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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Idaho Trial Begins

...On Monday April 20, 2009 the 3rd trial for Jeffrey Marsalis began. I haven't discussed much of this previously but the other victims and I looked forward to this one as our ace in the hole. There was extremely good evidence in this particular case and I was really hoping for a rape conviction as it would directly affect my life going forward. If the proper verdict wasn't returned there was the likelihood I would be involved in another trial.

In 2005, while out on bail for the January 2006 trial Jeffrey Marsalis illegally fled Pennsylvania and moved to Idaho. He was familiar with the resort area where he settled as he knew it from his childhood. He obtained a job as a security guard at the resort and was introduced to the victim by her sister, a fellow employee. She later reported her terrible feelings of guilt for having introduced her sister to a man that would later rape her. I knew that feeling as it was something I will never let go of too. It was that similar "what if" all of the victims talked about in the ABC News interview. I had also discussed this at length with my counselor Laura as it weighed upon me heavily. 

Marsalis used his "charms" to gain the victims friendship and they decided to go out for drinks one night at a local bar in the resort town. They sat at the bar enjoying drinks and conversation in which she honestly told him she was a lesbian and there would be no physical relationship between them. They continued to drink and have fun but she later reported beginning to feel dizzy and out of it. Marsalis escorted her from the bar and got a taxi. The driver would later testify the victim was nearly unconscious during the ride and when arriving at her apartment the victim was not in control of her body whatsoever to the point that Marsalis was dragging her, toes pointed backward on the ground, inside the apartment.

The victim woke up the next morning extremely ill and disoriented (similar to myself and the other victims) and called her sister who convinced her to go to the hospital and call the police. She gave a statement to the police about the events of the night before and a rape kit was done. All of this was testified to during the week long trial. The police, the witness, the victim and all the DNA evidence was presented to the jury in this week long trial. As I did with the Philadelphia trial in 2007 I followed along online everyday. It was a very big case in the city of Boise and covered by their local print and TV media. ABC News was also there as this would be part of the special for which I had been interviewed. Although I knew the case was strong after what happened with the jury in Philly I still wasn't 100% confident. 

That Thursday evening my session with Laura was taken up by what had been happening in Idaho all week and my feelings of anxiety. The jury got their instructions on Friday April 24th and begun deliberation...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to Counseling

...While all this was going on, meaning the anticipation of the Idaho trial and the preparation for the ABC News interview, I had begun to have that weird, can't put my finger on it feeling again similar to just after the preliminary hearing in 2006. I contacted my counselor Laura at W.O.A.R. to start regular counseling sessions again. There was a lot for me to talk about especially leading up to the next trial. I clearly wasn't done my treatment which I ended over a year earlier. She was happy to welcome me back and we picked up where we left off.

I had left my private flight attendant job the previous year. It had served its purpose and somehow got me to realize what it was I wanted for myself. Spending all that time traveling and having a flexible schedule was good for me. I had always worked in a corporate setting with the usual 9-5 schedule seeing the same people every day. At that time in my life I needed to have a different view when I looked out the window in the morning and needed to meet new people every day. When I had enough I knew immediately and began my next job search. What I also knew is that I wasn't going to fall back into marketing again and found something completely different. I stayed at that company until last Fall when I moved out to LA to be with my boyfriend and begin the next chapter in my life. 

Laura and I talked about the new job, about the opportunity to be interviewed for a respected national news program, the importance the Idaho rape trial held in my future and about my anxiety with dating which had not always come easy to me. I wasn't that "lucky in love" person. Exactly why I had tried some 6 years earlier. As a result I had decided to keep trying but used what I thought were more secure forms of dating. Most dating sites are set up by nature predatory. The men or women can seek out who they want and can easily lie on their profiles. I did try eHarmony and speed dating. I wasn't ultimately successful with those either but I was making the effort.

In several aspects of my life I had definitely evolved since our last round of counseling but Laura's approach to talk therapy was still good for me but the need for written therapy wasn't as necessary because of where I was at point in my life. Although there was a very important document she would be advising me on as a result of the trial outcome. I was feeling OK as April rolled around and the beginning of the trial...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action

...After a day's full of preparation it was now time to begin what we were there to do which was be interviewed. David Muir arrived and was introduced to each of us. He was very nice, friendly and my first impression was completely non-threatening but professional. I was told previously that he was chosen specifically for this interview because of his compassion and I can speak for the other women when I say he put us at ease before, during and after the interview. 

He would interview us in a group setting only and explained that he would direct questions to us individually and for all 4 of us to answer. I could tell he did his homework/research and was well versed on the case. The questions included those very specific to each one of our encounters with Marsalis and also those directed to us as a group. Some questions were meant for us to answer interactively between each other as we had a common thread that held us together being the victim of a man who was a fraud and a violent sexual predator. He gave us the opportunity to open up to each other about how we felt about what happened to the other victims and the what ifs. Most prevalent in our minds was "what if I had reported what happened to me sooner?" If so there may have not been a next victim. When we had spoken amongst ourselves prior to the interview we were able to put a timeline together as to when we each met Marsalis and they were within a week of each other. This includes another victim that I had corresponded with after the trial. 

David Muir was very patient as we answered all his questions. He allowed us to finish our thoughts before asking the next question and this was really important. We were finally free to speak our minds without any judge and jury in the room. I am not saying he didn't ask us some difficult questions but he did so in a way that was not accusatory. He is a reporter after all and needs to present all sides of the story. It was a very long interview and we took a break halfway through to get up and stretch, drink some water, touch up our makeup and regroup a little bit. To us this was still somewhat fresh and only a few years since our assaults so we were all still healing. In total the interview took about 3 hours and we were exhausted by the time it was done. Afterwards he took the time to tell us how brave we were and was very supportive. We had heard this from the crew several times during the day and I can't tell you how important it was to hear that from people who had never met us before that day. It somehow validates what we did was the right thing. I also want to specifically name the producer Miguel Sancho and associate producer Ruth Reiss for treating us with dignity and care before during and after the interview aired.

It was all over and I was finally able to strip off that blonde wig. I have never been and never will be again a blonde. It doesn't flatter me whatsoever. "Donna" my alias at the time and if you know me it's my middle name, was done for the day! We packed up, thanked everyone we had met that day and were ready to go. It was past 10:00pm and two of us had rooms booked for the night, the other two women were going to get the last train out back to their respective homes. The two of us who had rooms decided we would go back and drop our stuff at the hotel, make a quick change and have a well deserved drink to relax. We were told our hotel had this very popular rooftop bar and as guests didn't have to wait in line to get in. It was a nice spring evening so my new friend and I walked up to join the crowd and unwind. It was just what we needed. We talked about the interview and the day we just experienced, talked about ourselves and exchanged information and promised to get in touch. We are friends to this day, the one I spoke of in a previous post. 

The next morning I got up, got the train back home and didn't leave my house the rest of the day. I was processing the day before, running everything back in my mind and thinking ahead to the trial in Idaho which was to be in a few short weeks...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview Day

...The morning of the interview was here and I got up early as I had a train to catch to NYC. My outfit was decided (along with a backup plan) and my bag was packed. I drove to 30th Street Station in Philly, parked my car, got my ticket and boarded. As a child I loved taking the train. I originally grew up on Staten Island and my brother and I used to take it up to CT to visit our dad and my Aunt lived up there too. I settled into my seat with a book and tried to relax. It was going to be a long day with a lot of things on the schedule and I wanted to be ready mentally and physically when I arrived. Once the train got into the station I got off and grabbed a taxi to the filming location. It was this really cool raw rented space. The associate producer greeted me and introduced me around to the crew, the makeup and hair people and the producer. One room was set up to do hair and wigs another section of the space had a huge makeup table with several makeup artists, another section for our change of clothes and catering and then the back was where the camera, audio and interview was going to be placed. It was too early for that to have been done yet. Everyone was so friendly, warm and welcoming. Throughout the day they had all been so kind to us and individually took the time to voice their support and how brave we were to speak out. It was such a positive experience and made it all a lot easier on us knowing how much support was actually out there.

