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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Developing Perseverance

...In late may I received a message from a mutual Twitter follower 'You Can Persevere'. They were publishing a book about people with perseverance stories and asked if I would want to share mine. I was extremely excited for the opportunity and flattered by the request so I responded with my acceptance and asked them for the details. They provided me with the number of words required, deadline date and who to submit the story. I had only written my story as part of a speech so I started with that document and began the editing process to fit the parameters they gave me. This was a chance for me to get my story to potentially a much broader audience than my speeches or even the podcast's had provided me. Not only that I had been thinking/planning to write a blog telling every detail of my life beginning from meeting my rapist on Although I had some ideas and was making notes here and there when thoughts popped into my head I was apprehensive to get started because I had never blogged before and the only other writing I had done were business proposals called RFP's. Writing this story submission would be just what I needed to get my feet wet and kick my motivation into high gear. I had a fairly short deadline which was fine with me because I had done a lot more with much less time. 

My speech has several versions each one slightly different and tailored to the audience, whether it be college students or advocates not to mention the cover page for my emails used when contacting universities, rape crisis centers and other organizations offering my speaking services. I sat down with all of these documents and pieced them together to create one plus included anything additional I felt it needed to get my story of perseverance across to the readers. I finished it in one day but set it aside and slept on it one night to review again the next day. To my detriment most times I am a thinker and when left with quiet time my mind races but since I began this mission of public speaking, advocacy and blogging I have learned to use it in a positive way. I woke up the next day and made a few adjustments before giving it a final read and then asked Steve to read it and provide his opinion and any comments. He is after all a comedian which makes him by default a writer and has been doing it for decades. I value his opinion and advice especially when it comes to this area of expertise. Once I received his seal of approval I attached it to my contacts email and hit send. It was a great feeling and I couldn't wait to see what would come of it in the final product of a book. As of yet there is no publication date in which I am anxiously waiting and just with the Primetime Crime and Very Bad Men interviews I look forward to see how it comes out.

This story submission was another big step for me. Starting a new business on my own is scary and I continually question if I am doing the right thing. Is my message reaching enough people? Will it really grow into what I hope it to be? I'm not afraid to say that without validation I don't know if it's worth it to continue and for how long. This particular story request would launch me into the next phase which is the blog and if that went well I had even bigger plans in the works...

Monday, September 29, 2014


...In the month following the Very Bad Men premiere things started to pick up on the media side of JoAnnSpeaksOut. Some directly related to the tweets and Facebook messages my ever helpful boyfriend Steve sent out in promoting the show for me. He has worked on his podcast for almost 5 years and a lot of the other LA comics have their own podcasts that Steve was familiar with and a few he had on his show. He asked if being a guest on one would be something I would be interested in and I jumped at the potential opportunity so he started reaching out to them. 

My first would be 'Paul Gilmartin's Mental Illness Happy Hour'. Paul's motto is "You Are Not Alone" and his weekly online podcast interviews with comedians, artists, friends and the occasional doctor all exploring mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and the podcast was born out of that. He gave me some information to prepare for the show and I arrived that day very nervous. Although I had told my story many times before it was in the traditional speaker setting and the interviews I conducted were for filming. The radio format was unfamiliar to me and I didn't know what to expect. Paul an experienced podcaster and excellent interviewer brought me through my story letting me speak the majority of the time but interjecting with questions that he knew would provide answers to what his listeners expected. The show lasted about an hour and a half and by the end I was really enjoying myself. Because I was being interviewed by a comedian there was just the right element of laughter to it. Afterward he said I did great so I was happy to have contributed well to his show. My interview has just been posted although a year later since he organizes guests in a particular order but with all the support I've received since originally recording it now has a far greater reach to my Followers & Friends.

Next I would be introduced to Rosie Tran and invited to speak on her 'Out of The Box' podcast. Rosie interviews a motley crew of her friends, colleagues and contemporaries in an interview and conversational style. She had me on to share my story as she also had a previous personal experience with sexual assault. In this interview we also discussed what my message is and moving forward after a date rape or sexual assault. Because we had this unfortunate experience in common we were able to have a more personal discussion during the interview. After this podcast aired I had received much support and my very first direct social media criticism from a "troller". I had written about this in a earlier post and as do these comments usually go they are written by someone who usually doesn't take the time to either listen to the entire interview or read the entire story before making their uneducated, uninformed, ignorant comments. So they are taken with a "consider the source" attitude.

Then I was invited by Jeannette Rizzi to be on her 'Blindsided' podcast. Jeannette opens her mike to experts in the field of suicide prevention, callers, as well as stories from her own personal journey. Although her podcast, one woman show and documentary center around the subject of suicide she tries to find the funny in the dark side of life. Also part of the show are Family Therapist Jeffrey Munn and Comedian Carlos Escobar and it's a light-hearted atmosphere. This one was different than the others because it airs live over the radio which brings another element to it. I also liked have several other people present and part of the show. Jeannette and the others asked me questions after telling my story and we also discussed rape jokes which have become more controversial of late so I weighed in on my opinion about how they shouldn't be told carelessly and just for the sake of throwing another joke into a comic's act. It was a fun hour that included a lot of laughter. Jeannette has since updated her format and invited me back a few months ago.

I am thankful and grateful to Paul, Rosie and Jeannette for all taking a chance on me as I was inexperienced in this particular medium although experienced in public speaking. With each podcast I was able to reach another audience in which I would not have had the opportunity to before. As I always say my goal is to speak out, get a conversation going and hopefully help a victim out there gain the strength to speak out themselves and get the help and support they need and deserve.

You can hear my podcast interviews on the media links tab of my website and I urge you to support and listen to Paul, Rosie and Jeannette's podcasts as they are doing very noble selfless work.

