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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Power of Your Voice Among Many

...This week was very big for domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy pertaining to sweeping changes in punishments outlined by the NFL and I'm proud to say I was a small part of it. I not only became involved because of the advocacy work that I do as a sexual assault survivor and the support I give towards the end violence against women campaigns but as an avid fan of professional football and a long time Philadelphia Eagles fan a team that I have cheered on for 35 years. A few weeks ago a 2 game suspension was placed on Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice as a punishment for him beating and knocking unconscious his then fiance and now wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator. It was all caught on surveillance cameras and broadcast for the world to see but in this case the images were shocking enough for the public to act. Women's organizations reacted swiftly by drafting petitions and getting them out for everyone to sign and taking them directly to the NFL and Roger Goodell along with Twitter campaigns started voicing outrage and tweets to them by domestic violence and sexual assault victims/survivors joining forces among many other individuals men and women alike who were simply angry and disappointed. 

Women now make up nearly 50% of football fans and viewers and this disregard of human decency was not going to be tolerated. It didn't matter that Ray Rice went on TV with his new wife (the victim) by his side to say he was sorry and was working towards being a better man and father. That is all well and good but is something between he and his wife. He committed a criminal act against another human being and the NFL punishment given to him was one of the lighter ones compared to some of their more strict drug and alcohol penalties. The NFL and Roger Goodell were saying essentially that if you abuse a woman in any way you will get a slap on the wrist and be welcomed back to your team and sport with open arms. This was simply not acceptable while woman (and men) are working so hard to end domestic violence and sexual assault and make the court and criminal process more compassionate towards victims and less tolerant of their abusers.

On Thursday August 28th NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he was wrong and took a very important step towards cracking down on domestic violence and sexual assault and these changes were sweeping. It not only included players but anyone and everyone who worked for the NFL from executives to field crews to coaches, etc. The first offense would be a six game suspension and the second offense would be a lifetime ban from the sport. Even more important that first offense could be more severe because the past actions of the abuser and other mitigating factors would be taken into account. This meant that coaches would now need to be more selective when drafting or trading players and as it should have been along those who work hard and behave themselves should get precedence over those who have misbehaved and continue to get by on their talent alone.

This week was a perfect example of what it is to be an American and the power of the people. An organization that I have supported for several years now UltraViolet wrote "nearly 50,000 people signed the petition to the NFL, more than 2,000 called its offices, and thousands more used social media to spread the word". The NFL is one of the most popular and highest rated televised sports in the country and they couldn't risk alienating their female fans but the men that support them too. When I was unhappy with the original decision by the NFL and Roger Goodell I tweeted out my anger and dissatisfaction as a woman, a sexual assault survivor and a football fan and when the news broke this week of his apology and penalty changes I tweeted my satisfaction.

I think we should remember it's important to speak up when we believe in something passionately because we can be heard and change is possible!

If you are interested in reading what I've seen so far as the most comprehensive article on the subject go to

Friday, August 29, 2014

Influencing the Influential

...I was really looking forward to the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years holidays in 2012. Steve would be flying in to spend all of them with me. My regular readers might be wondering how he's able to visit so often and the reason being is he is in the entertainment business and has a flexible schedule. You already knew he was a comic but his main focus is a weekly podcast where he interviews guests for an hour about their careers. They include every form of entertainer from actors, musicians, writers, comics and news personalities. He likes to tease me about it but when he has an interview with a guest that I'm a fan of it's guaranteed I will be coming to the studio to sit in on the recording and meet them. I am proud of the work that he does and he gets all the guests on his own without a producer, many of which the contact information was provided as a referral by other guests who enjoyed being on his show. If you're interested in listening go to So when the holidays came up and he booked his flights he was able to record shows ahead of time and play them during his absence. Not only that but my bosses were so happy with the previous years Christmas party and comic they asked that I book the same venue and this time hire Steve to perform. Most of my co-worker friends had met him already so it was a good situation and he would be able to change his ticket and fly in earlier too. I was so happy as this was the first time in decades (yes) that I was in a relationship and even better had someone to share the holidays. Life was good!

In December I received an email from the professor at U of Penn inviting me back to her Victimology class and had a special request too. She joins a group of Psychiatrists who have influence about what happens at Penn for a weekly lecture and they asked her to speak to them about sexual assault for a specific lecture date in January. She explained to me that the group has preconceived notions about the crime and wanted to put a panel together who have dealt with my case and one of those people was me. Wow this was big. I was really flattered and excited to share my story and hopefully change some misguided views of very important people and accepted her invitation immediately. 

A week before the lecture Dr. Brown informed me that the others to join the panel will be a former prosecutor from the unit that prosecuted my case and one of the SVU detectives who investigated my case. I was looking forward to seeing them again, expressing my gratitude and sharing how much progress I've made and as a victim/survivor what good came out of all the work they did. Now it was time to look at my speech again in which I had several versions depending on the audience and edit it for the benefit of this particular group. I decided I would take the morning off from work the day of the lecture so as to keep my stress level down. As far as I was concerned this was way more important. It paid off because the speech went very well and the group had a lot of questions. In several emails to follow from the professor she told me the group was "blown away" and the feedback she received included "best seminar ever". Those words were music to my ears and honestly gave me a confidence boost. If this group of highly esteemed professionals could share those kind of reviews then maybe I could really venture out on my own and do it full time after all...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Good Comes From Bad

...In my post about a week ago I talked about the 'co-worker from hell' BL who made it her personal vendetta to get me fired while I was going through the Idaho trial and counseling. It was obvious she wasn't a nice person and virtually useless as an employee but her behavior in the Fall of 2012 would create undo stress not only on me but just about everyone else who worked at the company. I was already overworked and exhausted but her actions would increase both exponentially. Thankfully there were the visits from my boyfriend, my Make-A-Wish volunteering and speaking events that had kept me focused on what was positive in my life. On one particular ride home from the airport after picking up Steve I got a text message from a friend at work that I mentioned in another earlier post. He dropped a bomb of information that stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't wait to get home and out of the car so I could text him back. Apparently for the past several weeks BL had started an affair with another married employee who worked in the shop. Remember she had a toddler plus two older kids at home. They didn't even try to hide it as several others had the unfortunate luck of encountering them in various locations of the building in various states of affection. I'm wording this delicately but it was as bad as you can imagine. Their behavior would escalate over the next 6 months. 

This information allowed me to put two and two together. BL had started to arrive at the office earlier after 5 years of showing up late every day. She was hanging out with the guy by his workbench until she was required to sit at her desk. She was disappearing a lot from her desk to the point where the most frequent question I got each day was "Where is BL?" and when her schedule allowed she was taking long lunches. You see several years earlier the company fired our receptionist and decided I would have to split the duties of receptionist with BL including answering the phone and no I didn't have the time in my day for these extra responsibilities but my comments and suggestions fell on deaf ears. The powers that be didn't care. Because BL was absent from her desk so often I was then interrupted by employees to answer questions and complete little tasks that should have been done by the missing BL. Not to mention word was spreading fast about her behavior and how disgusted those were who caught them together and all this was being shared with me. I was someone who people liked to talk/complain to because they knew I would keep it in my confidence and most knew what BL had done to me in the past and didn't like it at all. Secretly I think they wanted me to do something about it too. 