After being introduced and given a tour of the space I put my bags down and settled into the makeup chair. I've always been a girly girl and figured while I was there I would enjoy getting my hair and makeup done. The artist worked for the ABC network and had some fun stories of all the celebrities and politicians she had met. We chatted easily. The 3 other girls arrived one at a time and we were introduced. None of which I had met during the trial and sentencing. We took turns switching out of the makeup and hair chairs and sometimes just sat by each other not only talking about encounters with Marsalis but ourselves, our lives and our interests. Even a discussion of a recent Law & Order: SVU episode that mirrored our case all of us had seen. One of the women was Marsalis' girlfriend during his reign of terror and suffered her own abuse from him so she was not in disguise. We bonded that day and were so happy that each of us began the process of moving on. One of the girls was getting married the following year and the other two girls had moved away and started new jobs. To this day I am still very close with one of them, we email once or twice a week and in the past 5 years have seen each other through the good and bad of what life throws at us that has nothing to do with Marsalis. We are both in relationships (she married and I living with my boyfriend) with amazing men and are very happy and only occasionally bring up the subject. She supports me 100% in what I'm doing and I am so thankful to have her in my life!

When we were all finished being disguised by the professionals we put our interview clothes on and it was time to start with the B roll filming. They filmed us for individual closeups, outside together on the street and other various shots to be used during the report to enhance the interview. We all began to relax during our lunch and dinner breaks with the crew so when the time came around to have the microphones put on us, so they could do the sound check and arrange in our interview chairs we were much more comfortable. The producer was receiving updates as to our interviewers time of arrival which we knew would be shortly. We were as ready as ever to get started...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Interview Prep

... In July 2008 I was forwarded an email from an ABC News 20/20 producer. He was doing preliminary research for a report on Jeffrey Marsalis. They felt the case touched on important social and legal issues and the possibility that national exposure might bring forward other potential victims. (All along the investigators had thought that their is a much higher number of victims and they were spread across the country as Marsalis is from Washington state and he had stopped along the way to Philadelphia.) The producer was looking for victims willing to speak out and be part of the report. He wanted to have an confidential information gathering conversation first. He also made the offer that if any of the victims wanted to their identities can be concealed. His email included other information such as the broadcasts reputation. I read and reread this email many times but I knew from the moment I received it how much of any opportunity it was to tell my side of the story and expose Marsalis for the evil monster he was. I emailed Joe back to let him know I would be contacting the producer and then sent an email to the producer. He responded immediately and we settled on a time that evening to speak on the phone. Then we would meet for a face to face introduction a few weeks later.

The next step was for the producer to come to Philadelphia with a handheld camera and shoot some footage of me in various locations around the city that I went with Marsalis. We met on November 18th and our first stop was the bar where he and I had spent the most time out that evening. Then we followed the same walking path I did with Marsalis to the second bar. We also went down to his old apartment building and also did a short one on one interview in a car while I drove around the city. All this time he was shooting me with the camera and asking me questions relevant to each location. This was only meant to be preliminary to the actual interview to follow a few months later. At that time I would take a different name and I would be professionally made up to change my face and fitted with a wig. 

In March 2009 I received an email from the associate producer with the final details for the interview. I would travel to NYC the morning of March 21st and the entire days schedule consisted of first hair and make-up (along with the three of women who consented to being part of the interview). A head shot was requested so they could assess how to best change my appearance. Once our disguises were complete they would shoot us together and individually inside the building we were using and outside on the streets. We would be provided a catered lunch and dinner and share breaks with the crew and then in the evening be arranged together for a group interview to be conducted by David Muir. Because he reported the evening news on the weekends we had to wait until the newscast was over and he made his way to our location. Hotel accommodations were also booked as it was going to be a long day and go late into the evening. 

After I hung up the phone I was feeling so many different emotions. I was excited to have the opportunity to tell my story and to meet the other women who also decided to speak out. I also wondered if any were the ones I sat with in the courtroom. Their names had not been disclosed to me. I was anxious about being made up to look different hoping that it would work. At that time I was no where near ready to reveal myself to everyone. I also had to figure out what to wear. This interview was scheduled at the perfect time as I had planned a 5 day vacation alone in Jamaica just prior to it and needed the rest going into the interview and upcoming trial scheduled for April...

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Aftermath (July 22nd Blog)

...I worked in a 4-story building with a very large parking lot and when I got to my car I just sat there quietly for a few minutes. Then my phone rang and it was Joe Kahn. He apologized for not having gotten the news to me before I saw it reported but his first priority, of course, were to the victims that testified. He had to speak with all 7 of them individually and that took a significant amount of time. I explained that I understood and my finding out was random and I didn't actively seek out the information as I much would have rather heard it directly from him. I expressed how upset I was and felt defeated by the jury's verdict. It was at that point that he patiently went into a very long, detailed explanation of why the 2 sexual assault guilty verdicts were not a loss. Although the ultimate goal was to have Marsalis convicted on all the rape charges there were significant penalties that went along with sexual assault. Each count carried a minimum of 5 and maximum of 10 years in prison and he would be classified as a sex offender which when he got out would make his life very difficult. Joe all but assured me of his confidence in the judge handing down the maximum for each count and parole would be highly unlikely with a sex offender status. This meant a guaranteed 20 years in prison. As a person who loves detail and logic I took in all that he was telling me and was beginning to feel A LITTLE better. He told me the sentencing would be scheduled for September (4 months later) and I would be attending that as well. Once that was all done the process of scheduling the Idaho trial would begin. I thanked Joe for everything that he had done thus far, he said he would be in touch regarding the sentencing and we said good-bye.

The next thing I did was turn on the all-news radio station to listen to the reporting of the verdict and you can be certain they were reporting it. They recapped the trial, Marsalis' crimes, the long jury deliberation and the ultimate verdict. I was still shaking my head as I drove to W.O.A.R. for my counseling session with Laura. Although I would be early I didn't mind waiting it out behind their four walls as I knew I would be comfortable there.

It was time and Laura called me into her office. As I had said before I could be open and honest with her even while faking it to others. Although I listed to the prosecutor relay his explanation to me and make it sound as if I was OK, it was all too fresh for me to except so soon. I cried openly and told Laura I felt it was not a win but I did also tell her what Joe had said and she and I discussed that at length. We also talked about what it would be like to move forward from this now that the trial was over and the verdict was in. There was still a long road ahead before the Idaho trial and things didn't go as planned there was the potential of my continued involvement. It still seemed never ending and I was hating the court process not to mention my contempt for that jury! It is something that I have never reconciled with and don't plan on it because I don't have to. That jury failed the victims who testified and all those victims, myself included, who didn't testify. I found out later on that it had gotten heated in there and they were heard yelling at each other from the outside of the deliberation room. They clearly couldn't agree and it explained why it took 5 days to reach a verdict. Laura and I finished up and decided to continue to discuss the subject in further sessions.

On my drive home I listened to the news some more and once home I showered to try to relax and wash the day off me then ate dinner. I made only a few quick calls to my brother and friend Renee. Once the 11:00pm news came on I watched the reporters question Joe Kahn about the verdict and then listened to whatever nonsense the defense attorney had to say. The news cameras also tried to get interviews with the jurors but all they caught was them running from the courthouse. It's an image I keep to this day because if you stand by your verdict what are you running from? Cowards!! They clearly took the easiest way out possible instead of really considering the gravity of their verdict and affect it had on the victims! Well I have certainly said all I can say about them and have no question that you know my opinion now.

I knew it was time to begin moving forward and what would happen next was an excellent way to do so...