If you would like to listen to:

Paul Gilmartin's Mental Illness Happy Hour

Rosie Tran's Out of the Box Podcast

Jeannette Rizzi's Blindsided Podcast

Friday, September 26, 2014

Very Bad Men Premiere

...I received the long awaited air date information from Make Believe Media for the documentary episode I filmed in October. It was scheduled for Tuesday May 6th at 9:00pm and it was titled 'Spin Doctor'. I liked it. The same eager, nervous, anticipation came over me as did when the original Primetime Crime episode aired. Both times I had put my trust into the media with my story and my interview which is saying a lot because we all know what can happen in the editing room but I was confident they would be respectful or I never would have participated in the first place.

First thing I did was start texting and emailing my family and friends the information. They were all interested in supporting me, seeing how I looked and sounded on TV not to mention in the show and how it turned out. I also wanted honest opinions from everyone since we are all our own worst critics. I felt they could be somewhat impartial. For the same reason I also decided to send the information to my former and current speaking contacts. I put an email together explaining my participation in the show and this particular episode and politely asked if they had a chance to watch I would appreciate feedback. This way I could get professional opinions.

Next I would promote the show on social media. The whole point of my agreeing to speak out in the media about my story is for as many people to view it as possible and to start or continue a conversation. This would include victims, survivors, family members or anyone else interested in being part of a change in the culture and how sexual assault is perceived in society. The day before the show I tweeted all the rape crisis/awareness organizations some of which I am involved with and used all the related hashtags I could think of. Steve was also very helpful (as usual) and because of his career in radio and comedy he has thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers and a much broader reach than I do currently. He immediately received dozens of messages of support for me and promises to watch the show. And as I have begun to learn when you share your story then someone will share theirs with you. Unfortunately he received a couple of these messages too.

On Tuesday we repeated the same social media promotion and then (because the channel aired East and West coast on cable) we sat down at 6:00pm to watch. The show was very well done, got the correct message across and I was surprised how much of my interview they put into the show which received the most air time. It's fascinating to me what parts of the hours long interview they use and all the interior and exterior B-roll. I was very happy with the final result. After it ended I got a lot of supportive calls and texts and messages even into the next day for those who had to record and watch it later. I emailed the production company to thank them for their work and professionalism. I believe that we don't give enough positive comments and they were deserved the praise. Everyone was supportive and had no criticism to offer me but honestly I would have liked to hear something in case I have the opportunity again. 

For now I would put the television media behind me because I would have some radio opportunities coming up as my next challenge...

The Very Bad Men series airs on Investigation Discovery channel and you can view a clip from the episode 'Spin Doctor' on their website or possibly On Demand it varies with cable providers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting Back to Business

...As much as I enjoyed Part 1 & 2 of my visit back home when I got back to LA (my new home now) there was a lot of work to do. I had my first meeting scheduled with the Director of Strength United only a few days later. It was then that I was asked to join their organization as a speaker and with short notice invited to attend and speak at an advocates meeting that Saturday. This would be a group of students who attend CSU Northridge and volunteer to either monitor the rape crisis hotline or to accompany victims when giving statements to the police and/or getting a rape kit examination. They had yet to have a survivor speak at one of their meetings and the director thought it would be a valuable step in their learning and experience process. It's also always a good thing for me to hear other stories of victims and survivors.

Next I had to add the missing pieces to my website which were the recording of my speech to the Penn students and a logo. For the time being I would post the raw video footage but I wanted to get it edited down at some point. The video was an important part of my website because it added validity to it and as I was reaching out and trying to make contacts they would have a sample of my work to reference. The logo was a bit more challenging for me even more so than designing my website. I was completely out of my element here and didn't know who to hire but I had received an email solicitation a few weeks earlier and then a follow up email from a graphic designer so I googled her and checked out the reviews and took a chance and hired her. This next part was fun because she had a questionnaire for me to fill out so I could narrow down what I wanted and didn't want. Within days I received 4 samples, picked the one I liked and asked her to adjust it a bit and settled on the one you see now. I was extremely happy with the results and surprised how easy it was.

April was right around the corner with a very busy month planned as it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I had several requests from colleges to speak at their Take Back The Night (TBTN) events. In the 2nd week of April I would attend the UCLA Clothesline Project speak out and two weeks later I would be the keynote speaker at the CSU Long Beach TBTN event. Just a few days prior I had a meeting with the CARE Director/Counselor for the UC Irvine. This meeting also went very well as she invited me to be a part of their speakers bureau. In just four months I had made a lot of progress and couldn't have been happier. When I started this adventure in January I had no idea what success I would have with it and how long it would take to achieve but by the end of April I had my answers.

My general outlook on life is positive, it was how I was raised but don't get me wrong I had setbacks and rejections. My first real one was a response to an RFP I submitted to be a keynote speaker for the NOVA National Organization for Victims Assistance yearly conference. I let it bring me down a bit for an afternoon but snapped out of it and moved on by the next day. I was later told by a experience professional in the field and one familiar with this conference that they receive many more times the requests than they have the limited speaking opportunities so I felt a little better about not being chosen. I didn't have time to wallow in self pity anyway because May and June would prove to be pivotal...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mixed Messages

...I read an article today where in Oklahoma three law enforcement officials were arrested for sexually assaulting women on the job. A captain for the OK Highway Patrol offered some very valuable advice on how women should protect themselves when getting pulled over but then he says "to follow the law in the first place so you don't get pulled over." 

This is yet another example of the mixed messages sent out to women when it comes to reporting a sexual assault. We are urging victims to come forward and report the crime committed against them but when they do they are not always met with the support from law enforcement that I was lucky enough to receive. Every time I hear another story of a victim treated with disrespect it only drives me to work harder on my mission to speak out. Upon minutes of tweeting out this story I received a message back of woman who while waiting for her rape kit to be done was told "if you hang with dogs you get fleas." This was only the beginning to her day of horrors and mistreatment by law enforcement. I am also aware of victims who were told the statute of limitations ran out and subsequently not able to speak publicly of their attacker. These are just a sample of the many stories told to me by victims.