The real problem began when they were carrying on while clients were in the building which was upsetting those bringing in the clients for meetings. I confided in a select few saying I had no problem meeting with my boss (an executive) and telling her everything but I needed to witness it myself too in order to give it more validity and so I would look less vindictive. Well you knew where this was going eventually because I walked into the Kitchen one morning to get supplies to set up for a meeting and through the wall I heard them carrying on. The other side of that wall was an empty office in the shop area I was told they were using for their hook ups. That was it for me I requested a meeting with my boss the same day. I went in as usual with the facts and details and laid it all out on the table. She was shocked, thanked me for the information and said she would meet with the other employees boss too. BL would be put on certain restrictions but those would be violated soon enough and she was back to misbehaving as relayed to me by more witnesses. Then one day my supervisor took the afternoon so she could attend the closing of her new home and BL left the building for almost 2 hours. She was so late coming back to take over the phones in order for me to take my lunch break I had to ask the other girl on our team to help me out. She didn't call to even make an excuse as to why she was late but returned with her hair in a ponytail and different clothes on and yes the other employee had been gone all that time too. This brought on more discipline as the two of us informed our boss but BL would also disregard those punishments. She had gotten away with so many things for so long she was cocky.

Five more months before she was finally let go. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw her called in by the Execs and then listened as she cried and watched as she packed up her desk and was escorted out to her car. I'm not going to lie I started the texting frenzy throughout the building. So many people had unwillingly become involved and been affected by her bad behavior. As a 46 year old professional who has worked at my fair share of companies I never saw an overwhelming reaction of joy and relief once word spread. She was so high maintenance to deal with, was so careless with her work and her poor me, negative attitude sucked the life out of an office like I had never seen before and now the dark cloud was gone. I wish I could say this made my work life better and it did alleviate a big problem in the office but what happened is it shined a light on the other issues and dissatisfaction I was having with my job. I began to realize what was most important to me in my future career and personal life and it gave me perspective so I could take a look at my future in a whole new way. As I had done before with obstacles in my life I would turn it into something good...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Being There For Someone Else Now

...In August 2012 I received another request to speak at U of Penn in the Fall but my speaking requests slowed down after that. Which at the moment was good because it gave me time to focus on a new challenge in my life. I was now working with Steve to manage his new diet restrictions. As healthy as I had eaten for most of my life we were now going to have to be extra careful when purchasing snack items,etc. and choosing the restaurants we visited. I had almost completely cut out processed food years before but this was all new to Steve and I was happy to learn along with him all the new adjustments to his/our diet. He became nearly obsessive about it which I suppose was better than being apathetic and I was proud at how seriously he was taking his health now. He began researching recipes and modifying ones that he liked to fit his diet. He also learned to have honest conversations with our servers when we went out to eat. We never encountered anyone uncooperative and they would gladly go back to question the kitchen regarding what was in certain food items. The diet modification was becoming routine but my next real obstacle was getting Steve to the gym and introducing him to a workout routine. One thing at a time though because I didn't want him to get overwhelmed and discouraged.

Early on the 3rd Monday in August after a long weekend visit I dropped Steve off at the airport. When he landed he called me with very bad news. While he was in the air to LA his father suffered a fall in his home and was injured badly. As soon as he landed he got the voice mail from his brother that he was in the hospital. Steve would arrive home from the airport and start searching for flights to return to the East coast. I had mentioned before we met in college and he grew up in the same area of South Jersey I lived although his parents had sold their house and moved to Delaware. He and I talked later in the day and his plan was to return on Friday and go down there for the weekend. I told him I would pick him up at the airport and we would drive straight to the hospital. He was taken aback and didn't want me to feel I was obligated. I quickly shot him down and said it was decided I would be with him to get through what would be a difficult weekend. I researched hotels and we got one of the last rooms in the area as it was the U of Delaware homecoming that weekend. Only the week before he asked if at some point during his December visit for the holidays would I want to take a trip down so he could see his parents and I could meet them. Unfortunately I would now be meeting his mother, brother, sister and niece under very different circumstances.

It was a long exhausting weekend and I'm so glad I insisted on being with him so he could have someone to lean on and talk out what he was dealing with. Thankfully he had rushed back to see his father as he passed away two days after Steve returned to LA. A few days after that I had a previously planned long weekend visit to LA as it was Labor Day and my birthday so I had taken the Friday off from work. I am so glad for that timing so I could be there for Steve during his grieving process and be able to be the support he needed. Since then he has showed unlimited support for me in the past few years especially after I moved out to LA and began my new adventure/career as a public speaker and advocate for date rape and sexual assault. We continue to be there for each other and no matter what we encounter it's together...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Effect of Positive Feedback

...I think it's important as a date rape survivor and advocate to talk about all the good things that can come once you share your story. This time I'm not referring to the support you receive from law enforcement, prosecutors or counselors but friends, family and co-workers. This week I have received direct and indirect encouragement for my choice to speak out on my own behalf and champion awareness for subject of sexual assault, its victims and survivors.

When I first spoke out publicly at the WOAR event it was in front of those who knew why I was there and what I was going to talk about and that continued as I attended events and granted interviews where I told my story. This form of "anonymity" made it easier but discussing what happened to me face to face with those that knew and loved me was awkward. You can't just blurt it out during a family gathering, over lunch with a colleague or while having dinner with friends. I had to plan ahead when and how I was going to tell someone. In the weeks leading up to my move to LA I was seeing all my friends individually to spend time with them and for some, their kids too. The girls I hadn't shared my story with I did and each time I explained it wasn't that I didn't trust them enough to tell them what happened but it never seemed like the right moment. 

Last week was a co-worker's birthday so for Throwback Thursday I dug out a picture of all of us after our company Christmas party and as a result received a friend request from a supervisor while I worked there. She messaged me to say she had known the basic story but took the time to read by blog to find out all the details of my experience. This past week I received from friends links to articles regarding stories in the news relating to important date rape prevention campaigns. Most recently I had written the post "All Along There Was This Too" and posted it to Facebook which I normally don't do but there was a message I wanted to get to everyone who had been there for me during the difficult times even if they didn't know it. I received a text from a friend/former co-worker (different company) who I hadn't told. She was sad to hear what I had gone through and upset that she somehow didn't know which how could she because I kept the secret from her not the other way around. When I get reactions like this I completely understand and always feel guilty because I know if it was my friend I would want to know so I could be there for them too.

Every time I have shared my story or someone has found out on their own or when someone passes along an article their direct words of support and compassion or indirect involvement in my mission of awareness and advocacy it fills me with overwhelming feeling of being grateful and thankful. No one can know except if you are the unfortunate victim of a sexual crime what these acts of kindness do for your self esteem. It adds to the strength a victim or survivor needs to move forward in their healing and removes a little bit more of feeling excluded and knowing they are different. All we ever want is to move further and further away from the assault and towards a life of normalcy. We will forever be changed because of what happened to us but we just want to cease being an outsider and be a part of society like everyone else...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thinking About My Future

...April was a very busy month for me as I flew out to LA for the long Easter weekend and the following week returned to Stockton for their TBTN and to Penn for the Victimology course. I had also seen an interview on ESPN2 with the former prosecutor who ran the unit in the DA's office that worked on my case and thought it was a perfect opening to reach out and tell her what I was doing along with putting my speaking services out for additional opportunities. At this point I was beginning to consider speaking full-time but I had a lot to consider before making such a drastic leap. I was becoming more and more unsatisfied with my job as the responsibilities increased but my salary did not. I knew speaking out was doing some good for people and I felt good doing it. Getting up and going to my current job every day was causing me a great deal of unhealthy stress. I am though by nature a thinker who weighs all my options good and bad before doing anything not to mention practical. I was single and had a mortgage and bills to pay so I couldn't just quit my job to get into a new career without having some kind of financial backup so in the meantime I would keep doing what I was doing and try to figure out a way to promote my speaking further. I put the idea on the back burner but ultimately not for that long.