From Philadelphia to Idaho

...After the sentencing I attended only one more counseling session with Laura. In my mind I thought I only needed it to deal with the emotions brought up by my realization of having been drugged and raped, testifying at the preliminary hearing and to prepare for the trial. The trial was now over, the sentence decided and Marsalis was safely tucked away in prison and hopefully living in his own private Hell. So, for now, I was going to move on with my life as best I could. Since the moment I received that call in December 2005 I thought about this every day, all day. It consumed me to the point where I was frighteningly thin. I'm already a small girl 5'3" and 100lbs but I was more than 5lbs less than that for several years. For me stress manifests itself by accelerating my metabolism which is already high. I was eating but burning it off as fast as the food was digested. My pants/jeans didn't fit and when anyone would comment if I lost weight I just made some excuse. I have a favorite picture of me and my girlfriends where its very obvious. My weight didn't come back until months after the Idaho trial was over.

Originally the Idaho trial was to be scheduled the following year sometime a date TBD. It was always in the back of my mind that I would eventually get a call from Joe Kahn regarding those trial details and when Marsalis would be moved to an Idaho jail cell. Just so you know moving a prisoner is not as simple as putting them on a bus or plane. They take a nice long, uncomfortable trip across the country stopping along the way picking up and dropping off other prisoners. It's your criminal version of the Vacation movie. When it was time for him to go I tracked his progress anxiously awaiting the moment he was back behind bars. I was still suffering from those irrational thoughts that he would escape prison and find his way to me. For some reason, unbeknownst to me until much later, there was a delay in the scheduling of the Idaho trial and it would finally be put on the calendar for April 2009. Marsalis began his trek across the country from Pennsylvania in August 2008.

Around the same time I received and email from Joe regarding a press request. Since an incident in the Spring 2006 where a reporter directly called my house and left a voice mail requesting an interview Joe was fielding all press inquiries for the victims. I remember being at my brother's house late on a Friday night for my nephews birthday, while leaving I checked my cell phone and listened to a message from Joe warning me that some of the other victims called him upset that a reporter called them at home for interviews. Thank god because if I got home and listened to that message cold I would have had the same reaction of panic as the other victims. He said he was taking care of it and not to worry. He called the reporter and said she would not be granted any interviews by us as we were still preparing to testify and to never call us directly again. She agreed. From that point on he would be our liaison and whenever there was a press request he would forward us the information and let us decide for ourselves. He has always been protective of us and had our well being in mind.

So this particular press inquiry I received July 2008 would be the first of two events that would, unknowingly at the time, be a positive change for my entire future...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sentencing Day

...The original sentencing day was scheduled for mid September but was moved to mid October as our wheels of justice delay so frequently. On October 12th I did as I had done several times before, getting up, driving to the courthouse, and entering the courtroom and as the other times I was nervous, anxious, etc. It looked like a replay of June 13th during the closing arguments. I was greeted by Joe and his team and seated with the other women. We nodded and smiled to each other but all of us had the same pained look on our face. It would soon be over but what was the judge going to say? and what sentence would he impose?

The judge came in and sat down and then Marsalis came in and sat down and took a moment to flirt with his female attorney. Oh did I forget to mention that the other women and I noticed during the closing arguments that they were openly flirting? It was so obvious that we looked back and forth at each other to confirm what we had seen! How repulsive! The judge began speaking immediately. He had clearly taken some thought as to what he was going to say to Marsalis. The first order of business was to say that upon his release from prison he would be classified as a sex offender under Megan's Law. The victims all acknowledged this was a good start and turned our attention back to the judge. He began to speak to Marsalis with visible signs of disgust in his voice. Then the judge said the following:

"I believe you are a menace to the women who you meet on the Internet or in any manner - even at a long distance. "What you were was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Your lifestyle was a fantasy, but what happened to your victims was reality."

He was then sentenced to 10-20 years in prison (the maximum) and an additional year for a no contest plea of unlawful imprisonment for a victim who didn't choose to testify at a trial. I didn't realize it until afterwards but I was holding my breath through the entire thing and although the judge had asked the members of the gallery to please stay quiet I gasped out loud when he uttered those words. It was a spontaneous release of emotions. I wasn't the only victim to speak out, another one uttered "Thank God!" After that we stayed quiet until the judge left the bench. On the other hand Marsalis had no emotion whatsoever but that wasn't surprising as he was a cold, calculating monster who didn't have the capability of feeling.

Once the court emptied out and all the victims were left with Joe and his team we had a lot to talk about. We discussed the judges statement, what the sentence meant and the sex offender registry once he was released. We also talked about what was next with the Idaho trial. Joe had a few details and we had lots of questions too. At this point the victims and I had been through so much together we asked if it was now OK that we exchange our information and he reluctantly said yes. The trial was over and it would be alright for us to speak to each other. I think he knew how important it was for those of us who wanted to connect be able to do so. Our experience was so unique that most of us had a real need to talk to the others about what our individual experiences were with Marsalis. We had been reading news reports of our testimonies and had an idea but putting faces to those stories was important and we wanted to support each other. No one else would ever know what it was like to have unfortunately crossed paths with the monster. 

*A side note: I frequently call Marsalis a monster not only for the heinous crimes he committed but it reminds me of a Philadelphia Daily News cover photo and article written the day after the Halloween preliminary hearing date. They cleverly took one of Marsalis fake astronaut pictures from his profile blew it up to the full cover size and splashed Monster Match above it. The photo was so ridiculous and mocking I couldn't help but laugh and show it off. During this time period there were very few things about the case that made me laugh but that certainly did. A big thank you to that reporter at the Daily News!

We stayed behind talking for a long time and it was getting very late. All of began to funnel out of the courtroom and I walked out of the building with several other victims. My feelings were all over the place. Even though he had been given a hefty sentence it wasn't enough in our opinion because we knew once released from prison he would go back to doing was he did before entering. Marsalis never thought he did anything wrong and only his permanent placement in prison would be satisfactory. Next up was the Idaho trial and we were hedging all our bets against that one...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Great Escape

...As if it wasn't difficult enough that for the past year and a half dealing with the realization that I was drugged and raped and the subsequent trial prep and counseling since the previous November I had been on an exhaustive search for a new job. That month I had received my second yearly review and because of a mistake made by a marketing manager but not caught by my supervisor and I we had been written up. This led to the tiniest raise that a company could possible give you without taking money away. I also knew I couldn't continue working for a company who was promoting other less experience marketers than I and when it came down to it the job was not challenging me. Probably because I was suited for a more senior position. I also knew I wanted a complete career change all together since the past 10 years I spent in credit card marketing wasn't really doing it for me anymore.

Only a few weeks after the trial and verdict I got an email for a very small local job fair which I decided to attend. I had been job searching in the usual places and used employment agencies but nothing had come of it so far. At the job fair I saw a booth for a private charter jet company and their search for flight attendants. I had always loved traveling and been to many countries and continents around the world and thought this would be great so I approached the booth and began chatting with the Head flight attendant for the company. At the end of our conversation she said I was just the type of girl they were looking for and would be contacting me about an interview with the owners wife who did the hiring for that position. I walked away having a really good feeling and was excited. The very next day while sitting at my desk I received the promised call and had to step away from my desk to get all the details for my interview. This girl had not been BSing me. I went to that interview a few days later and within a week was hired and giving notice to my current company. Looking back now I subconsciously was looking for an escape from my current situation and flying around the world was going to provide that for me. 

I went through 4 days of intensive training with several other girls and it was fun. We were all excited about our new adventure and the current flight attendant's had plenty of stories to tell on how to deal with all kinds of passenger situations good and bad and we hung on every word. I would be flying on Gulfstream and Challenger jets with the passenger lists consisting of wealthy businessmen and families, A-list celebrities, musicians, athletes, dignitaries, national TV news anchors and reporters and soon enough I was telling my own exciting stories. There were a lot of perks to the job and I really enjoyed myself. I spent the rest of the Summer and early Fall jetting off to fun places with really cool people. I continued my counseling a bit more sporadically due to my odd schedule but the job was the best medicine I could think of to heal from the trauma I had experienced and it would put me in a better place for the next chapter of the long trial process. The sentencing date of Jeffrey Marsalis would soon be here...