Currently there is a major campaign called End The Backlog where hundreds of thousands of rape kits just sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities are waiting to be tested. This means that the victims have bravely come forward to report a sexual assault, gone through what can be an uncomfortable and traumatic experience of the rape kit exam but the case then stalls because the DNA is never run through the local and national databases. Victims do not get justice and healing and this leaves the attacker free to rape again. I struggle with a similar circumstance in which if I had trusted my instincts that night and reported my date rape so many other women that met him after me would not have been raped by Jeffrey Marsalis.

All of the above add up to mixed messages sent to victims out there questioning whether they should report their sexual assault. We can't continue on this path. It needs to start with Law enforcement educating their police force properly. Why is it that some cities do such a good job of it and others not so much. They are there to assist victims and not offer personal opinions. We also need to continue this dialogue and call out those who are simply doing it wrong. 

If you would like to read the article that inspired me I have attached a link below:
Huffington Post Article

If you would like to learn more about End The Backlog I have attached a link below:
End The Backlog

Monday, September 22, 2014


...My first visit home actually turned into a two-part event. I had originally booked a flight home for the 2nd weekend in March to celebrate my mom's 70th birthday, have dinner with all my friends, etc. then I was asked to speak at Penn 1 week earlier which turned out to be a very busy 4 days. I flew in Saturday afternoon just in time to attend a fundraiser my brother had planned for my nephew's crew team at a local micro-brewery (Flying Fish) which happens to be my most favorite. It was a great success and I got to see all of his friends who after so many years of hanging out at my brother's house became my friends too. Sunday I made plans with my best friend Renee to visit another friend who had surgery that rendered her immobile only months after having a beautiful baby girl. We brought Lunch and food that they could reheat later and spent the day catching up. 

All weekend there was a snowstorm forecast to arrive Sunday into Monday which was the day of my speech. It had been an awful Winter back East with storm after storm and I wasn't going to be so lucky as to escape it by moving to LA. As it turned out the forecast continued to downgrade to about an inch and classes were not cancelled so the plans went on. My mom and I tested the recording equipment and off we went to Penn. The former unit chief prosecutor on my case was there and now after speaking together twice we collaborated on how to best present to the class. I went first with my mom in the front row and all the anxiety I had in the past that I built up in the end didn't result in my breaking down. I simply didn't look at her but at the class. Yet another challenge in my recovery and progress met with success. Chris Mallios went next then we sat down together at a table together and took questions. After class he offered me some very valuable advice regarding my speaking skills which I was extremely grateful for and used in future speeches. I look forward to seeing him again this Fall and thanking him personally.

I left on a flight Tuesday, the next day only to return the following Monday night. I would be visiting until Saturday this time and what I thought would be enough time to fit everything in didn't even come close. Mom gave me some visitors passes to her gym and we worked out together. No matter where I am even on vacation I always fit in a workout. I did get to have Brunch with Renee one day then Mom and I met her friend for Sushi the next night. I have known him since I was about 12 and we always have fun when we get together. Thursday was the big reunion with all my girls. I miss them a lot. Friendships that begin in adulthood are so different than the ones in youth. We have all been through so much together as a group and even though we keep in touch texting, facebook and by phone it doesn't replace getting together in person for parties, milestones, drinks and dinners. 

The next night was my mother's big birthday dinner. She chose the restaurant, a new favorite of hers that recently opened up by one of the country's top chefs. We are a Foodie family and I was looking forward to eating from the creative menu. They would also custom design a birthday cake of your choosing so that was our surprise to her. My niece came home from college for the weekend and we were all together. It was really the only present she asked for and was very happy. 

I woke up the next day and it was already time to go home. My flight was scheduled for the afternoon. I had been staying the week with my mom and stepdad so we relaxed around the house in the morning visiting until it was time to go to the airport and say good bye again. It doesn't get any easier no matter how many times you do it. I had only been gone 6 months so this whole thing was new to me. Getting off the plane for the first time to visit my hometown, not going to my condo as I had rented it and someone else was living there, not having my car or the gym I had worked out at for so many years were all so surreal to me. It felt a little off to me the entire time.  I had to accept being a grown up, get used to it and go back to my life in LA. Great things were happening and I deserved to enjoy them...

Friday, September 19, 2014

It's On Us

...On September 19, 2014 the White House is launched a new public awareness campaign to prevent sexual assault on college campuses. The message "It's On Us" aims to shift the way the public thinks about sexual assault. A PSA was released with compassionate celebrities helping to spread a message to not blame the victim or look the other way. They have partnered with RAINN to spread the message and mobilize men and women on college campuses and hopefully beyond with 5 ways to get involved. One of which is a pledge below and a message that I and many other victims, survivors, and sexual assault related organizations have been working to spread publicly for a very long time.

To RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.
To IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur.
To INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
To CREATE and environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable.

My own personal campaign began nearly 9 years ago when I walked into the Philadelphia SVU building and sat down with a detective to tell my story of being drugged and raped. I did not know at the time that after the trials ended 3 1/2 years later I would continue my speak out campaign and advocacy work and that it would become my full-time mission. I knew the personal support I received from law enforcement, prosecutors, media, rape crisis centers and colleges I spoke to but until my daily involvement I didn't know of the large community of support from other survivors and organizations. I then realized how much the movement was growing exponentially and more recent support provided by the White House and Congress not to mention just getting people talking when they never would have before. 

Awareness for phrases like victim blaming and engaged bystander spread far beyond just victims, survivors and the anti-sexual assault community but to where the public knows what they mean and can act if necessary. The explosion of social media has allowed us to be in a position to shame those who misbehave and I mean those who speak or act out in a vulgar, inappropriate, unacceptable manner. We all have to right to be safe whether from verbal or physical sexual assaults. 1 in 5 will be assaulted on college campuses and every two minutes another American is sexually assaulted, but because of the work completed sexual assault has fallen 50% in recent years and that's because awareness has increased. There is a lot of work still to be done but with campaigns like "It's On Us", "1 is 2 Many" and the continued awareness and advocacy I am confident we are on a continued path of success. 

