel, the what if's, the why's. We are part of an elite club that you do not want to be a member of ever. Most have moved on to new towns, new careers, marriages. We would not let him win. I'm am proud to say that I have become very close friends with one of them. Although we live far apart we are in constant contact and almost never talk about him. All that enlightenment was not to come for another few years. I got in my car and on the drive to work was consumed with my thoughts which were racing. I would think about this 24/7 for the next several years.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Ugly Details

...As would with many days to come, I walked off the elevator and onto the floor where the Philadelphia Special Victims Unit office was and had no idea what to expect. I met with Detective O'Malley who was a kind, compassionate man yet tenacious when it came to his role in the investigation of Jeffery Marsalis. He showed me into the interview room and we started to talk. I was to give my statement and he would explain the details of the extensive case already prepared. He walked me through every detail of my "date" with Marsalis. In the two hours I spent with Detective O'Malley I learned a lot of about the man I had only 1 date with.

I was told that Dr. Jeff (his profile name) wasn't really a doctor nor was he a part of the NASA training program for astronauts. You see his profile had many pictures of him in scrubs and his white coat and formal pictures taken by NASA in an astronaut uniform. Not only that but during our date he opened his wallet to show me medical credentials from a prestigious Philadelphia hospital and those provided by NASA too. All the photos and credentials were fake. I learned that he never even came close to completing his college education therefore not a doctor or an astronaut. He at one point in his life had been an EMT and also taken some nursing school classes. This training would allow him to get by just enough while fabricating stories about his identity.

I was told there was an upcoming trial in January 2006 involving Marsalis in which 3 women accused him of raping and drugging them in order to commit the sexual assaults. While out on bail for that trial he fled Philadelphia for the state of Idaho to a resort town he was familiar with because he vacationed there with his family as a child. He then befriended a woman, went out to a bar for some drinks and subsequently drugged and raped her. As it turned out she was a lesbian a detail she had disclosed to him while they were together. She woke up the next morning in the exact same manner of undress and sickness as I had but immediately knew something wasn't right because she never would have consented to sex with a man. This brave woman called her sister who took her to the hospital for an examination and the police were called. The police ran his name, saw his prior arrest in Philadelphia and got a search warrant for his apartment. They discovered a computer and substance he was mixing up himself and using as his date-rape drug. This is where the EMT training and nursing school courses involving medications and drugs came in handy for him. 

As far as the police were concerned the computer was full of evidence that would be used in the investigation that I was now a part of. If you watch TV series and movies involving criminal investigations they often talk about criminals keeping trophies from their crimes. Marsalis' computer had dozens of profiles of his victims that he saved and mine was one of them. The call to me less than a week earlier was the result of that computer search. They already had one trial pending and another victim accusing him of being drugged and raped so the prosecutor began contacting all the women whose profiles they found in order to find out if they knew Marsalis and what had happened to them if anything.

My head was spinning!! I was sitting there telling the detective an extremely personal and embarrassing story and to add to that I find out there were so many more women like me who had been lied to and sexually assaulted by the same man. I got angry!! The detective was wrapping up our conversation and completing my statement when he asked one final question. He asked me if I wanted to press charges against Jeffrey Marsalis and my response without hesitation was "HELL YES!". It's funny now because the detective wrote my words down verbatim. It was at that moment I knew I was going to do whatever I had to and forever how long it took to put my rapist behind bars for as long as possible. If it was up to me (and it was) I would never let him do this to another woman ever again. I just didn't know the impact those words would have on my future and life going forward.

Detective O'Malley was explaining some final information about what I could expect next as part of the police and court process and mentioned to me that because of the number of victims in this case and it's salacious details there may be some involvement by the local press. I really wish I would have taken those words more seriously because it would play an important part of what was to come next for me...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Call that Changed my Life

...The next year and half I had changed jobs and made some new friends there and continued to date online using on and off. In December 2005 I had been dating a guy for about two months although I liked him the signs were there that he was losing interest in me. It was a Friday night and as I sat in my bedroom talking to him on my cell phone I could hear my land line ringing in the kitchen and a message being left on the answering machine. When I finished up my conversation I went in to replay a message by an ADA from the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. She left no details but asked that I call her back at my earliest convenience. I can laugh about this now almost 9 years later but the first thought that popped in my head was "oh my god who do I know that needs my help?" (Really JoAnn it's you they're calling about!!!) I wrote down the information and made sure I put it aside to take to work with me Monday morning so I could call their office first thing.