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Verdict is In

...The next day I got up and went to work but my mind was distracted by thoughts of how long will they take? will they come back with guilty, not guilty? what were they thinking? whose side did they believe? I knew when the verdict did come in Joe Kahn would call but that didn't stop me from checking the internet frequently. As the work day and (jury deliberation day) came to an end I was already feeling defeated. Of course to me it should have been an easy decision!

Each day passed slowly and there was a weekend in between which was excruciating. I was becoming more and more anxious each day that passed without any word. Why were they taking so long??!! I was also beginning to develop feelings of dread. This delay in a verdict could not be a good thing for the victims by any means. If they believed them it shouldn't be taking this many days to reflect as such.

Then in the early afternoon of Day 5 I actually had a moment of peace where my mind was distracted by work (yes I know that's backwards). I was doing some research and logged onto the internet where right in front of me in bold type on the MSN home page the news of the verdict was reported. "Not Guilty of Rape"! Marsalis was found guilty on 2 counts of sexual assault, 1 each for 2 of the 7 women out of a total of 37 charges. What?! This can't be! I read the story so fast and furiously looking for as much information as possible and then reread it several times. As I did so I had tears streaming down my face and was sobbing uncontrollably. As much as I was trying to keep it together (because I was at my desk in my cubicle surrounded by my co-workers and friends) I just couldn't. My emotions took over. The first to hear me and come over was my friend Denae. She asked what was wrong and I pointed to the computer screen and tried to express myself in words but was unable to. She consoled me as best she could. Next to come over were my previous and current supervisors. They brought me into an empty office to grieve and talk it out. My boss told me that under the circumstances he thought it best that I go home and take the time I needed to process what happened. I was so thankful for all the kindness and generosity he showed throughout.

I got myself together and went back to my desk. I wanted to clean it up before I left for the day but first I called Joe Kahn to find out what he knew and find out more details about what all this was going to mean. It was not surprising his voicemail came on and I left a message. I really needed to talk to someone so I called my counselor (as it so happened I was scheduled for a session that evening and relieved to have that to look forward to). By this time she already knew about the verdict so we spoke only briefly and we hung up. Next I called my mom real quick to give her the news and tell her I was leaving work and going to therapy. Then I grabbed my things said good-bye to my friend, my boss and left the office.

This was only the beginning of a long emotional afternoon and evening...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Closing Arguments Part 2

...Now that everyone was settled in their seats and all the small court business taken care of it was time for the jury to be brought in. I was very anxious to see what they looked like and their exact demographic makeup. If you follow criminal justice at all then you know that jury selection can actually make or break a case for either side. Depending on the type of crime committed and the type of victim in each case if the jury consists of male/female, old/young, white/minority, education level and personal experiences leaning in one particular direction it can change the outcome of the verdict dramatically. 

The jury came in and sat down in their box and because of my very close proximity I was able to scan every one of their faces. I took note of who they were and I watched every reaction they had to the delivery of the prosecution and defense attorney's arguments. I grasped at anything I could to give myself some insight as to which way they might vote when the time came. 

Side note: I was and have always been very interested in the law and trials in particular and seriously considered becoming a prosecutor in my early high school age years. Even though this trial was as personal as it was going to get for me I took in everything I could as far as the process. It was extremely interesting to see this play out in front of my eyes yet in no way tainted or diminished its importance.

The prosecution went first and Joe Kahn got up and delivered an eloquent closing argument full of the facts in the case that he laid out very methodically yet passionately. He described Marsalis as a fraud and a predator who used charm to gain the victims trust with the specific intent of drugging and sexually assaulting them. He explained Marsalis was someone who took no responsibility for his actions. He told the jury that the women didn't know each other but got up one by one and testified to very similar stories of their encounters with Marsalis and to waking up in a fog while being sexually assaulted.

In direct contrast the defense attorney got up and described his client as a man who, yes, lied about his career among other things but did nothing else wrong. He went directly to the victim blaming as quickly as he could. He explained all the women were bitter and angry that they were duped by Marsalis on calling himself Dr. Jeff. They went out on dates with him, drank too much, had sex with him in hopes of landing a doctor and when they found out it wasn't true they all cried rape. 

I watched those jurors so closely during each argument and really thought I could see them responding well to what the prosecutor was saying. Good thing I didn't quit my day job and take up speculating as a career!

The judge gave the jury their final instructions, sent them off to begin deliberating and adjourned for the day. The courtroom emptied out except for Joe and his team and the victims. We stayed for quite awhile after talking to him as he explained what would happen next and answered all our questions. Joe had become a real life hero to all of us and regardless of what was to happen next we made sure that he knew it. He deserved the unwanted praise for all that he had given to the case. We were exhausted and it was late into the evening by the time we left the courthouse. 

You know the saying "waiting is the hardest part"? I would live it until the verdict came in...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Closing Arguments

...If I thought it was crazy outside the courtroom the day of the preliminary hearing I hadn't seen anything yet! The buzz in and outside of the courtroom that day was at a fever pitch. The trial had gone on for about two weeks and although it was big in the media it was even bigger among the attorneys of the DA's office. The courtroom was so filled to capacity some associates (not directly related to the case were asked to leave to make room for the VIP's. Those of course were the victims and any family members with them. This trial was a learning experience for young ADA's for many reasons.To mention a few, one was that it is unfortunately rare for rape cases to go all the way to trial and another was the number of victims involved whether it be those that testified or those that did not.

I met Joe in the hallway and he escorted me in and brought me to where I would be sitting with the other victims. They included all the women that testified for this trial and other victims who didn't similar to me. I was seated on the end of the third row to the right side of the courtroom behind the prosecution's table and the jury box to the right of them. The room filled up quickly and other victims joined me in the same section although some were in the front and second rows. We were loosely introduced but it was still very important that we not discuss our individual cases with each other. I was taking it all in. My counselor at WOAR had spoken with my savior Kathy, their court advocate, so I knew she would be there to silently support me and I did spot her and we waved to each other. The other attorney's from the prosecution team were there and finally the media. People were squeezed as tight as humanly possible on those wooden benches. One important note to make is that Marsalis had no show of support whatsoever by his family. His father was paying for his defense but that's where it stopped. He was alone except for his defense attorneys. The other women and I discussed how telling that was of his character that his own parents weren't even there.

My emotions were mixed as I was really looking forward to seeing Joe Kahn in action and present his final statements to the jury wrapping up his case but I in no way was interested in listening to the defense speak to the jury and malign the other victims. Even though I didn't know any of those women I was as protective of them as if they were my own family. This would also be the first time I was to lay eyes on Jeffrey Marsalis since November 1st, more than 6 months earlier. My anxiety level was pretty high. I had developed irrational thoughts in the previous months that he would somehow escape prison and come after me because I had spoken out. Yes, this was yet another topic I discussed with Laura in therapy but I would carry this for several years to follow.

Things were beginning to settle down as the start time got closer and the judge was going to come in and take his seat on the bench. Once he was seated it was time for the bailiff and court officers to bring in Marsalis. There was a door to the far left where a lot of activity was and some odd commotion being made about getting him his tie. He entered the room and sat down between his two attorneys. My first reaction was WOW! jail was not being kind to him at all. He looked almost like a completely different person. He had lost a lot of weight and his face was pasty and generally unhealthy looking. The other women and I looked at each other and smiled all knowing what the other was thinking. Payback is a bitch isn't it Dr. Jeff?! Then came my moment of shear satisfaction. I was looking at him and for some reason he turned his head and glanced backwards towards where I was sitting and we made eye contact. He was probably just scanning the room and was turning his head back around when it snapped back again towards me. The look on his face was shock, surprise and for once that always smug son-of-a-bitch showed just a bit of fear. Remember my charges against him had been dropped so in his mind I was quietly receding into the background but when he saw me he was now unsure as to what was actually going on. Why was I there if I no longer had charges against him? That was a powerful moment for me and it felt so good. It was as if I said to him silently "you are not going to get rid of me that easily!" To this day the look on his face is happily burned into my mind. I can see it as I write this. Now I was ready for what the rest of that day had in store for me...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Trial Watch

...The day of the trial finally arrived. I would now be obsessively following it online throughout my workday. I know, I know not productive but I am notorious for soaking up information like a sponge especially about something that will directly affect the rest of my life. Besides if I could check into the website to get an update then I would be satisfied and get back to work until the afternoon report. Pennsylvania doesn't allow cameras in the courtroom so I was relying on those reporters again. Twitter was only a twinkle in its founders eye then which as far as my productivity was concerned a good thing. I knew that Joe Kahn and his team were obviously busy so I would only be hearing from him again when it was time for the closing arguments. My boss knew this ahead of time (I had confided in him-a very sweet, supportive guy) so he was aware I would have to make a last minute request at some point for the day off. 