For more information on the "It's On Us" campaign, how to get involved or donate to support the Week of Action go to...
Week of Action

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Getting Results

...Within the first couple of months of JoAnnSpeaksOut I was making a significant amount of progress considering I had to make all new contacts. The timing was right too as April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I could promote my prior yearly speeches given at the Stockton College event in hopes I would be invited to any Take Back the Night events on local campuses. One of the very first things I did was submit an application to RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) to be accepted into their Speakers Bureau. They are the gold standard and one of the most respected organizations to offer multiple services for sexual assault of any kind. To my surprise and excitement I received an email within days of my mailing the application welcoming me into their organization as a member of the Speakers Bureau. Steve had to peel me off the ceiling I was that happy. I then immediately called my family to share the good news. In my opinion this set the tone for my entire plan and signaled I was off to a very good start. 

The following month contained requests to meetings with two crisis centers both affiliated with very large LA and Orange County Universities. I was invited into their version of speakers bureaus also. Strength United affiliated with CSU Northridge had a victims advocacy retraining meeting coming up a week later and they asked that I speak to them and tell my story. Next, I booked a speaking event at CSU Long Beach for their TBTN and through RAINN I was invited to UCLA's Clothesline Project Speak Out both of which were in April.

In the middle of all this I flew home to NJ because the professor at Penn so kindly flattered me by saying she was having trouble replacing me with another speaker and invited me back for the Spring semester. This was a great opportunity on many levels #1 I could go home and visit my family and friends, #2 I needed to record one of my speeches for the media tab on my website and this would allow me to do that. Their was a small complication with the plan which was I had to ask my mom to attend and work the video recorder. After 5 years of me avoiding having her seeing my speech live I would have to suck it up and accept her presence there. Don't get me wrong she had asked many times it was just something I wasn't ready for but as I've said many times the healing process is a series of endless steps towards being whole again and this was another one of them. When the day came it wasn't as bad as I had built it up to be but let's be honest it never really is now is it?

All in all as many non responses or declines to my speaking services I got the positive feedback and scheduled events were enough to keep me focused and moving forward. I considered myself very lucky and tried to remember that every day when I sat down to my laptop and began working. Very few of those self-employed get off to such a good start and it seems I was laughing in the face of those difficult odds. I was feeling pretty good about myself which I should because it was me that I was selling...

Affiliations and Links
Strength United
UC Irvine Counseling Center

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Year, New Career

...So I had never started my own business before or worked for myself in any capacity. I was entering into a brave new world. The good thing was I had ideas and a plan beginning with putting a press kit together. First I would reach out to the professor at Penn and the counseling director at Stockton College for reference letters. They both replied immediately and were happy to provide me with one. While I was waiting to receive those I drafted my new resume. This one would be specific only to my speeches, media, volunteer work and education related to my story of date rape as my previous career achievements were irrelevant. I was surprised as to how much I accomplished in 5 years when it was only something I was doing on the side. Next I had to get professional head shots done to be used in the press kit, twitter page and later my website so I booked an appointment with a photographer Steve had used and liked. 

Now that all of those parts were moving it was time to get on twitter but before I did that I had to create a name for my company and a mission statement. This wasn't all that hard because since the beginning I talked about what that was in my speech. It was simple and JoAnnSpeaksOut was born. I created my twitter page and was ready to become familiar and start connecting with other people and organizations who shared the same mission as mine of awareness and advocacy. I worked on it every day learning as much as I could and it was starting to pay off slowly.

In the meantime I had to get my information out there so I could start booking speeches. Thankfully research was a key part of many jobs I had in the past and that skill was going to come in very handy. Moving not just to a new area but another coast left me unfamiliar with the many colleges, universities, rape crisis centers and organizations I would need to contact. The good news there was no shortage of them and I took my other business skill for creating spreadsheets and began filling it with names, email addresses and other pertinent information to refer back to later. Then I drafted an introduction and began my email campaign. I was feeling very satisfied and productive, something that had eluded me for a long time in the course of a work day. My research was not only paying off but the information would then lead me into other directions that I didn't even know existed. I was also getting some responses which validated what I was doing was working. 

The next big challenge was the website. I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it to look which was a good thing but didn't know how I would get to my end result. First I had to make sure the JoAnnSpeaksOut domain was available for purchase which it was so I snapped it up from GoDaddy and called for advice on website design. The told me my options and what it would cost and since everything else involved with my venture was new to me I figured why not design the website myself using one of their templates of course. I had no creative talent to speak of but what I did have was a vision and ideas and I took that as far as I could. Weeks later and countless phone calls to customer service I launched my website and even received a few compliments.

I am not ashamed to say that I was really proud of myself. Everything I had been doing so far was for the first time but the difference, I wasn't scared or apprehensive nor did I second guess myself. What drove me every day is that I committed myself to helping others and all the hard work I put in every day was for my benefit. I no longer worked myself to exhaustion for someone else's profit. The first few months of JoAnnSpeaksOut I had overcome obstacles and challenges but I finished my day feeling satisfied unlike any other time in my work life. This from someone who NEVER thought she could work from home and for herself. I'm living proof that you can do what you never imagined you could...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Settling In to My New Life

...The next month was an absolute whirlwind, stressful and emotional on an entirely different level. I had done all that work closing the chapter on my life in NJ but now I had more work to do starting my new life in CA. Each day was a mirror image of the previous month. I got up and went to the gym (a very thoughtful yet practical birthday present from Steve on my visit two months prior). Since I was 19 years old it was the one thing I could count on for consistency and structure and a guaranteed stress reliever. I would then come home and continue unpacking. I had the most amazing walk in closet in my condo but now had to set up a new one that was not a walk in and laid out much differently. I admittedly have a lot of clothes and shoes. Even before the moving truck arrived I had the 4 suitcases I brought on the plane, a trunk full of boxes and suitcases from my car being shipped to unload plus all the boxes I had been sending ahead for the past couple of months. My office/dressing room needed to be painted, a chore I really, really hate but not unfamiliar with plus new blinds to be ordered and installed. I had also given Steve a to do list of things to get rid of before I arrived (mostly crappy furniture and junk he kept for no good reason) which thankfully to my daily phone or text harassment he completed. If he did that I promised to do all the organizing when I got here. Guess who made out on the deal? Hint: not me.