Except for my job everything else was going so well. My relationship with Steve was great and at this stage the long-distance thing was still fun, getting to travel back and forth, meeting each others friends and doing the things we were both interested in. We had a lot of common interests but I won't bore you with them all. I was busy signing up for wishes and a few months prior attended a volunteer appreciation luncheon where I received an award with several others for being one of New Jersey's top volunteers. This had been a surprise and it moved me to tears. Then Saturday of Memorial Day weekend my mom and I got on a plane for an amazing week long experience in Ireland.We had a suite in a beautiful boutique hotel in Dublin, toured the city visiting the usual tourist spots, some unusual spots and we ate great food in the not so touristy pubs with the locals. We took the train up to Belfast for a day to see the new Titanic museum and had a private bus tour (unintentional but no one else bought tickets that day). Then one day we felt brave and rented a car to drive down to see the Powerscourt Castle Gardens. You have not lived until you drive a manual transmission car on the narrowest roads in the world with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and the car on the wrong side of the road. It was fun to say the least.

Unfortunately the day after I returned home Steve would have to admit himself into the hospital. He had been feeling unwell the past 2 months and it slowly got worse. It started off with him being tired then his appetite decreased. During his visit Mother's Day weekend he couldn't even get off the couch as I left to meet my mom for brunch. The week I was on vacation he went to Urgent Care twice as he was so tired he couldn't get up and walk around yet had trouble sleeping. He was misdiagnosed on both visits and finally he called his friend that Sunday to take him to the hospital. Within 24 hours after multiple tests they diagnosed him with Congestive Heart Failure. He is lucky enough to have an excellent cardiologist. Thank goodness because now he could be treated. He had plans to get on a plane that Wednesday to visit me and the doctor told him that if he did there was a high percentage that would have killed him. I was 2,500 miles away feeling as helpless as ever. I would be unable to take care of him when he was released from the hospital that Wednesday and last minute flights to LA due to the Summer season were well over $1,000. I had to sit in NJ and do nothing but call him on the phone to check in on him. He had a slight relapse and returned to the hospital Thursday for an overnight visit but went home Friday with medications he has to take for the rest of his life and a new diet plan. This whole situation would not only change his life but mine too as it confirmed for me my feelings for him.

On a positive side we would begin cooking together a lot more because he was on a low-sodium diet. I had always loved to cook since I was in elementary school but it's not all that fun for one person but now we had a lot of new recipes to experiment with. He had also decided to start going to the gym. Like many he had a membership with good intentions but never made it mostly because he had never worked out before. This would be something else we could do together. I had been going to the gym and working out since I was 19 and as this was something unfamiliar to Steve I would help him get started once the doctor gave him the go ahead. This health scare would bring us closer together but wouldn't be the only challenge to our relationship that Summer...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Being an Active Bystander

I recently read an article on iWillESV.tumblr that inspired this post. 

...It was a cold March night but I was really looking forward to what was planned. As my girlfriends and I got older we were seeing less and less of each other because life happens. We were in relationships, getting engaged, married and having babies so getting together was sometimes a logistical nightmare that would leave even the best party planner frazzled. But finally we had settled on a night to go out and celebrate my friend's birthday at a club in Philly called 32(degrees). We would dance and celebrate like old times. 

The night was off to a good start as everyone arrived at the bar, quickly started chatting each other up, toasting to my friends birthday and mingling with the people around us. Within an hour the club was packed and loud and we were all having a great time. That was about to change as I began to witness something that was increasingly upsetting to me. My friends and I were standing at the bar and in the open space between it and the bottle service tables. Near us was a large group of about 8, more guys than girls. One of the girls appeared to be very drunk but from my unfortunate experience it looked like more than just too much alcohol that was affecting her. She had a drink in her hand but was barely able to hold on to it as she was at almost a complete loss of control of her body. For several minutes I watched as she leaned against the wall that barely held her up. Then as she moved towards the group she was nearly on the floor all the while surrounded by her "friends". The other girls ignored her and I did not feel comfortable with how the guys were reacting to her. They allowed her to not only lean up against them but to fall all over them. They didn't try to help her in any way nor did they take the drink away from her. Who would treat a friend this way and why didn't they care?

I grabbed my friend Renee to tell her what I saw, asked her to watch and if in her opinion she thought something wasn't right about the who scenario either. She agreed with me so I then said we need to alert the club's security who was standing nearby. The first one I spoke to was not taking me seriously so I walked away and approached another. At this point I was near tears because I was still watching this girl acting in a manner that was beyond just the effects of too many drinks. My friend stood by me as I tried to keep calm and explain that they needed to intervene for her own safety. This took way too much persuading on my part before he finally agreed to check on her. 

My mind was racing as I was having flashbacks to what had happened to me. I was also thinking of the other victims of Jeffrey Marsalis, the assaults committed by him and if just one person had stepped in to speak up on their behalf how for some things would have ended up a lot differently. I'm not including myself as I know I was drugged in his apartment. I simply could not get a hold of my emotions and asked Renee if we could go home as we had come together. She didn't hesitate to say yes so we made up an excuse, said good-bye to our friends and left. I couldn't shake what happened that night for quite a while. It most definitely set my healing back a bit and I spent the next counseling session with Laura talking about it. 

At the time I didn't know anything about being an 'Active Bystander' or 'Bystander Awareness' but what I did know is that just a little common sense can go a long way to saving someone's life. Please read the article link above and share my post with your family and friends. If you see something that is setting off your instinct alarms then speak up, say something or tell someone. You will only regret not doing so! 

As part of RAINN's ItsOnUs awareness campaign to prevent campus sexual assault I have included their Four Ways to Keep Friends Safe provided here.

→ Distract. If you see a friend in a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, create a distraction to get your friend to safety.
→ Step in. If you see someone who looks uncomfortable or is at risk, step in. If you feel safe, find a way to de-escalate the situation and separate all parties involved.
→ Enlist others. You don’t have to go it alone. Call on friends or other people in the area as reinforcements to help defuse a dangerous situation and get the at-risk person home safely.
→ Keep an eye out. Simply being aware of your surroundings can have a big impact on someone’s life. If you see someone who has had too much to drink or could be vulnerable, try to get them to a safe place.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Telling Steve

...In February I received an email from the prosecutor who was contacted by an ABC News producer informing him that they will be re-running their special I was previously interviewed for the next few years on sister channels TLC and Discovery ID. She wanted any updates from the four of us if we were willing to provide them. I took the producers information and put an email together with the new information about my speaking to volunteer advocate trainings, TBTN at Stockton College and the Victimology class at U of Penn. She responded thanking me for the updates and had some kind words to say and also asked a few more questions regarding Marsalis' conviction and sentencing and some personal questions.

I was very happy to know the show would be airing again as I wanted the most number of viewers to hear the story and told her as much. The producer thanked me for all that I provided her and said she would let me know when it was ready to be aired again and on which channel. Then I contacted my friend who I met at the interview to chat about this new development. She decided to also send an update to the producer. It had been 3 years since the original air date and we were both more secure that the first time the show aired as we moved on with our lives and had a lot of positive things going on.

There was actually a bigger problem for me which was telling my boyfriend Steve. In all the months of emails, texts, phone calls, my first visit out to LA and his first visit to NJ I had not told him of my past regarding the rape and trials although he knew I was speaking on college campuses but back then I was telling people it was about women's safety on campus which wasn't that far from the truth really. Don't get me wrong it had been on the back of my mind the entire time and I kept chickening out but now with the show scheduled to air on Wednesday March 21st on Discovery ID I had to tell him. There was no way I would allow him to stumble onto the show as had happened with my close friends during the first time it aired. So on Monday, two days prior, I told him in an email that morning we should talk on the phone that night. He was coming out to visit for the weekend on Thursday so I could pass it off as discussing plans we had.