Of course the first day of trial was only opening statements by the two sides. This would be my first real experience with victim blaming and sadly I sit here today 8 years later still fighting against it and for awareness of rape victims subsequent reactions as a result of their assaults. The prosecutors statement included the fact that 7 women would get up on the stand and tell eerily similar stories without having ever met or spoken to each other. That Jeffrey Marsalis was a predator who fabricated everything about his life in order to gain our trust which lead to his drugging and raping us. He used to build a facade and even set up his apartment to look as if a doctor or astronaut lived there. He even took us on the same dates. All this showing it was a pattern of deception. The defenses statement was simple, we were bitter after finding out that he fabricated his career and portrayed himself as a doctor or an astronaut and after finding out he wasn't we regretted sleeping with him and cried rape. He would show there was no proof that he drugged us and we made it up as a cover story.

The next days of the trial were filled with the SVU detectives testifying to their investigation of Jeffrey Marsalis' assaults and the statements given to them by the victims. Then each day after that the victims got up on the stand and told their encounters with and assaults by Marsalis. They spent many painful hours testifying as reported in the news. I have a personal account by one of the victims as we were acquainted after the trial was over. I will share that when the time comes. Part of the prosecution's case was to show that the victims would have had a significantly higher number of alcoholic drinks than reported for them to have blacked out the way they did. In the months leading up to the trial I was asked by the prosecution team what my height and weight was at the time I had my "date" with Marsalis. Easy for me to remember because my weight doesn't fluctuate. During the trial an FBI chemist testified as to what the REAL number of drinks each victim would have had to drink for the reaction they had. In my case for me to black out for approximately 8 hours I would have had to have 10-15 drinks. Not even close to the 2 1/2 I actually had. The prosecution also put up a few witnesses to testify. 

The defenses case wasn't much more than cross-examination of each of the victims, detectives, witnesses and experts. Jeffrey Marsalis did not get up on the stand to defend himself. It would not have been a good move on his part if Joe Kahn had a chance to question him. 

Each day I read the reports and each day I dealt with a lot of emotions. I was empathetic for the victims and the pain they went through during their testimony. I was angry to read how the defense portrayed the women. I was apprehensive knowing that a jury was going to either validate the victims or find them unbelievable. The trial was wrapping up and I would soon be attending the closing arguments...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Not What I Wanted to Hear

...A few weeks before the trial was to begin on May 21st, I received a call from the the ADA Joe Khan. I had already received my subpoena and spoken with Joe several times in the previous months regarding my preparation and how things were to proceed throughout the trial so I wasn't expecting to hear what he had to say that day. It was one of those after standard business hours calls as Joe was always working hard on the case. He said that everything was progressing well but they had made an important decision regarding me and the charges I pressed against Jeffrey Marsalis that were included with the other victim's as part of the trial. He said they were going to drop the charges and that I would not be testifying. This was an important strategic decision that he and his team had made as they were thinking long term in case this upcoming trial outcome went the way of the January 2006 trial against Marsalis. (Reminder: Three women accused him of drugging and raping them but he was acquitted on all charges.)

My first reaction was a mixture of shock, sadness and disappointment. It was absolutely the last thing I had expected to hear after putting so much of myself out there and working so hard emotionally to get ready for the trial. Joe gave me plenty of time to digest what he had told me and let me express my thoughts and ask all the questions I had for him. He thoroughly explained that there were specific details of my case that were very important and if he was acquitted again or didn't received a sufficient enough sentencing in either the Philadelphia or Idaho trial then they could proceed with my individual case. Joe made sure that I was in support because it directly affected me. I told him I trusted him and whatever decisions he made and he obviously knew much better than I did on the subject. The reality of this meant that I would be in it for much longer than I initially anticipated but as I had said to him several times before I was committed for as long as they needed me to be. Jeffrey Marsalis was a predator and a monster that victimized dozens of women, took no responsibility for his violent actions as he didn't think he did anything wrong and if given the chance would get out of jail and commit those heinous crimes again and again. No matter how difficult this was for me I was not going to let that happen as long as I took a breath.

Joe did say that I would continue to be an important part of this trial. He would need me to stand united with the other victims in the courtroom and I would be asked to attend the closing arguments and if the trial went well the sentencing. He said I had already been a part of getting to where they were and he would continue to directly keep in contact with me. I was very happy to hear that knowing all I had been through so far served a purpose. I asked him a few more minor questions and he said he would be calling me again soon.

This would be another topic for discussion at my next session with Laura. I really wanted to get up and testify but she had some amazing insight and helped me work through every aspect of what the consequences of testifying would involve. There actually was an up side to not testifying and that was 'what if the jury didn't believe me?' I would have been through all that for nothing. As much as everyone in law enforcement had been supportive that didn't mean a jury of my "peers" would and that would be devastating. She let me verbalize my feelings to her and again this was helpful because I could be completely open and honest with her. She was the only one every time and I was thankful for that. Even with the prosecutor these feelings were not something I would express to him as I knew his job was hard enough without have to be my sounding board too. The first day of trial was coming up quickly and my anxiety level was also going up...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Some Good Counseling

...Throughout the next couple of months I would meet with Laura every other Thursday after work. I looked forward to those appointments. Having someone to talk to who has a professional perspective, has heard stories similar to mine and treated women like me was very comforting. She knew the right questions to ask because her experience allowed her to anticipate what I was thinking and dealing with as a rape survivor. She not just asked all the questions and I did all the talking but she allowed me to ask questions of her. I could ask her all the "why's" Why did this happen to me? Why didn't I see through his lies? Why did I react the way I did after? As the trial date grew closer I had specific questions about what was going to happen in court. Since WOAR had court advocates (Kathy for one) Laura would do her best to get the answers I needed.

As the trial date grew closer I began to get more anxious about many trial related things. As a result I was having a weird (although not uncommon with trauma) reaction. I previously stated I was an avid gym attendee. I had always loved to work out and it was a regular part of my day for half my life. I began to see a fellow member almost daily who upon my first sighting shocked me. The guy looked exactly like my attacker. Of course it wasn't him because he was safely locked away in a Philadelphia jail cell. It was disturbing and unnerving. Why was this happening? I had attended this gym for years and knew all the other regulars and all of a sudden I'm seeing this look-a-like every day on the equipment. I told Laura about this and she tried to ease my anxiety by explaining this was very common. It's the brains (sick-my words not hers) way of dealing with what I was going through. Well I didn't like that one bit! Also, and she would not divulge this to me until 2 years later, it's common for patients with PTSD which she had diagnosed me with and documented.

My therapy with Laura included several types of treatment. There was talk therapy, which I liked, and a few writing assignments. One of which would be writing a letter to Marsalis and telling him how I feel about him and what he did to me. This was very cleansing for me because I got to say everything I wanted to without having to wonder if he will respond and how. I had no plans to ever do such a thing because I didn't care what he thought or had to say. Everything that has ever come out of his mouth was a lie and to this day he doesn't think he's done anything wrong to any of the victims. He is a very disturbed monster (I will not call him a man) and what he thinks is of no value to me as far as my mental health is concerned. Plus I didn't want him to know much I was thinking about this.