Steve really did his best to make me feel welcome and distract me from missing my family and friends. Unfortunately his 50th birthday fell five days after I arrived so I wasn't capable of doing anything big but I gave him a great gift and took him out wherever he wanted to for dinner. I am making it up to him this year big time. We are spending a weekend in Phoenix to see our favorite Philadelphia Eagles play with a huge group of Eagles Nation fans so I get to share that gift. Steve thought a night at the theater would cheer me up and he got tickets to Evita at Pantages in Hollywood a place we had been many times before to see shows including on my very first visit. The next weekend we got tickets to a UCLA football game (my first college game ever since mine didn't have a team). We went with his friend and tailgated with another family. It was a lot of fun and the distractions were helpful. For months my life and living spaces had been so unsettled and I just wanted to not be packing or unpacking or planning moving details. I wanted it to be over already. My third Sunday there we were at the bar watching our Eagles play with some other fan transplants and I finally got the call that the transport company arrived in LA with my stuff. I was really happy, since they had given me a 10-21 day window I was basically waiting for a call every day at this point. They would be at our apartment to unload the next morning. Once that was done we could call the carpet cleaners which had never been done in Steve's 8 years in residence. Finally the Sunday before Thanksgiving I emptied that last box and took it to the dumpster. I couldn't believe it but I was done. I looked around at all I had accomplished and was actually satisfied. 

The timing was perfect because we had been tossing around the idea of what to do for Thanksgiving and finally settled on having anyone over who had no other family in town or plans for the Holiday. Next to Halloween Thanksgiving is my favorite. As a native New Yorker and a childhood attendee of the Macy's parade I got up every year to watch it, got my workout in (allowing me to eat whatever I wanted the rest of the day) and watch football. Growing up in a large Italian family it was a fun Holiday and we would spend hours at the dinner table then stay at that same table eating dessert and playing cards. I love to cook and Steve and I had several successful parties during my previous visits so he invited our usual friends and anyone else who wanted to stop by. It was a great day and as much as I missed my family I enjoyed having everyone over. The house was lively and festive and the guests stayed until late into the night. 

December came along and both excited to get a tree, our first in this apartment (we had gotten and decorated a tree the year before at my condo). Steve had a few decorations but 90% of the house and tree trimmings were mine. The place looked great and I proudly texted pictures to everyone back home. We did our Christmas shopping for each other and family except this time I had to ship everything along with receiving their gifts in the mail. I skyped with my family two days before Christmas while we opened each others gifts. Christmas Eve for Italians brings the tradition of The Feast of Seven Fishes. In NJ, NY, PA you can find plenty of Italian restaurants that serve the meal but out here nowhere to be found so we cooked one ourselves. I attended Mass and Steve came with me even though he's not catholic. It was very sweet and generous of him. Steve and I decided to host the same "orphan" holiday gathering for Christmas dinner. But for New Years Eve we were invited to a party. We went for Indian food then for a drink to celebrate the east coast New Year at 9:00pm and off to the party for my first CA new year. The party was fun and I enjoyed meeting new people.

I had made a deal with myself that once the holidays were over I would get my new public speaking business and advocacy work started. My adjustment period was over and a new year would truly signify my new life and career...

Monday, September 15, 2014

California Here I Come!

...After months of anticipation and planning I woke up on Friday October 25th 2013 aka Moving Day. The moving company had come and gone the day before to pack up what I hadn't and put all the boxes and small furniture in the truck that would then go into a tractor trailer with other customers prized possessions and make it's way to my final destination of Burbank. It seemed like a simple plan at the time. I would get up, do a last load of laundry, tidy up the condo as it was still being shown by the rental agent, finish packing my two checked bags (free for me because of my frequent flyer status) and my two carry on bags then await my mom, brother and sister-in-law to arrive, say good bye to them and be taken to the airport for my 8:30pm flight. In reality none of it happened that way. I was exhausted from the past two months and all the planning in the world would not prepare me for the mental breakdown I had that day. As with every day previously that I spent packing it always took longer than anticipated and the clock moved at lightening speed. By the time I got out of the shower and looked around at what still had to be done I was completely overwhelmed and called my mom in a full blown emotional breakdown. She wasn't supposed to come over until mid-afternoon but as she drove home from a client appointment she said she could come over immediately and sort everything out that was left to do. I called my brother next and he said they could come over early too.

They all arrived at my house but I continued to freak out about what still had to be done as they continued to tell me it wasn't as bad as I thought and what didn't fit into the suitcases could easily be put in a box and shipped to me. My mom said she would come by the next day and take care of it. I think I just needed them there so I wouldn't be spending the last few hours in my house alone. It was my home for 19 years and the place I resided in the longest in my life so far. There was my first 9 years in NY, then 14 years through middle and high school then after college with my mom. I had an apartment somewhere else when I first moved out on my own then the condo where I spent really most of my adult life. Even though I wasn't selling the place I was leaving most of the furniture left for rental purposes and I would never be moving back so it was yet another good bye for me. The three of them sat around as I finished my packing and gave away those last few cleaning supplies and food from the the fridge and cabinets that I hadn't eaten. I finished up with about 1/2 hour left. We chatted about nothing then I hugged tightly my brother and sister-in-law, spent a few minutes alone in the condo for a last look around and walked out the door. 