I called him after dinner and told him as soon as we got on the phone. I started from the beginning and went through the whole story of the trial, the counseling, the interview and what I was really talking about during my speeches. It was really hard but as with every other obstacle regarding this subject I survived. He was quiet at first as I'm sure he was processing what I told him but then he said he was proud of me and everything I did and was continuing to do. I breathed a sigh of relief. He said he was going to watch the show at the same time I did on the East coast as that channel aired it early on the West coast. He has always been my biggest supporter.

Wednesday came and I was a bit anxious to see the show again. Even though they sent me a DVD and I had shared it several times as part of my speaking engagements I hadn't watched it again. I was also curious as to how they would include the information I provided as part of the updated show. They had added in some new footage and Chris Cuomo narrated the updated information at the end mentioning Marsalis had exhausted all his appeals, the other women have moved on and that I speak to Rape Crisis counselors and that it will always be a part of me. I was happy with how it went. My mom watched it with my stepdad and called my crying after to tell me how proud she was of me. Steve and I spoke for a while after then we said goodbye as he was getting on a very early flight the next morning to come see me. The next day I relayed the show to my fellow interviewee as she didn't get that particular channel. I was also a bit jumpy because this time I knew there was a possibility that someone would recognize me but no one reached out if they had although a few of my moms friends saw it. 

So I got through that next hurdle which was telling Steve just fine and now we could move on without anymore secrets. I hated keeping this secret from anyone I was close to and there still were friends I hadn't told for specific reasons but eventually I would tell them too when I found it absolutely necessary not to keep it from them any longer...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Sounds Familiar

...Several times I have mentioned a valuable friendship that came out of my one unfortunate encounter with Jeffrey Marsalis 10 years ago. I talked about how she and I met during the taping of the ABC News interview and had an immediate connection that didn't just include our being drugged and raped by the same monster. We have both been luck enough to meet amazing, supporting men with whom we will spend the rest of our lives. A few weeks ago Kristen told me she had finally sat down to write her story of the night she was assaulted by Marsalis and what was to follow and yesterday she shared it with me. While I was posting about the trial in Philadelphia I wrote at length about how similar the stories were as his victims got up on the stand to testify. I did not know the exact details of my friends rape but as I read through it I couldn't believe how so many specifics that happened to her were either similar or the same as me, not to mention the similar thoughts and feeling we both expressed afterwards. There are commonalities in the reactions by rape victims. Even after all this time and what I know it still catches me off guard. Those details follow:

We met him on both remember thinking his profile had too many pictures and gave off the impression of being a bit full of himself. We spoke on the phone first recalling that he blocked his phone number from the caller ID and planned our almost exact "dates". He directed us where to park, met up with us and headed out for some bar hopping. We both speak about having easy conversations with him and how he somehow managed to show his (what we now know were fake) ID's. He used the same story of NASA and his medical residency at a prestigious Philadelphia hospital. We each woke up the next morning naked in his bed with little or no memory why or what happened and never having had the intention of having sex with him at any point while we were conscious. He was nice to us the next morning and walked us out to our cars like any gentlemen would HAH!! 

Kristen then tells of how she was missing money out of her wallet the next morning and thinking how odd that was. I also had money missing out of my wallet when I paid for the bagel and water on the way to my car. Later when I met with the SVU detective he told me other victims had money stolen too. Since he met us both on her profile was also among those confiscated during the search of his Idaho apartment after his arrest there. Once each of us were contacted, met with the SVU detectives and informed of the real Jeffrey Marsalis and all he did we each knew our initial instincts were correct about that night, what we thought about him and the missing puzzle pieces were actually incidents of our being drugged and raped. We never did give consent. We each talk about taking the practical step of being tested for STD/HIV, etc. because knowledge was power and sticking our head in the sand wasn't an option. 

As for the trial we attended the closing arguments together (but weren't introduced) seeing Marsalis for the first time in several years and how satisfying it was to see how terrible he looked. We expressed sharing the same contempt for his female attorney and for the jury that somehow couldn't grasp the fact that 7 women unknown to each other could tell the same story and somehow not be credible enough to convict him properly. We both received excellent counseling which allowed us to heal and move forward with our lives.

I want to thank Kristen for so generously allowing me to share her story. She has been backing me since I first began to speak out 5 years ago and it means everything. Like me she also did not testify at the Philadelphia but she played a significant role of support and getting justice for herself and all his other victims.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Year-New Adventures

...The week between Christmas and New Years 2011 was full of good things. I received my first check as a paid speaker for the Victimology course at Penn and was already scheduled for the Spring semester class. I had booked my trip to LA to visit Steve and was really looking forward to seeing how we got along in person. It's one thing to get along in emails, texts and talking on the phone but if this was going to go anywhere you have to get along in person. Not to mention my workload was increasing exponentially with no help in sight as I had asked and was told it wasn't in the budget so a 4 day vacation was well-deserved if I may say so myself. 

Next I was going to tell my family and friends about my trip. My mom and brother only knew I was talking about Steve as a friend but my BF Renee had some idea of what was going on. A few weeks earlier Steve had surprised me at work with a gift which was a Stockton College t-shirt (the school we attended together) so he reached out to Renee's husband to get my address. She knew that he was interested in me. My family was excited and asked me a bunch of nosy questions as they felt it was their duty to inquire. I told my friends at a brunch get together a few weeks later which was kind of a funny story. One of the girls had mentioned someone she might want to set me up with and Renee and I looked at each other and said I guess I should tell them now. They too were excited and also asked nosy questions because they of course had the same duty to inquire.

In the meantime a few months earlier my brother and sister-in-law took my niece to London and Paris for her 16th birthday in lieu of a large party which was a much better present in my opinion. It was the first trip abroad for all of them. My mom and I had been to Europe many times solo and once together and we were getting the bug again so we decided to visit Ireland since it was on both our lists as we had never been. I knew that in January I was gaining an additional weeks vacation and was planning on using all the days my company gave me. We did plenty of research individually and compared lots of notes and decided we would book it as soon as the holidays were over. I went to her house on a Saturday where we called the AMEX travel agent and booked an amazing week's vacation in Ireland to leave on memorial day weekend. Now I had two trips to look forward to!

So in late January I boarded a plane to LA on what I thought was a great adventure full of possibilities. I decided I would get off the plane with the Stockton shirt on and he greeted me with flowers. Not a bad start. We had a whirlwind weekend full of non-stop plans including lunch in Malibu, sushi dinner, shopping, meeting his friends and seeing him perform at a local comedy club. He suffered through bringing me to all the touristy places including the Santa Monica Pier. I also made sure to text lots of pictures and details home so as to keep the curious satisfied. All that weekend we laughed and had a great time and before I left Sunday on the red eye we decided on when he would visit me in NJ and my next trip back Easter weekend. The rest as you know is history...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All Along There Was This Too...