I would continue on through the Spring with my regular sessions but in May would receive a call that would change things for me yet again...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Let the Healing Begin

...I received a call from Laura Benner who introduced herself as a counselor from W.O.A.R. (Women Organized Against Rape). She said Kathy had relayed my request for help. We chatted briefly but she really wanted to schedule my first appointment so we can get together face to face and start the process of counseling. Laura said the sessions would be a hour each but for the first time I would need to get there earlier to complete paperwork, given a tour of their offices, be introduced to the staff and review what services are available. Since WOAR is a rape crisis center and provides all kinds of services to victims of rape of all ages it is a safe place. This would be a place I went on a regular basis where I could speak freely and be supported. I would receive no judgement or those dreaded looks of pity and sadness that I had seen in friends and families faces. That really is the worst. The way I can describe walking through the doors every other week for my appointment was welcomed, relief and comfort. The receptionist always smiled said my name and asked how I was doing. If other employees/counselors walked through the waiting room they would greet me or maybe even stop for a chat. It was an amazing feeling to be somewhere and not be keeping a secret from anyone in the room. Everyone was there for the same reason whether it be seeking help or providing it. Another reason why WOAR or any other rape crisis center is special is that they solely treat rape victims. Rape counseling specifically requires treatment in which other general counselors/social workers may not be trained or have enough experience.

I arrived for my appointment and filled out some basic paperwork and then Laura came out of her office to greet me and bring me inside. Laura was a petite brunette with the most soothing voice I've ever heard. Anytime she spoke it had a calming effect on me. She was also very smart. We talked for a few minutes and she explained that the packet I would be completing served many purposes such as providing her with information she'll need in order to best counsel me and it would be a guideline for my treatment and success of steps taken along the way. I would also at some point in the future be completing the same documents again and hopefully my answers will show my healing progress. She left me alone at that point so I wouldn't feel any pressure while answering all the questions. The questions were not to be taken lightly and they were hard to answer. They were designed so you put a lot of thought into each one and took a hard look at yourself while doing it. Honesty in the answers was also important because what's the point of being there if you weren't completely honest with yourself and your counselor. Then again no one said therapy was easy. Ultimately if you want to get better you are going to have to work at it and I mean work hard! So I did what I had to do and finished up as best I could.

Laura came back in and we talked a bit more about what I was to expect and how it would work going forward and we made an appointment for my next session. She brought me around the offices and then we said good bye and I left. I would later find out that due to the number of victims in my case and the amount of publicity it got the employees there were well aware of it, who I was and wanted to get in and treat as many of us as they could.

I was feeling good about my first step into therapy and that I made the right decision. Laura and I didn't know it but she would be my rock through the next phase of what was already a long process of getting justice. I would eventually get to tell her how I felt...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Different Kind of Help

...The rest of November passed uneventfully, Thanksgiving came and went and the Holiday season was upon us. I embraced the Christmas season with the usual decorating, parties, shopping, time off, etc. The closer I got towards the end of the year the more I began to feel like something just wasn't right with me. I don't mean in the physical sense, I was a healthy eater and had worked out religiously since I was 19 (I was 39). I mean in the mental and emotional sense. In my late 20's I was diagnosed with a mild case of depression, not severe enough for medication but I participated in individual and then group therapy sessions which I did eventually "graduate" from once I achieved good mental health. This "off" feeling wasn't exactly like that but enough for me to recognize by the start of the new year I was going to need professional help. I really needed to talk to someone on a consistent basis about what had happened to me and what I had ahead of me.

Very few people know this (until now of course) but I kept a large file of paperwork, newspaper clippings, business cards and general notes of anything that had to do with the case/trial. I'm extremely organized in my personal and work life and the trial ordeal would be no different. So I pulled out that legal sized envelope and took out the business card I received from Kathy at W.O.A.R. and I called the number on it. I remember that first day of the preliminary hearing and Kathy sat down next to me she had written my name down in a notebook of hers so when she picked up the phone and I gave her my name and where we had met she greeted me with enthusiasm and asked how I was doing. I told her that since the hearing I was feeling less and less myself and wanted to take her up on the offer of counseling. We chatted a bit more as she had some basic questions for me and said her next step was to get a counselor assigned to me. I would receive a call from the counselor directly to schedule our first appointment where we have an initial introduction and I would complete paperwork. I thanked her and we said our good bye's.

I hung up the phone and immediately began to feel some relief which solidified any doubts whether I had made the right decision. This would turn out to be my first step towards healing...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It was Worth It

...The prosecutor stood up and began by asking me the basics, name, etc. for the record. He then took me through the circumstances of how I met Marsalis, meeting via, speaking on the phone and planning our date. He asked things such as what I thought as I spoke with him on the phone and when we finally met face to face. He walked me step by step through that evening including where we went, our conversation, what and how much we drank. He asked that I describe what I was thinking as the evening progressed and if I liked him and what, if any, was the potential of a future date based on my initial feelings. All of this was for purposes of showing that Marsalis fabricated his identity to me and he was using this false information to charm me into trusting him. It also showed that Marsalis used a similar if not exact plan when he was meeting and luring women using for the purpose to ultimately drug and rape us.

We then got to the part of the evening where I was going to have to describe in open court and to a room full of strangers the most embarrassing story I was ever going to tell. Joe took me through those details slowly and it was difficult but somehow I got through it knowing this was for something much bigger than just me and how I felt.

Next it was the defenses turn to ask questions and guess who stands up? His female attorney! Now once I had time to reflect on this much later it was obvious why he had a male and female defense team. That reasoning being so not to have the male attorney look insensitive when questioning the victims. Well let me tell you it backfired on me because the more time I took answering her questions the more strength I gained. It was like a revelation. I had so little respect for her personally that it made it easier for me. In my mind I was thinking "who do you think you are?" There is no way I should be afraid of a woman who defends rapists. She actually kept the number of questions for me brief which threw me off a bit when she said she was done, but great the fewer questions the better.

Then, unexpectedly, the judge turned to me and said she had a couple of questions. They were very basic, she was really nice and thanked me when she was done. I was told that would be it for the day, got up and the bailiff escorted me out of the courtroom. One of Joe's associates followed me out and told me I did great. Of course I wasn't feeling great but I didn't have to do that again for a long time and that was a good thing. Now I had to get back to work and try to get on with my day.

The next day I had taken off from work but had lunch plans. I got up and out to Wawa again to buy the newspapers so I could read their reporting. It was really weird to see your own words in print related such a sensational new story. I had just pulled into the restaurant parking lot when Joe Khan called me as he had news regarding my testimony. He said I did really well and the judge found me credible and held over my charges against Marsalis for trial. I was very happy. Up until that point I was unsure what the respected powers that be would think and I had my answer. He gave me an idea when the trial could be scheduled and said we would speak again in a few weeks regarding preparation for it. But there was going to be a lot more I would have to do to get ready for trial...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ready to Go Again

...Here we go again. It's Thursday morning and I'm getting dressed to go to court. Only this time, I knew the procedure and where I was going. Check my cell phone, go through security, take the elevator to the proper floor and make my down the hall outside the courtroom. The difference that day was obvious, only one other victim besides myself. There were no detectives as they had all testified on Tuesday or media although a few were going to be inside the courtroom. The prosecutor was there with a smaller team of associates but still there to be a show of support for me nonetheless. Joe and I talked briefly in that meeting room outside the courtroom doors then left me there to wait for him to call me in to testify.

It wasn't too long before the door opened and I was ushered into the courtroom and guided up to the stand by the bailiff. I took in my surroundings and also where everyone was in the room. I was walking down the far right aisle and to my left was the galley where the watchers sat. This included the press and the prosecution team was directly behind their table which was just past the gate I walked through. The jury box was to the right (not in use that day), the stand was directly in front of me and the judge to the immediate left. I walked up was sworn in and sat down. The bailiff was so kind to me, quietly asked if I would like some water, which I accepted and said to take my time and try to relax. There was no need for me to rush.