It was a sunny, Fall afternoon and we got to the airport without any traffic. We pulled up to the terminal, got all my bags out and tried very hard not to get teary eyed. Mom had already planned to come visit in early January so at least we had that to look forward to. I made my way to the gate, (one I had sat in before as I had flown so many times to LA the airlines use the same ones) and sat down. It was there that I had my second meltdown of the day. I honestly couldn't wait to get on the plane in my first class upgraded seat (another perk for frequent flying) and get a glass of wine in my hands. This whole day felt like being in limbo. I didn't live in NJ anymore and I didn't live in CA yet. I really couldn't take much more of it. I called my best friend Renee who had come over to my house the day before to say good bye and I quietly sobbed (I really wasn't interested in causing a scene). I told her what I was feeling and she listened as she had always done so well before. I called to talk to my mom again briefly. Then I chatted with some other women sitting next to me waiting to board about their upcoming vacations which helped a lot too. It had always been easier for me to focus on others than go on and on about my nonsense.

Finally the boarding call came and I was practically the first one seated knowing that the flight attendant gets you a drink immediately, one I needed so desperately to calm my nerves. I texted my brother as I always did from the plane to rub it in. We tease each other endlessly. I texted Steve to let him know I had boarded so he could track the plane online. Ever the thoughtful boyfriend he had surprised me earlier with the information that he hired a car service to pick me up and they would be at the airport to take me to my new life in style. He would be going out with friends but waiting at home by the time I arrived which wouldn't be until after midnight. The plane was done boarding and made its way to the runway and as we took off I looked out the window and after weeks and weeks of them I said my final good bye...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Still Victim Blaming?

...As a supporter and advocate of violence against women I was surprised and sickened yet again by the victim blaming I was seeing on TV after the Baltimore Ravens game last night. The reporters approached women wearing Ray Rice jerseys and asked them why they would continue to support a player who is no longer on the team and suspended by the NFL not because of an injury or minor infraction but because he brutally assaulted and knocked unconscious his then fiancee and now wife. Their comments ranged from 'she hit him first' and 'he had a right to defend himself' to 'he's a good man who has done a lot for the city of Baltimore'. It didn't matter the reason, excuse or comment they had (some actually had the facts of the assault incorrect). What was troubling to me is that women continue to blame the victim.

Victim blaming is one of the biggest obstacles domestic violence and sexual assault organizations and prosecutors have to overcome. Why is it that with any other crime against a person the victim is not blamed? Burglaries, murders, carjackings, home invasions, muggings I could go on and on but you see where I am going with this and it is that when others stand in judgement or comment it's not directed toward the victim or anything they may have done to provoke a crime committed against them. What makes people so uncomfortable about a women being beaten by an intimate partner or raped whether be it by a stranger on the street or out on a date? Why isn't the first thought or words out of someone's mouth 'Is she OK?' not 'What was she wearing, was she drunk, what did she do to provoke such rage from a man???' 

I have been on the receiving end of victim blaming as a survivor of date rape. I sat in court and listened to my rapists defense attorney sweet talk a jury into believing that because my attacker fabricated his profile on and lied directly to our faces about his life as a doctor and astronaut we were bitter. He told the jury that bitterness lead to our coming forward and accusing him of drugging and raping us. As much as you know what happened to you is not a lie listening to someone else deflect blame makes you feel very, very small. It is for that simple reason I speak out and advocate because I don't ever want another victim to feel like that.

We have come a long way since the introduction of the Violence Against Women Act was introduced in Congress 20 years ago but unfortunately there is still a long way to go. For the most part the coverage I have been watching this week has made me proud of the work done by all the advocates who have come before me. The sports commentators, the morning show hosts, the local and national news anchors and reports from the man/women on the street didn't hesitate to show their support for the VAW cause and the disgust for those opinions who for some misguided reason think otherwise. 

What gets me every time is the victim blaming from other women. As women we need to stand together and support each other not criticize. Women are the backbone of society and we can do anything and everything we put our mind to but so many want to stand back and point out flaws, failures and generally what other women are doing wrong. It needs to stop! We need to come together because until women stop victim blaming then how are those men that do it motivated to stop too. Let's challenge each other to change the culture and ask those who do victim blame to educate themselves so as not to continue the cycle into the next generation...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Best Laid Plans

...In the days following the Very Bad Men interview I would continue packing, signing contracts with the moving company and car transport company and trying to rent my condo. My brother had just come back from a vacation with my sister-in-law to of all places Orange County and LA and had actually met up with Steve while out there. Then my mom was on her way to a cruise from Prague to Russia and would return only days before my final departure. On top of all that I had been included in Evite's to my friend's surprise birthday party and another friend's daughter's Christening. The reality was beginning to hit me that I will not be around anymore for all the events, holidays, parties, etc. I was the one who always said yes to every invitation. I spent a lot of time at my mom's in the Summer out by her pool and barbequing and in the Winter we would go to the movies. There would be no more Eagles football Sundays at my brothers. As I said before in the whirlwind of the past few months in anticipation of resigning from my job and my new life in LA I was taking one day at a time but now I was hit with the fact that life would go on after I was gone and I would not be a day to day part of it and that made me sad. It was way harder than I ever though it would be. The funny thing is I had gotten support from everyone and admittedly they were envious. But I suppose that's natural because I was going off to a new life and they would be home living theirs. The grass is most certainly always greener.