...I haven't spoken much about the job I went to after leaving my position as a flight attendant. It was new and different from any of the marketing positions I had and I was enjoying the change and challenges. As with all new jobs there is a honeymoon period but unfortunately mine didn't last so long. In the overwhelming sea of positivity that I had in my life from friends, family, counselors and law enforcement I ended up working alongside one of the most negative, self-absorbed, stupid people on the planet. Not to mention an utterly useless employee. She showed up late for work every day and droned on to anyone who was unlucky enough to be stuck near her while she started telling the most inappropriate stories of her personal life. At best she was mediocre at her job with the mental and emotional capacity of a teenager. I'll refer to her as BL. We had some shared responsibilities and the same supervisor and over time I would be forced to pick up more and more of her slack because she was so inept at her job that very few people in the company trusted to task her with anything. After a few months there she announced her pregnancy which was shocking to us all because she had complained about her horrible husband for weeks and how she was leaving and divorcing him. I knew this would not be good for me as I had covered a maternity leave at a previous job and it's months of thankless additional work that you're not asked but expected to do and not paid anything additional for it.

In the months to follow before leaving on maternity she became extremely paranoid about me and began complaining to our new supervisor as our previous one left for a new job. I guess she thought she could jump in and make herself look good but remember she's not that bright. BL began a campaign to get me fired. I was repeatedly brought in to my bosses office to defend myself against stories BL made up about my work. This continued even after she left on maternity until our boss changed the password on her email and told her she wasn't allowed to check it while out on Leave. She returned to work in the Spring of 2009 and began her passive/aggressive campaign again. You see while she was out on maternity Sr. Mgmt realized her incompetence and the majority of work she was responsible for I reorganized and completed in much less time and more efficiently not to mention the large number of mistakes she made that everyone was finding while she was gone. So upon her return she was stripped of many of her duties and my lesser tasks where given to her. She had every reason to be paranoid as she knew her shortcomings and days of sitting around doing very little would catch up to her.

This was all going on while I was mentally preparing for the Idaho trial and what the outcome would mean for me and all the other victims. I was also getting myself together in anticipation for the ABC News interview. BL and her actions were so toxic to my well being at a time when I was fragile and needed only positive things and people in my life. I spent part of many of my counseling sessions with Laura talking out my frustrations and working with her on how to get through the poison that was BL's negativity affecting my workday. I did my best to use at work what Laura and I discussed in session.

Everything came to the surface one day at work when BL interfered with me and my work one last time. I walked into my supervisors office and told her I wasn't going to deal with this nonsense any further. I had a lot of work to do and didn't need the distractions. She brought us both into the conference room and it got ugly. While I slowly and methodically (albeit a bit loud at times) laid out for my boss everything that BL had lied about and the little things she was doing almost daily for months to sabotage me. Although passionate, I stuck to the facts because I knew it was the strength I had on my side. On the other side of the table the uneducated, incompetent BL cried the entire time we were all in there which was nearly an hour. She had no facts to defend herself so every time I hit her with something else she had done to me she cried some more. I really did despise that woman I just can't stand weak women who play the victim all the time. I had seen so much courage from women the past few years BL was a disgrace to our gender. Finally when all was said and done our boss said to stay out of each other's way and for BL to just concern herself with her own work and nothing else. That was the best I could ask for because I would learn as more time went by at the company and other unrelated BL issues would arise my boss would seemingly be on my side but when it came down to it she never really was and didn't have the courage to stand up for me when necessary.

Ultimately, at times in our lives when things are the most challenging and we don't think we can take anymore we are faced with another obstacle. We might scream and question why but we tackle it head on and move passed it because that's just what you do. I have learned to cut the negativity and poison out of my life and am much happier for doing so. 

There would be some good times at the company for me and I just loved everyone else I worked with but mostly it was all downhill from then on until the day I walked out the door for my new life in LA. More of that to come later...

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Do Believe in Fate

…It’s late September and I was having a great year so far. I had put the trials and all the drama that comes with them behind me and moved on. The year 2011 was moving in the right direction. I was getting new and repeat speaking requests and getting busy with Make-A-Wish volunteering. I had a close supportive family and amazing friends so my social life was full enough. The only thing that was missing was someone to share it all with which had been painfully elusive to me so far but that was about to change.

One of my many responsibilities as “Admin” for the company I worked for was to plan any meeting or parties we may have. This was actually fun for me. I’m a planner by nature and a social butterfly. I usually meet with my bosses each year in the late Summer to begin discussing our company Christmas party. This is an event we never skip regardless of budget or company revenue and the past 3 I had planned were quite a success if I may say so myself but I don’t have to because everyone did that for me says the modest girl. We would get together and toss around ideas as to the formality of the party (it changed each year for variety sake) and they would toss out their ideas for the type of entertainment I needed to research. That particular year it would be a comedian. I immediately knew this wouldn’t be too difficult to get started on as I went to college with someone who was now a comic in LA, although he didn’t live in the area I could still contact him for his price and any local references he may have. All I had to do was get his number and email address which was easy because we had a connection. My best friend married a guy who has been friends with him since their late teens. I texted Renee who got the info from her husband and I sent off an email to Steve Cooper.

We started off with the usual catching up on life's details as it had been 20 years since we last saw each other at one of his shows and then got down to business. He sent me a link to one of his performances and his price and also information for a local guy he’s known for years. Within a week after submitting their quotes and one more for another comedian my bosses made the decision we would hire Steve’s friend. I let him know that we would be going with the other comic and he was happy to have been able to help. He then said it had been nice talking to someone he went to college with and talk football with as we are both huge Philadelphia Eagles fans and asked if we could continue to chat. I said of course. (He later admitted this was just a ruse because he was interested in me as more than just friends). He had been divorced for many years with no children and I hadn't been in a long term relationship, I'm embarrassed to say since my early twenties. I can't explain how time gets away from you but I was a workaholic in my late 20's to early 30's then I wasn't in a position emotionally to date during the legal, counseling and trial process and then the next thing you know you're 45. 

So we continued our correspondence which was the beginning of many emails then phone calls and text messages. We talked about college and who we still keep in touch with and what they are all doing. We texted pictures when out with friends and during the Eagles games. We had many long conversations on the phone as he really likes to talk. It’s a good thing I am a night owl because he was 3 hours behind in LA. Then one night on the phone in early December he said he wanted to fly me out for a visit knowing how much I despise the upcoming east coast Winter. I of course accepted since we were having a lot of fun so far and the day after Christmas we decided on a long weekend in late January that would work for my trip and booked the flights. I was really excited to see there this would go. It turned out to be the beginning of a long distance relationship that lasted almost 2 years and thousands of frequent flyer miles for both of us and my ultimately moving out to California in October 2013. More on the big move later. My life would never be the same again and all for the better. I would finally be completely happy...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Change Is Good

...In September I received an email from my contact at WOAR #1 requesting that I return to speak at the volunteer training later in the month and #2 passing along a request she received from a colleague of hers that was a professor in the Nursing Dept. at the University of Pennsylvania. She was seeking a sexual assault survivor to speak to her Victimology class for the Fall semester. I couldn't reply to her email fast enough accepting the request to speak at WOAR again and the offer to speak to students as part of their course curriculum. I got the professor's contact information, drafted an email to introduce myself and tell her about the groups and events I had given my speeches to date so far. I also included a link to the ABC News special for her to review. This would prove to be valuable later. The professor emailed me back and told me she was aware of my case as I would later learn she has a background in training the SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) nurses and dealing with sexual assault victims and advocacy. She told me a little bit more about her class and invited me to be their speaker. I was excited and flattered. This opportunity would take me to the next level as her class has between 100-150 students which would be the largest group I had ever spoken to and expand my resume even further.

In preparation for the class Professor Brown asked if I would like to arrive and sit in on the first hour of her lecture. I thought this was a great idea because I could get a sense of the message she was teaching. It turned out I was able to take some notes and made edits to my speech prior to going up in front of the class. I then offered to bring along the ABC News interview DVD which Professor Brown thought was a great idea because the students have available to them a blackboard website where it would be posted for only them to view.