I can't tell you how much those few words and sympathetic gestures meant to putting me slightly more at ease. I was scared, unsure of myself at that moment, apprehensive. This whole thing was so unfamiliar to me (thankfully). Once I sat down I could then get a view of what was in front of me. It was overwhelming because in this particular courtroom the stand sits up a few steps so it's sort of like an SUV where you get to see everything below you. This was the moment when I was able to look to my right at the defense table and not only see his lead attorney whom I had seen being interviewed Tuesday night and saw quoted in those many newspapers I bought the day before but a second attorney on his team, a woman. What woman defends a man accused of multiple rapes and sexual assaults?! Clearly someone with a love of money and nothing else. I had little respect for this woman which turned out in my favor when the time came for me respond to the defenses questions.

Then I saw him, Marsalis, sitting to the far right of the table and thankfully the person sitting furthest from me in that room. He looked so different from the tall, good looking guy I met online and agreed to go on a date with. The past +1 year in jail had clearly taken its tole on his appearance, wow! I probably don't need to tell you that rapists do not do well in jail and he had been housed with some of Philadelphia's worst criminals all awaiting their court dates. It was mentioned at one point that he had to be put into protective custody because of the negative treatment he was receiving. A small consolation to me I can assure you and it could certainly be seen on his face. Yet he was still able to carry off that smug look and belief in that he did nothing wrong even to this day.

Seeing him most certainly unnerved me. It almost took my breath away but I had to remember why I was there and what he had done to not only me but so many women. There was no time to lose focus. As a victim I had a responsibility to myself and his other victims including those that could speak and did and those that could not or would not speak for whatever reason that didn't matter. I was going to tell the judge and a courtroom full of people what he did to me and how wrong it was. The bailiff then brought me the cup of water and it was time to begin...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Live to Tell Another Day

...As the late hour of 6:00pm was approaching the number of victims waiting in the hallway to be called to testify was dwindling I was getting a sinking feeling that I would have to come back. Nine women had been called to the stand and two of us remained. Joe Khan came out of the courtroom with his boss, the chief of the unit he worked for, and approached me. They brought me into one of those private rooms and relayed the bad news to me. The judge extended the court session as long as she could for the day and had to hold over the remainder of the preliminary hearing for Thursday. They only scheduled them on Tuesday and Thursday. I was promised to be put up on the stand first and they both apologized. 

Needless to say I lost control of my emotions (yet again) and burst into tears. The anxiousness I had felt leading up to and all that had gone on that day had taken its tole on me. I was so ready to testify and had built up my courage but I never expected that the day wouldn't go as planned and there would be a chance I would have to come back. Now I had to wait some more and start the process of mentally and emotionally preparing again for Thursday. They did their best to console me and explained the motions filed earlier in the day delayed the start of court and the length of the time it took for each victim to testify they simply ran out of time in the courts day. I said I understood that it wasn't their fault and told them how ready I was and wanted to get it over with but I would be back Thursday morning and ready to go again. Of course now I'm thinking I took and entire day off from work and would now have to request more time off for the Thursday morning. Not to mention as a personal aside, Halloween is one of my favorite Holidays and I had plans to go to my brother's house to see my niece and nephew's costumes and steal some of their candy :-). I was clearly planning on getting out of there much sooner than I did. The entire day was a huge letdown for me on so many levels.

We finished up our conversation and discussed some final details. Joe then explained to me the press was outside the building waiting for a statement from the attorneys on both sides and he was going to have Detective O'Malley walk me back to my car which was parked in a garage a few blocks away. He was going to take me out a side entrance of the building and not to worry. He assured me from the distance they wouldn't see me or even realize who I was plus he was going out first to distract them with an interview (which he had to do anyway). I'm not going to lie, that scared me a bit but if you've ever seen Detective O'Malley you would know your safety was assured. We waited a few minutes after Joe left then made our way down the elevator, I retrieved my coat checked cell phone and walked out the side door. We stopped at the corner before crossing and I looked left toward the entrance to see the large group of reporters with their microphones, cameras and lights interviewing Joe. How surreal! The detective and I exchanged small talk on the way to my car. I thanked him, said good bye and drove home. 

I called my brother to say I obviously wouldn't be stopping by as it was late and I was exhausted. Remember he didn't know yet so I told him I had worked late. I got home and called my mom to review the days events and also called my friend Renee to let her know real quick what had happened. I was exhausted and hungry, but not tired. My mind was racing and I was frustrated. I ate a little something, took a shower in hopes of washing some of the days events off me and got in bed to try to relax and watch TV. I stayed up for the news in order to see the report of the hearing and Joe's interview. I also got up early the next morning so I could stop at the Wawa before work and gather up all the papers that covered the story. I wanted to see how it was being reported and continued this thirst for the news throughout the entire trial process. I think it somehow made me feel better to read and see the sensational reporting of the monster they called the rapist...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Consider the Source

The experience that follows reminds me how many people do not believe or support reports of sexual assault, rape or date-rape. It is also another reason why it's so important to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, not Day or Week. We in the community with a lot of hard work and perseverance have come a long way in recent years but still have a lot of work to do.

Last year I had been a guest of Rosie Tran on her Out of the Box podcast. She brought me on to tell my story, discuss rape culture and what we can do to get the conversation going about the victims of rape and sexual assault in order to make reporting easier and to finally bring the topic out from a Taboo subject and into the open for discussion subject. Rosie tweeted out and posted on Facebook that the podcast was up and ready for the listeners. Her show description read "This week we have JoAnn Buttaro, date rape survivor who put her serial rapist behind bars!!!" I was made aware of a comment posted to her Facebook page from a man who proudly promotes on his page that he's a Hobby Lobby supporter. (A privately owned chain of craft stores that inserts its religious beliefs into the model of their business. The company has been in the news for their refusal to provide certain forms of birth control to women but offer men whatever they need for their sexual health.)

The comment he posted was as follows "He and I got super drunk and wasted and then we had sex - in essence he raped meeee..." This of course implies that I regretted what happened the night I was drugged and sexually assaulted so I cried rape. He clearly didn't listen to the podcast and his first thought was to immediately assume I was making the whole thing up. What bothers me most is that an opinion was formed without a chance to hear the entire story first. I always give people the benefit of the doubt before ever making a snap judgement and naively believe others do the same. This of course was not the case! It also reminded me of long ago comments made online 8 years ago just prior to and during Jeffrey Marsalis' trial that I should not have read. Those comments were in support of my attacker from people who said they "knew" him and couldn't possibly believe he was a serial rapist and others who simply didn't believe the victims reports. Now I can take a negative comment, think about it rationally, consider the source and move on. At the time I was early in the counseling process and not emotionally equipped to handle such comments.

What this man may also be unaware of, because he's proven himself one who doesn't gather his facts, is that 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted rape or completed rape in her lifetime. 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. The sad thing is that it's likely he may be surrounded by colleagues in a meeting, attending a party with friends or at a family gathering and a woman he knows in any of these groups has been sexually assaulted. If he knew those statistics would he still make those comments? I think not!

As I continue to speak out about my sexual assault and advocate for those victims that can't or won't speak for whatever reason I open myself up to these types of comments from small minded people. What I can do is take them, learn from them and figure out a way to spin something malicious into something productive. I also want to thank the readers of my blog, listeners of my podcast interviews or those who have attended my speaches. Any and all support is greatly appreciated and it's not lost on me for a moment.

If you are interested in the podcast's I've recorded go to the media links page of my website.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Waiting is the Hardest Part

...We had been sitting there for about an hour and I could see activity with the prosecution team as they would go in an out of the courtroom. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9:00am but it was way beyond that time. The prosecutor, Joe Khan, came up to give me the first of many updates I would be receiving that day. He said the defense team had been filing some motions and the judge was hearing them and Joe was arguing them. The end result was the hearing would now begin at Noon. As I stated in my last post I would be one of the last women to testify so I was in for a long day. Joe said they would go back to their offices and return before then and asked if I needed anything. Ever the planner I had brought a book and snacks to eat and drink so I decided to stay there and read. I was told in the days leading up to the hearing they didn't know how long we would be there so I made sure I had something to occupy my brain and stomach. I needed to keep as clear a head as possible and hunger would not be a good thing. Most everyone else left so I sat enjoying the quiet especially after what I had unexpectedly experienced earlier walking off the elevator onto the floor where the courtroom was.