I got to work Monday morning settled in at my desk and made the call that would change my life forever. The ADA asked if I knew a Jeffrey Marsalis, which I had to think about because it was a year and a half ago, it was just the one date and remember I decided I would forget about it so until that moment I hadn't thought about him in all that time. Once I confirmed the information she asked me how I knew him and I explained our one date and nothing else. She began to tell me why she was calling me, their investigation and how they came upon my name and personal details. As if a damn had burst the memories or lack thereof from that evening and weekend came back to me, the painful sickness I felt for two days after and the confusion I felt knowing I hadn't intended on or consented to having sex with him at all that night. The missing pieces to the puzzle from that night were all being put into place. I hadn't drank too much, was so violently ill and didn't consent to having sex because he drugged and raped me. Needless to say I forget where I was and lost control of my emotions. I couldn't stop crying. The ADA was kind, patient and understanding. She consoled me as best she could. She said she didn't want to upset me further and just had a couple more quick questions. (I would find out a few days later that the call to me was one of many made to Marsalis' victims as part of their investigation. She ended the call by asking if I would be willing to talk to an SVU detective from the Philadelphia Police Dept and give a statement because they were working together on the case. I said of course and was provided with the Units phone number and told anyone who answered would be able to help me.

After hanging up the phone the first thing I did was get to the ladies room quickly for some privacy as I didn't want to make a scene in my very large office and was still crying pretty heavily. My friend who sat in the cubicle across from me was on my heels and thankfully the bathroom was empty. I told her about the call, the date, everything. I had only been at the company for a year so we weren't friends when this originally happened. She did her best to console me enough that I could get back to my desk. It was barely 9:00am and I had an entire day of work ahead of me not to mention the call I had to make to SVU. They were expecting my call which made it easier once they picked up the phone and I told them who I was and why I was calling. They asked if I preferred a male or female detective, to me it didn't matter but this would be my first experience with the compassion they showed to me throughout the process. I scheduled my appointment for Thursday. It was 6 days before Christmas and already a hectic week. My next call was to my Dr for a blood test prescription to include all sexually transmitted diseases. I would do that on Friday which was supposed to be a day off for a long holiday weekend but the reality was setting in that my life would be changing. I gave myself a pep talk and mentally said I had to suck it up and get over it. Sticking my head in the sand wasn't an option for me. Meeting with the detective was going to be important and I wanted to have all the details I possibly could to provide them as part of the criminal case against my attacker. So for the next 3 days I would be doing a lot of thinking...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting Out of There

...I found my purse and went for the phone first, seeing all these missed calls and messages from my mom. Since I was supposed to have been home fairly early the night before I had early plans to meet her and a family friend with our dogs at the dog park. Immediately my brain starts racing because blowing off plans is uncharacteristic of me and I felt terrible that my mom was worried. I called her and made up a story of having a migraine (which I get often) and not being able to leave the house. Since I already had a verbal exchange with my 'date' it was time for me to face him again and get out of there as quickly as possible. As I said before I was embarrassed for having what I thought was consensual sex with him and feeling violently ill. All I wanted to do was get home and into my own bed and sleep the pain away. He said he had a shift at the hospital (the details behind his career will be explained in later posts) and had to get up and out too.

My car was parked in a nearby garage so he got dressed and walked me out of his apartment building. He lived in Philadelphia and I just a few miles over the bridge in South Jersey so I had at least a 20 minute drive ahead of me. On the corner I saw a little convenience store and said I needed to grab something for the ride (water, a snack) which I did. He then walked me to my car we said goodbye and I was on my way home. It was the brightest sunniest day and without my sunglasses this only increased the pain in my head. I drove as fast as I could without jeopardizing my driving record and finally arrived home. My poor lonely dog greeted me excitedly but thankfully had the intuition to know I wasn't feeling well and followed me into my darkened bedroom for the remainder of the weekend. It was late Saturday morning and I didn't emerge until Sunday. 