The last weekend in September was very busy for me as I spoke to the WOAR advocates training class on Saturday, volunteered for the Make-A-Wish Walk for Wishes on Sunday and on Monday spoke to the Penn Victimology class. That afternoon as I arrived to the Penn campus I'm not going to lie, I was a bit in awe. This is an Ivy League school and I would be speaking to some of the most brilliant students in the country. What I did have to offer though was my life experience and hopefully it would be valuable to them as part of their studies. The college I attended was smaller (5,000 students), non traditional and set in the NJ Pine Barrens on a beautiful campus. Penn's campus is right outside center city Philadelphia, many times larger and is right next to the Drexel campus. The nursing school building was new though and the classroom had an impressive auditorium layout. I'm glad I sat in the room for an hour prior because it gave me time to adjust to my surroundings and center myself. The speech went very well, they asked a lot of questions, some even as they filed out of class and the professor was also very happy.

After giving my speech that day I began to think that maybe I would consider doing this full-time. I was getting a lot out of each speech I gave personally and always received valuable feedback. This along with the variety of questions I answered from the groups I was enjoying what I was doing. On the other hand I was very unhappy with my current job where I had been working for almost 4 years. There were a lot of changes to my position and the company and things all around were going in the wrong direction as far as both were concerned so why not consider doing something I enjoyed full-time and help other people as part of it. 

A few weeks later I received a very nice thank you note from the counselors at WOAR and an email from Professor Brown requesting that I speak to her Spring semester class. That was great news! There was also a project I was working on that as a result would lead to something I would never see coming that would change my life forever...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Making a Difference

...The Spring and Summer of 2011 would prove to be very busy relating to speaking events. In April I would be returning to Stockton College for their TBTN event. Since the format in which I would be speaking would be arranged in a more personal setting I was asked to submit a short bio to be ready prior to my speech. I arrived in the late afternoon to meet Elana and a few representatives from the local rape crisis center at the smaller student center by the dorms. We would greet the men as they completed their Walk in Her Shoes march and wait for the other attendees to arrive. Information tables were set up to offer the various services by the campus Health Center, local rape crisis center and Green Dot initiative. I was introduced with my bio, gave my speech and answered a few questions following it. The floor was then opened up to anyone who wanted to speak. A few very brave girls stood up and told their story either of being assaulted or being an ear to a friend that shared their assault. I would find out later that my speech inspired a girl to speak out for the first time about an attack on her made by a boyfriend during high school. This resulted in her seeking counseling. To my knowledge she was the first of the "one" that I always refer to when I say If me speaking out and telling my story helps one person to speak out and get help then my mission is complete. I hope there have been many more over the years!

There were also some new speaking opportunities that came my way. In May I received a call from Caitlin, she is the girlfriend of my co-workers son and the one who helped him after seeing my ABC News interview. She was the Director for SERV which is the sexual assault program for three counties in NJ. She wanted to invite me to speak at their
victims advocate training. We scheduled a meeting first to introduce ourselves along with her colleague and I came in to speak to the group. I was finally becoming more comfortable with my speech and able to get through more easily every time I presented it. I stayed around after to chat with the volunteers one on one and they also thanked me for coming with a nice gift basket. So far I hadn't been paid for any of my speeches which was fine but the opportunity for me to become a professional would soon present itself.

The next day Caitlin sent me a very nice email to say thank you and provide feedback from the group (which I always welcome) and also to relay that a representative of SERV in another NJ county was in attendance and wants me to speak to her victims advocate training. I of course jumped at the chance knowing that the more groups I spoke to the better and I also hoped their would be a continuing snowball effect. I received a call from Denise, a volunteer supervisor, and we continued our correspondence to schedule the date I would speak to her training group in July. This time I also brought along a copy of the ABC News interview as Denise would be able to make a copy for her volunteers to review. She felt it provided an additional perspective to the speech I had given.

I would continue to be busy booking additional speeches for the Fall, not only a return to WOAR but through them I would get very valuable referral that I use to this day...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Losing Someone I Didn't Have

...A few days after News Years my brother (Jim) called me with some news. He began to tell me that a week or two before Christmas he was putting our last name through Google and found information about our long estranged father. It was a two month old obituary and included a picture. He said he told our mom as soon as he found it and they went back and forth as to whether to tell me now or wait until the holidays were over. Since it had been several months already they didn't feel the urgency and didn't want to ruin my holidays so they decided to wait. Once Jim found out he decided to go on Facebook to see if he could find any of the relatives mentioned in the obituary. He 'friended' them and got responses in return. The story was my father had been ill and died in the home he lived in with his wife. I told my brother I wasn't angry with the decision they made to delay telling me. Jim and I have had each other's backs our whole lives and we will always protect each other as best we could from being hurt. I called my mom after hanging up with my brother and we talked for a little while but I had some processing to do.

This unexpected news opened up a can of worms for me. My father had abandoned us more than 30 years earlier. My parents divorced while we were barely in Kindergarten (Jim and I are 15 months apart). At the time we lived on Staten Island (where I'm originally from) and he returned to Connecticut where he grew up and his extended family still resided. We had sporadic visits and phone calls throughout my elementary and tween years but my dad was gone by the time I reached high school. He was the original deadbeat dad. He did not pay the agreed upon child support and back in the '70's there was little my mom could do to obtain it. My mother raised us on her own with the help of my grandparents where we would spend each Summer day for many years while my mom went off to work. I have the most amazing memories of those days with my grandparents.

Throughout my years growing up going to high school, college, etc. I lived my life, celebrated my accomplishments, suffered my defeats all without a father. To put it simply I hated him for giving up on me and my brother and making life difficult for my mom. Certain things were always just a little bit harder because I had no father in my life. I can admit to suffering classic abandonment issues as a result. I never had any plans to find him and make contact although my mom had urged me to do so from time to time. I always told her I don't want him to know how and what I'm doing good or bad. So when I received this news I was shocked at the feelings I was having. Even though I had no plans of ever speaking to him the option to was now off the table, done, period, final! The decision was now made for me. I did, thankfully, have one person I could talk to about this and it was my friend Renee. Without violating the details of her personal life, our situation was similar and I called to give her the news, talk about my feelings and bounce my thoughts off her and get some validation as to whether they were normal or not. She was a great sounding board, told me everything I needed to hear and by the time we hung up I was well on the way to working some stuff out in my head.

A few days later, when I felt ready I emailed my "new" cousin to introduce myself and learn about her life. We exchanged numbers and spoke on the phone. It was a bit odd but so nice to talk with a relative from my dad's side of the family. You see when he severed contact with us we also lost contact with that entire side of my family. Not that I was lacking in the relative department. I come from a very large, very close Italian family where your 2nd and 3rd cousins are like your first and you spend time not only with aunts and uncles but great aunts and great uncles. I was very lucky. Even though my new cousin and I didn't keep in touch much after that (she and her mom lived in Florida) the line of communication was now open. I have only recently joined Facebook and we are connected through that.