So I have talked about my OCD and my never ending planning and quest for perfection with anything I do but as much as I would like to I can't control everything. Monday morning October 14th I received a call from the auto transport company rep. My car was scheduled to be picked up the morning of Friday October 25th. I had an 8:30pm flight to LA that evening. The rep told me that they had a carrier in North Jersey and they could guarantee the rate given to me if I have them pick up the car the next day. Their schedule had changed and my original date wasn't available anymore. This was all explained to me when I signed the contract, shipping a car across the country is not as simple as you think. My mind began racing and I needed to think so I asked if I could call him back shortly. I had to call Steve because he was going to have to receive the car and at that point cash is required for the balance plus we had planned all along for me to get the garage space and his car would get street parking since it was older than mine. Then I had to procure a car to use for the next 10 days so I called my brother. My niece was away for her first semester at college and her car was parked in the alley behind their house, he said it was no problem to borrow but out of respect for her to send her a text to confirm, which I did and so did she. OK so obstacles overcome time to call back the rep. The driver would possibly be arriving that evening so I had to be on call but more likely it would be Tuesday morning. 

Then in a flash of clarity and brilliance I realized I could fill the trunk with luggage and boxes giving me more to unpack later while I waited that 10-21 days for the moving truck to arrive. The rep told me their was a weight limit on the car so don't go crazy but as long at it was out of site locked away in the trunk I could fill it up. I spent the rest of the day strategically packing and filling the trunk until their was no space left. The unexpected revision in my moving plan turned out to be not so bad after all. That night after the packing was done, the car was loaded and I finally was able to sit down and relax and talk to Steve he of course took a minute to remind me that it was all going to work out in the end. Up until that moment I had been frequently calling him in a panic near or in tears for whatever was stressing me at the moment. He would calmly talk me off the ledge so I could get on with the next task. That routine would continue not only until I got on the plane but until I took the last unpacked box to the dumpster the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

I still had a long way to go...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Very Bad Men Interview

...I woke up the morning of the interview as prepared as I could be at this point. I ate a small breakfast and spent a lot of time on hair and makeup. I got a call that the crew hit a little traffic coming from Philly to my house in NJ so that gave me some time to pace around the house nervously. Once they arrived the whirlwind day began. It was a team of 4 including the director, cameraman, sound/audio tech and a production assistant. They were all extremely friendly and we all got along immediately. I gave them a quick tour of my one-bedroom condo and they unloaded all their equipment, so much so I couldn't believe that it actually fit into my living and dining room but it did. Blackout drapes were put up on the windows and patio doors, furniture was moved and cameras, lights and audio equipment was all set up. While all that was going on I was working with the director Mary on the details of the interview which she would be conducting. We reviewed the questions and any comments I had, talked about how she would take me through the questions and at what point we would break for lunch. Once the crew had everything set up it was time to get me seated, positioned for the camera, get the lighting and audio tested and trim any stray hairs sticking up (that was amusing) since the HD camera picks up everything. We were ready!

The interview would take me step by step through my story but also included questions pertaining to how I was feeling and what I was thinking at the time of certain milestones during the legal and court process. Sometimes we had to stop filming for outside noises, planes, sirens as I lived in a busy area. The interview was going very well and I was pretty comfortable answering the questions without hesitation and because I had given my speech so many times was able to keep my emotions in check until the very end. Throughout the interview, because it wasn't a scripted TV show, Mary would improvise questions occasionally as it was necessary with the answers I was providing. She put a question to me that had never been asked before but not as if it was something I hadn't thought about at one time or another. She asked me "Who is Jeffrey Marsalis?" As I answered it I became very emotional. I said "He is nobody. He created this fake life, fake career, fake everything. He sits in a jail cell with nothing to show for all his years on the planet except that he's a violent criminal who hurt so many women and doesn't think he did anything wrong. He is nothing. He is pathetic." I know why I got so upset and began crying. It's because at that moment I realized that a man who is a nobody that left no positive mark on society caused so much damage and pain to me, to the other women, to our family and friends. It hit me like a ton of bricks that someone like him could do so much harm.

As late morning turned into early afternoon and we progressed so well with the interview we all decided not to disrupt the flow but to alter our schedule and complete the interview before breaking for lunch. I felt good when I was done and happy with the answers I provided. We went to a local restaurant for lunch and had fun chatting about ourselves and not much business. They were all very nice people and compassionate given the subject matter their company produced. After lunch we resumed the days schedule including portraits and still shots of me inside and outside. It was a very typical autumn day in NJ, cloudy, cool, and a light breeze through the trees in my neighborhood which was perfect for filming. They recorded BROLL of me inside on the computer, looking out the window, looking away from the camera and outside of me walking down the street. This is all the footage you see that they cut to when watching an extended interview. Finally they had everything they needed, packed up their equipment, put my furniture and house back in order and left. The show was scheduled for a Spring air date TBD, so now I had to wait for the final product.

I sat down for a few minutes to take it all in and unwind. I couldn't believe how my condo looked like they had never been there. It was way past 7:00 and about a 9 hour day so I decided to take a shower and then eat but not before calling my mom to let her know how it all went. Admittedly giving the speech on Monday and then the interview Wednesday I was mentally and emotionally drained. I frequently give speeches and just as frequently forget what it takes out of me until after. You would think I have learned by now but I don't but what I do is acknowledge it when I do. I can't be too hard on myself otherwise what good would come from it. 

My one day break from the big move was over and the next morning I would have to wake up and continue the process...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putting a Face on It

...Today as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act I wanted to write about a story pertaining to domestic violence that's been in the news this Summer. That is the brutal beating by an NFL player on his then fiancée now wife earlier this year in an Atlantic City casino elevator. We had up until September 9th only seen the disturbing footage of her being dragged out of the elevator unconscious by her abuser Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice. The NFL had suspended him for two games and a deal was made with the Atlantic County prosecutor's office for him to attend anger management classes. There was outrage coming from everywhere and not just women's and domestic violence organizations but from the sports media and athletes current and former. This resulted in an overhaul of the domestic violence and sexual assault policy by the NFL and an apology by the commissioner Roger Goodell which was praised by all as being a step in the right direction. When I first heard the news that the entire video had been obtained and released by TMZ that morning which included the abuse before entering and inside the elevator. It was shocking and upsetting to say the least and everyone was talking about it. I receive many breaking news alerts for all types of media and the first one I got was from SportsCenter reporting as a result of the new video Ray Rice was released by the Baltimore Ravens and then a short time later indefinitely suspended by the NFL. My boyfriend and I turned our TV to ESPN and watched the reaction and coverage the rest of the afternoon. I couldn't get the moment of abuse out of my head and was close to tears many times.