At about 11:00 or 11:30 everyone started trickling back into the hallway and the busyness began again. Most of the prosecution team, all the detectives and media entered the courtroom while the victims and a few of Joe Khan's associates stayed out in the hall. There was a small room outside of each of the courtroom doors which were on both sides. It had a table and 4 chairs and was used by the attorneys to have private conversations with their clients prior to entering court. This was used throughout the day as a place where the victim and their family/friends were brought just prior to them testifying. One by one each victim would be called into the courtroom.

A few vivid memories of that day really stick out in my mind. #1 being how long it seemed that each victim stayed in there to testify. It seemed as if the other victims waiting, including myself, looked at their watch each time one of us went in and then would look at each other as time seemed to tick by as if it was taking too long. Almost as if we were trying to prepare ourselves but didn't know what was becoming obvious to us, that testifying wasn't going to go as quickly as we had hoped. Not only that but, vivid memory #2 was how dramatic and emotional the exit was of each victim leaving the courtroom. The doors seemed to be pushed open with as much force as humanly possible so as to get out of there as quickly as possible. They were each crying uncontrollably and being surrounded by their loved ones. Joe's associates would take them aside and do the best to console them. Which I can tell you from experience was kind words of support and how good we performed on the stand. I am not going to lie this was really getting scary. Not only that but time was ticking away and the clock was approaching 6:00pm which is unheard of for a court session. I would soon be given some devastating news...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Time to go to Court

...I woke up the morning of October 31st the day of the preliminary hearing thinking I was as ready as I'll ever be. So I made some tea and a bowl of cereal and turned on the local news. BIG MISTAKE! Why? Because Jeffrey Marsalis' mug shot went up on the screen and the anchor began to report the story of the accused rapist and the 11 women prepared to testify later that day. What little was holding me together came completely unglued at that moment. No one is ever prepared to see a report on the news about their life. Up until that point I was focused on all that I had to deal with since Christmas week the previous year. As I sat staring at the TV screen the tears came rushing out. I was flooded with emotion and the realization that what I was doing was much bigger than I was allowing myself to think up until that point. I had a good cry and then got myself together, got dressed, got in my car and drove to the courthouse. I simply didn't have time to sit around the house letting out my emotions.

The courthouse itself was overwhelming. Philadelphia is a large city with a criminal courts building multiple stories high. I walked into the main entrance, had to relinquish my cell phone where it was actually checked into a box like a coat at a restaurant and was handed a ticket. Once I got through the airport like security lines I made my way towards the elevator and stepped off the floor of my assigned courtroom and was in for my second shock of the morning. The scene outside the courtroom was like right out of a movie. I couldn't believe how many people were there. I saw the prosecutor, Joe Khan and his team of associates even his boss, the chief of the unit was checking in throughout the day. Detective O'Malley was there with many of the other detectives from the Special Victims Unit and a local FBI agent too working as part of the federal investigation. The other victims were there but we were separated since an important part of the prosecutions case was that although our stories of encounters with Marsalis were eerily similar we had never met or spoken to each other and shared our personal assaults in any way.

Even though I was sitting alone I was never left alone for long. The police and prosecutors continued to check in on me to see how I was doing, if I needed anything and to keep me informed as to where there were as to who was and who will be testifying next. What I did know was that some other victims had traveled a distance to come and testify and others had certain family/personal commitments and because I lived nearby I would be one of the last women to testify.

Among the large group in the hallway that day were members of the local print and television media. While I was sitting there a familiar TV reporter from a channel I watched daily came to sit down next to me. He was polite, introduced himself and extended his hand to shake mine. I responded by shaking it back and saying hello. We exchanged brief pleasantries and he asked if I was an attorney. I simply said no and offered nothing else. It was like he read my mind and knew I was one of the victims. He responded ok, that it was nice to meet me got up and walked away. His kindness and compassion I will remember forever. He is still a reporter at NBC10 in Philadelphia, his name is Harry Hairston and he deserves to be recognized for that. Throughout the prelim, trial, sentencing and following the press has always reported the story but been in my mind leaned towards the victims side. That in of itself was comforting to a sexual assault victim.

There was one other person I met that day who would turn out to be a "life saver". Kathy from WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape) sat down next to me and introduced herself and explained the services they offered. WOAR is one of the original and oldest rape crisis centers in the country and set the benchmark for all others. Kathy was a court advocate and her job is to make sure rape victims know that WOAR is available to them for counseling services, hotline, essentially a safe place for them to go. She took my name and provided me with her business card. I took it, thanked her and said good bye but had no idea how much I was going to need their services. Six weeks later I would be making a phone call...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Time to Tell

...As I previously stated it would take me months to gather the courage to tell what happened to me and what I had committed myself to as far as the legal process. I wanted to start with my best friend because the reason was obvious, best friends give you a different kind of reaction and support than your family does. It's easier to talk to them because they stand in your corner unconditionally and no matter what you're going through you can count on them. This in no way undermines the extremely close relationship I have with my mom and brother. I hadn't even told another person that was related to me in some way and my BF was a really good person to start with in that respect also. 

It was about 2 months before the preliminary hearing. I called her because over the phone would be easier and once I finally made the decision to to tell her planning a meeting would then result in a few days lapse due to our busy work schedules and us living about 30 minutes apart. I jumped right in and awkwardly told her what happened and all that was going on as a result. I wanted to get it over with quickly so once it was said we could move on with the conversation, meaning we could talk about it without talking about "it". She was extremely supportive and because she would be the only friend I would tell for a long time and be my only real confidante even after I told my mom and brother. She knew this too and swore to secrecy from our remaining group of friends. I wouldn't actually discuss it unless there were legal details to update them on. I felt just a little bit better when I hung up the phone because keeping a secret from those close to you is like the weight of a high rise building on your shoulders.

Next, my mom. I really waited until the last moment to tell her. It was 4 days before the preliminary hearing. I also chickened out and called her and it was from my car. Again the moment I gathered up the courage to tell I just did it. She, of course, was very upset and shocked but gave me her full support and told me that she was proud of me for what I was doing. She had lots of questions which is not unusual for her. I have no doubt in my mind where my inquisitiveness comes from. She asked about coming with me to court and I said No real fast and explained that I had enough to deal with mentally and emotionally leading up to and on that day so it was best if I went on my own but I reassured her that I had a lot of support from the police and prosecutors office and I wouldn't be or feel alone so she need not worry. She agreed to tell my stepfather because the fewer times I had to repeat that story and deal with reactions to it the less stress it put on me. I told here I was going to tell my brother but not sure when, soon though.

Even now I don't know why I waited to tell him but it wasn't until after the preliminary hearing was over that I did. This time I went to his house, I knew my sister-in-law would be out and my niece and nephew would be at school. We were very close growing up as my mom was a single parent so he and I spent a lot of time alone together while she worked. This hadn't changed as we became adults so when something hurts him it hurts me and vice-versa. I told him and instantly saw the hurt in his face. He was sad for me and what I was going through. He then said something that would feel to me like a punch in my stomach and rack me with guilt. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was cautioned that this case might get some publicity. My brother had been watching the reports of the hearing on the local news all week and thinking what a terrible case it was and now he finds out I'm one of the victims. I felt awful! Although he wasn't mad at me, I was mad enough at myself. I told him I talked with our mom and our stepfather knew and he would talk to my sister-in-law. She's pretty much like a sister since they have been together more than 20 years. I left the house not feeling any better after this particular conversation.

I would continue to keep the secret from any other family members and only tell my friends one at a time with sometimes a year or two lapsing in between. The circumstances surrounding each friend was different as to why I had or hadn't shared my secret with them and it had nothing to do with whether I was closer with one than another. A few didn't know until just last year before I moved out of town and across the country. They are all amazing women, smart, funny, successful and loyal. They all stand by me and support what I'm doing with plenty of encouragement. Even 10 years later those things are still a really important part of my living a healthy life and after all I've been through I count my blessings and know how lucky I am...