The most important thing that came out of this news is that I was able to handle it without a major meltdown. I am quite certain that all the counseling I received through the two trials gave me the tools to deal with the "loss" of my father and the wide ranging emotions that surrounded the news. I was able to manage my feelings without taking them to a dark place. Another one of Life's hurdles, check!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Moving Forward

...The Fall of 2010 proved to be productive for my mission to continue to speak out and give back. In September I returned to WOAR for their 2nd of two yearly victims advocate volunteer trainings and then in December I received an email from the Asst. Director of Counseling at Stockton College requesting that I speak again for their next Take Back the Night event scheduled for April 2011. It put a smile on my face know I would be part of the colleges growing campaign against sexual violence. She would be organizing things differently as they would have a full day event into the evening. The afternoon would be the Clothesline project and Denim Day and the evening would begin with Walk A Mile in Her Shoes. This is where the male students put on women's heels and walk through campus to take a stand against sexual violence. It really is a site to see and as a victim of sexual assault very moving to witness young men taking a public stand for violence against women! Whenever I attend a TBTN event or a Speak Out I take extra time to thank the men that are in attendance as it's really important for women who have been violently assaulted to see how many good men are out there. The Walk would lead directly to the student center and the evening would end with a BBQ, then I would give my speech and they would open things up for a Speak Out. This is informal and anyone who feels comfortable can stand up and tell their story. It's usually very emotional as many times this is the first time a victim has ever spoken about their assault.

My personal 'giving back' campaign was also very busy. In September I volunteered for Make-A-Wish's annual Walk for Wishes fundraiser. I have now proudly participated in 5 of these walks and love the energy that comes from the volunteers, walkers, wish children and their families and sponsors. I was still waiting for my mentor but it was one of those right place, right time things and was paired up at the event. I had to complete two wishes as a mentee before being eligible as a Lead on a wish. My mentor and I quickly got to work to grant those two wishes and within a month I was signing up for as many wishes as possible. I have said this before about volunteering, the people you help are always so grateful but it's almost selfish what you get back from helping them. The children are amazing because they are just children and don't know to feel sorry for themselves for being sick. They greet you sometimes shyly, sometimes enthusiastically but always with a smile on their faces and the parents/families are sometimes moves to tears by the simple act of us granting their children a Wish. It's an wonderful organization to donate your time or money. When November came along they begin a collaborative campaign with Macy's called Believe where any child can stop by a section of the store dedicated to Make-A-Wish and write a letter to Santa. I signed up for that and weekly gathered up from the stores "mailbox to Santa" counted the letters and sent them to Make-A-Wish offices. Macy's donates $1/letter. While counting those letters you can't help but read the children's lists for Santa and I enjoy doing this every year. 

The Thanksgiving holiday was busy as it's not only one of my favorites (I love to cook) but one of my closest friends was getting married that weekend. It was crazy windy the day of the wedding but the church ceremony was beautiful and the reception after was great party! December was full of office and friends Christmas parties, the usual shopping and New's Years Eve was uneventful. But there was news my brother would share with me in early January that shook me up unexpectedly...

Monday, August 11, 2014


...It's now July 2010 and been a year since the Idaho sentencing, the Primetime Crime interview and I was very busy. I just completed my day long training to be a Make-A-Wish volunteer and excited to be assigned a mentor and move on to granting wishes. A lot of good things were happening which brings me to a very common subject among victims of violent crimes, that of Forgiveness.

The topic of Forgiveness comes up frequently when I see interviews given by victims or family members of victims. I am very passionate about this subject. It is a very personal decision but in turn I feel victims are pressured somehow into feeling the need to Forgive their attacker. I do not believe this is a requirement in order to move on with your life. But I would never sway a victim making the decision to Forgive. They will receive the same support from me as long as they are comfortable with it and can live with themselves afterward.

I have chosen not to Forgive Jeffrey Marsalis for drugging and raping me. He doesn't deserve a gesture that is so grand. I believe Forgiveness is reserved for those people who are in your life or have crossed your path that have made mistakes whether intentionally or unintentionally that know they have done wrong, have sincerely apologized and genuinely promise not to hurt you again. Jeffrey Marsalis doesn't fit into that criteria. He is a sociopath in every sense of the definition. Anything he did or does is to only benefit himself and his apology to the Idaho judge just before sentencing didn't fool anyone. He is a violent sexual predator who didn't take responsibility for his actions and blamed the victims and given the chance would rape again.

Forgiveness takes a tremendous amount of soul searching and energy to achieve and I wasn't going to waste my time Forgiving Jeffrey Marsalis. Instead I decided to direct my energy towards good and not evil. I chose to help other sexual assault victims directly or indirectly by speaking out and telling my story and by donating as much as my free time was available to grant wishes to innocent children fighting life-threatening diseases. I donate to charities I am passionate about and stand up for causes that are important to me. My time is much better spent doing these things than it would be struggling internally to Forgive Marsalis. These things I have chosen to direct my efforts towards will last my lifetime and Forgiving Marsalis would come and go. I am also a practicing Catholic and made peace with God about this subject.

I am comfortable in the decision I made 4 years ago and like the day I decided to dedicate myself to helping put Jeffrey Marsalis behind bars I haven't regretted the decision not to Forgive Jeffrey Marsalis.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Return to WOAR

...I had not been to the WOAR offices in a non-counseling capacity since a year earlier when we shot the final footage for the the ABC News special. That day the other victims and I met the prosecutor Joe Khan there to get video of us all meeting together to talk about the case. Now I was returning as a survivor and not a victim. I would be sharing my story of being drugged and date raped and the legal process that followed with those amazing people who will be victims advocates. Their responsibilities will be to serve in an on-call capacity to either work the rape crisis hotline or accompany a rape victim to the hospital. There the advocate will sit with the victim as they are interviewed by the police and while they receive an exam from a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse who is specially trained to perform a rape kit. These will be used to gather evidence as the case is being investigated and once the attacker is arrested used by the prosecutor to submit during trial.

The advocates are angels on earth. They are trained to assess each individual situation and decide what help a victim will need if it's a call to the hotline. If they are accompanying a victim then they are someone who is simply a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on and support for a victim who may be feeling alone. I continue to speak to advocates and honored when asked to do so.

The week before I was scheduled to speak that Saturday in June I worked on editing my speech so it would suit the needs of the volunteers training. I was going to tell them how I met my attacker on, what led the prosecutors office to me and my decision to move forward with charges, how I was lucky enough to find WOAR and my counselor Laura and the path it took me on to being the strong healthy person standing before them. I was more than ready when I got up that day and took that very familiar drive to Philadelphia and the WOAR offices. It was quite a large group of trainees and I noticed it was a very diverse group. The faces staring back at me were women and men of all ages and races. I stood up in front of them, gave my speech and made it through with only a few breaks to catch my breath and fight back some tears (similar to the emotions felt during my speech at Stockton). The group was at an advanced stage of their training and they had a lot of questions which I was more than happy to answer. I was there to help them which would ultimately translate to helping victims. 

I walked out of there feeling really good. I was doing exactly what I wanted which was giving back. It clearly was seen as valuable to their trainees because I was invited back for the next training held later in the year...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Return to Stockton College

...I was so excited to have been invited to speak at Stockton College I emailed my former counselor Laura to check in with her and share my good news. We had been through so much together and since she was responsible for igniting my interest in speaking she should know of my first event. Laura was happy to hear from me and a few weeks later she would be emailing me this time to ask if I would speak at the WOAR victim advocates volunteer training they run twice a year and always include survivor speakers. Of course I said yes! There were several date options provided to me and I chose June. The timing would work perfectly as I was going to use my speech from last year's Take It All Back event for Stockton and then edit it slightly to fit the volunteer training. I was nervous since my speech a year earlier had been very difficult and emotional but I had a lot going on at the time with the Idaho verdict coming back the day before and working on the ABC News interview. I was confident in my ability to get through the speech with a bit more poise.