When I woke up Sunday semi-recovered I couldn't get out of my head what had happened and why I couldn't remember anything. I replayed the night over and over but the puzzle was missing way too many pieces for my liking. Little did I know it would all come together only a year and a half would have to go by first. I was 37 at the time and been single most of my adult life which means I had a fair amount of dating experiences good and bad but never anything like that one. I decided since there was nothing I could do to change the events of that night I would mentally take responsibility for my own actions forget about what happened (what there was I could remember) and move on. So that's what I did...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Next Morning

...I woke up that next morning in his bed naked and confused and sicker than I had ever been before. Nothing was making sense, I had to look around the room to figure out where I was. How did I get here? Why was I naked? Why was I so sick? Everything hurt, my head, my stomach, my muscles EVERYTHING!! My last memories were of the night before and what I did remember was not having had enough to drink to make me this sick. Let's be honest if you attended college or spent any part of your life in the bar/club scene you know your limits and I didn't come close them the night before. I looked next to me and saw him (my "date") sleeping also with no clothes on. My immediate thought was oh no! because I had no plans at all the night before of having sex with this guy that I had just met maybe 12 hours prior. What the hell was going on?

I began to move around a little while surveying my surroundings and he began to wake up. He looked at me and said good morning (I'll talk about the significance of this and his other behaviors in later posts as it's important.) I said the same but not much more as I was trying to hide my shame/pain/etc.

As I struggled to regain some shred of what happened the night before I dragged myself out of bed and into the bathroom. I was needless to say embarrassed because my clothes were nowhere to be found and I barely knew this guy. My attempts at modesty went out the window as I just wanted to get into the bathroom and gather my thoughts while dealing with the excruciating pain in my head and nausea in my stomach. I stayed in there awhile before deciding it was time to go on a search for my clothes. As I slowly moved through the apartment which was large I made my way to the living room and with the discovery of my clothes which trailed somewhat away from the couch my first memory returned. We had been sitting on the couch the night before chatting a little and kissing. I had taken a sip of a soft drink he gave me and that was it, I drew a blank. Honestly I wasn't feeling up to exploring the recesses of my brain at the moment because of the massive hangover/migraine (those I had previously and could equate to the pain I had) whatever it was so I got dressed and continued the search for my purse...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

From Victim to Survivor

I never could have imagined I would be where I am today that week before Christmas 2005. After hanging up the phone I had some idea that things would change but as the week played out it just got bigger and bigger. It’s all occurred to me now as I sit here, almost 3,000 miles from where I grew up, living with a great guy that I met years before in college but never dated. I have everything I ever wanted and then some. What I knew I wanted was to be in a solid, loving, supportive, trusting relationship and what I didn’t know was to start my own business. The path I took to get here was not an easy one and developed out of a single nights encounter with a monster. A man considered to be one of Pennsylvania’s worst date rapists and possibly the worst this country has ever seen.

In March of 2004 I met him on after reading what I now know was his completely fabricated profile. At the time online dating was still in its infancy and although I knew to be cautious it wasn’t used at the time or known to be for wide ranging “hook ups” and a lot of profile embellishment, that came later. Online dating was so new you would have to take a break from it after a few months because you were seeing the same men pop up during criteria searches. Back then the site features offered secure emails at first, then if you chose to offer your exact email address and phone number those were the steps you took. This is how our communication progressed to a lengthy phone call and plans for a Friday night date. We chose a public meeting spot walked to a bar and chatted and laughed over drinks. The conversation was easy and it was a warm early Spring night so we walked to another bar for an atmosphere change. He had at some point described the rooftop view from his apartment just a few blocks from where we were and moved our conversation there. At that time he asked if I would come down to his apartment and continue chatting. The drink he offered me there was drugged and after taking a sip I have no conscious memory until the next morning waking up in his bed nude, very sick and confused...