Around the same time I received confirmation from Make-A-Wish NJ that my application had been accepted and I was scheduled for training in July. Wow everything was going the way I wanted it to. After having struggled the past few years and the feeling of not being in control (because that's what the legal and court process does to you) everything was finally going the way I wanted and it was amazing. I was also keeping myself busy with friends and family functions but now that I had my life back on track I wanted to start dating again but that had always been a bit elusive to me. was crossed off my list long ago, I tried eHarmony which was OK but still new at the time so I wasn't being matched up with anyone I connected with and although it was fun the Speed Dating fad had come and gone. I guess I would have to leave it in the hands of fate at this point.

I was in frequent contact with Elana from Stockton about my upcoming speech for their Take Back the Night (TBTN) event. They were putting a lot of effort into it since they decided to relaunch. The events were going to begin with the Clothesline Project in the afternoon. This is where victims express themselves on t-shirts in which the color signifies their type of assault. In the same wing of the building tables were set up with all kinds of fun activities, giveaways and also organizations relating to awareness and safe sex. I would then give my speech in the quad outside this area of the building and finally the theater group would put on their performance of "A Night of Sex". Elana sent a flyer for my approval as it was going to include my name. It was very flattering to be a highlight of the evenings events. See flyer attached below.

Finally the day arrived, I was not only excited to be part of this event but I hadn't been back to campus in over 15 years and I would get to again see not only where I spent 4 very happy years but also the new buildings that have been built as part of the campus expansion. I met up with Elana early and she introduced me to some representatives from the local rape crisis center that she works with and we waited for the students to arrive in the quad. I got up to the podium and gave my speech to a small but attentive group of students and was proud how I made it through with only a few brief pauses to catch my breath and push away tears. After the speech for the first time I would take a few questions which I really liked. Then we proceeded inside to stroll past the clothesline and tables set up and afterwards made our way into the PAC (performing arts center) which was sold out for the performance. Afterwards they thanked me for attending and we made our way to the parking lot. 

It was a very long day by the time I got home but I enjoyed every moment. Now I knew I would be ready for my next speech at WOAR...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Speaking Out & Giving Back

...By August my life was beginning to get back to normal. The preparation and excitement surrounding the ABC News special and Idaho trial and sentencing were slowly fading into the background and it felt really good. It's all that I had wanted for nearly the past four years. I knew that there were two potential speaking opportunities available to me but I wanted to start working on my own to get others. On Friday August 21st I drafted a letter to Women's Studies Coordinator at Richard Stockton College in NJ which is where I graduated from 21 years earlier. I figured it was an easy transition for me since I was an alumni and could use that as part of my introduction to the subject and the offer of my speaking services. I wasn't ready to launch a full campaign so for right now the one letter would be enough and I would wait for the results.

In the meantime I had been continuing my counseling with Laura at WOAR and in that Fall she was going to give some very good news to me. I went in for my usual Thursday evening session and we began to chat. She shared with me how happy she was with all the progress I had made over the past few years and given the circumstances surrounding the completion of the trials and my beginning to speak out among other milestones she told me in her opinion there was no need for me to continue counseling and it would be our last session together. I was very happy and although unexpected, looking back at our past few sessions it was obvious. We spent that last hour together chatting and I also had to complete some exit paperwork. Then we said our good bye's and I left. It wouldn't be the last time I spoke with her or walked through the doors at WOAR but it would no longer be as a patient. I couldn't believe how far I had come since that awful week before Christmas 4 years earlier. I still had a long way to go but this was another step towards a mentally healthy future. I couldn't wait to call my mom and share the good news, a call I made on the drive home.

As the legal process and counseling were wrapping up for me I was beginning to feel as if I should somehow give back i.e. pay it forward for all the things done for me by complete strangers. Those were the people I had met/encountered while going through such an awful experience. Years earlier I had been a volunteer for an HIV testing facility as an evening receptionist and enjoyed it a lot. The appreciation showed to me by the staff for just a little bit of time was incredible. I wanted to go back to volunteering but what charity should I choose, there are so many. I first started looking at Big Brother/Big Sister and then my friend mentioned Make-A-Wish an organization she volunteered for a few years earlier. I took a look at their website and made my decision. This would be the perfect place to put my energy towards and in November I began the application process. More to come about Make-A-Wish in later blogs.

I didn't hear anything as a result of my email to Stockton College until about 6 months later and then things began to move very quickly. The women's studies coordinator emailed back apologizing for not replying as the email had slipped to the bottom of her inbox but she let me know she was forwarding my information. Less than a week later I received a call from the Asst. Director of Counseling Services at the colleges health center who was starting the Take Back the Night event again at the school. It was scheduled, as they usually are around the country, for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April. She invited me to be their speaker and I was thrilled. We had a lot of details to work out together and she said she would be getting back to me via email. I was thinking how cool it was that I would be returning to the college that I loved and speaking to the current students. Within the next month I would be contacted and another request would be made for my speaking services. Life really was good...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IC Summer Blog Tour-"Navigating the Writing Path: From Start to Finish"

Thank you to Dana Lynn Marsh who invited me to the tour sponsored by IC Publishing. Dana is a sexual abuse/rape survivor who utilizes her experience as inspiration for her blog. During April 2014, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Dana blogged every day, sharing a little piece of her story in each post. Dana chose to be absolutely raw in her writing in order to show the ugliness of her reality. This has resulted in helping many survivors come forward. Dana continues to blog weekly about her adventure through Dialectical Behavior Therapy coping with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder.

You can reach Dana on her blog and twitter:
TWITTER: @aftersilence87

1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find your inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?

I am currently working on one writing project which is telling my story of being drugged and date raped written in chronological order. I take the reader one day at a time from meeting my attacker on then through the legal and counseling process. I share not only the facts but my feelings at the time and now looking back on it.

My inspiration is my true story and the outline has already been written because it's my life. I do jump right into the writing as it's easier for me that way because once I begin typing it all flows out easily. The little research I do is from my own records to make sure I have specific dates correct and facts of the trials, etc.

2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on non-creative days? Do you keep to a schedule? How do you find the time to write?

I continue my writing project as it's the next page in my own personal story which has been a 10 year journey so far. I'm motivated by telling it in hopes that all I have been through will help another rape or sexual assault victim speak out and tell their story. They can see that all the pain I've experienced and hard work I've put into counseling eventually results in living a happy and healthy life.

Up until this blog the only writing I worked on were business bid proposals for my previous job. About 2 weeks into writing my blog I realized writing early in the day works best for me. I get up, go to the gym, eat breakfast and begin writing. I'm self-employed as a keynote speaker and sexual assault advocate so I find (make) the time because it's directly related to what I'm doing professionally.

3. How do you finish your project? i.e. When do you know the project is complete? Do you have a hard time letting go? Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?

I consider each blog post a mini-project so it's important to me to make sure that every detail of what occurred, thought that I had and feeling I felt from that particular day is documented and expressed. I read it over several times before I know it's complete. I do not have a hard time letting go as I am sharing what happened to me and not giving anything away. I sometimes do begin my next mini-project while writing the current one as it's one complete story and I want to make sure the next "page" will have all that it needs to be written properly.

4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

What has worked best for me is to write what I feel. Telling my story is deeply personal but being able to express myself the way I wasn't able to at the time the events were occurring has been amazing for me. I've never considered myself a creative writer but when I sit down to my laptop and start typing the days story (post) the words flow out like water from a faucet. Be true to yourself and the writing will come easily. For me it's as simple as that.

Next I would like to introduce Steve Cooper to continue the blog tour. Steve is a radio host and stand-up comic based out of Burbank, CA. His blog CooperThought deals with his observations, views and experiences. 

You can read what Steve has to say or listen to his show at the links below:
WEBSITE: CooperTalk
TWITTER: @Coopertalk