What I want to talk about today is not the failures made up to this point by the NFL, the Commissioner, the Atlantic County prosecutors office or anyone else involved for that matter but my first thoughts after viewing the video. This now put a face on it for all those who have thankfully never been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. I know there a so many compassionate people out there who maybe not publicly but privately support victims and there are also those that excuse, criticize and blame. If you are not somehow personally involved it's abstract. As a victim of sexual assault I know first hand what it's like and when I hear a report or meet another victim I don't have questions or comments or judgements. I can only explain it as being unconditional. I believe them and stand by them. Now the video is out and everyone can see what it looks like. Not just the bruises that surface later.

If everyone could put the face of a loved one in the place of the victim Janay Palmer in that elevator then wouldn't we all think and react differently? There was a monumental amount of support yesterday for the awareness of domestic violence but there were still those questions and blaming the victim comments. She responded the next day with a statement and what I ask is that everyone not read into or judge her comments. She is a victim and has so many things going on emotionally and mentally that you won't ever understand. Read her comments if you wish but set them aside without another thought. Please! Domestic violence and sexual assault victims respond with common behaviors as a result of their experience that is hard for the average person on the street to relate. I am living proof.

I'm also going to give my readers a reality check. You most likely have sat in a room with, walked past on the street, stood by in the coffee shop a domestic violence or sexual assault victim today. We are everywhere and we are really good at hiding the deep dark secret. When I began telling more of my family and friends several had personal stories of their own to share regarding family members who have been assaulted. This makes me so sad that there are so many out there. You just don't know unless they choose to tell you.

After the news broke I sent out a few tweets. One of which was to TMZ and Harvey Levin thanking them for releasing the video. Although graphic I personally felt it was necessary because even though we had seen the last part of it where she is being dragged out of the elevator I believe the reality of what happened inside of the elevator was important for all to see. I received a tweet in response from someone who was trolling any supporters of the video release and this is what it said "Suck it hoe". Really?! I actually broke out into uncontrollable laughter because it was so ridiculous. If you're going to criticize or insult me then come up with something a lot better than that. I would have much more appreciated an eloquently worded insult but I guess beggars can't be choosers. My point is no matter what there are people out there who will only see this subject the way they want. Not for the reality in front of them.

I do in my heart believe that the more we talk about it the less taboo it is and the more informed the public will become. In an interview by Tamron Hall with Joe Biden on The Today Show Mr. Biden talked about how little interest and a lot of push back he got when introducing the Violence Against Women Act bill 20 years ago. Because he didn't give up there have been so many important changes as a result. Let's continue to support the victims any way we can. Since starting my speak out mission over 5 years ago I have met so many good people who are doing their best to support. I refuse to be discouraged by the ignorant and uninformed. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Good Bye's

...Week 2 in preparation for the big move begins with my speech to the Penn Victimology class except this one would be a little different. Dr. Brown also invited the former prosecutor who had spoken at the Psychiatry Seminar in January along with me. She liked how we complemented each other for several reasons one is he uses my case in his speeches because of its high profile nature and the alarming number of sexual assault victims for one rapist. In January we had naturally looked too each other during each of our speeches and the Q & A afterwards when we referred to each other to better answer certain questions. As was the order in January I would speak first then he would speak next but we could jump in during the Q & A for the students. 

When the professor introduced me she had some very flattering words to say about this being my last speech to her class as I was moving on with my life on another coast. I was able to expand on that a little during the speech and let the students know that there are good things waiting for you in life even after a severe trauma and life changing experience. As always I stayed after to chat with any students who wanted to privately and then the professor and I said our good bye's. We didn't know at the time that she would be inviting me back.

Although I was getting used to saying farewell to all those people who were important in my life it didn't get any easier. It seemed as if every day there was someone new I was catching up with then saying goodbye. I was emotionally exhausted from the all the details and plans I had to take care of on top of knowing I would not be seeing those important in my life or available to be part of the life events I had for so many years. I tried not to think of that though because otherwise I would not be able to function. It was one day at a time with me. The next day I made plans to meet my cousin in NYC for the day (she lives in Queens) so we could see the Jackson Pollack exhibit and have lunch. We are only a few weeks apart in age and have been as close as sisters since birth. When I lived on Staten Island our moms got together all the time and so did we. Once I moved to NJ we continued to stay close through High School, College, etc. Even if we didn't speak for a while when we did it was as if no time had passed. I would not leave the East Coast without seeing her.

I also spent time finalizing the details for the documentary interview at my house the next day. The production manager sent me their schedule and it was going to be a very full, very long day which was fine with me as long as I knew that going in. I had my outfit picked out, got a makeover and bought makeup that would look good on HD cameras and of course cleaned the house. In the midst of the moving madness it was actually good to have one day that would take my mind off of it all and focus on what was really important to me and my career future. I had lived in my condo for 19 years and a minimalist by nature so clutter wasn't an issue when it came to the packing part. Twice a year I would go through my clothes and shoes for donation. But there is nothing like picking through your life piece by piece and deciding what to take, what to give away, and general reminiscing every time I pulled something out. It becomes overwhelming. It would be a welcome distraction to have the production team at my house the next day and I was looking forward to it...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Moving On

...I woke up Monday morning feeling so good about not having to go to work anymore. Now my full-time job was to prepare for the big move. Not that I hadn't started preliminary research already on cross country moving services and auto shipping companies but there were so many things that had to be revised, changed, updated etc. when moving to a new state. I had to get new health insurance, new car insurance notify the mortgage company and homeowners insurance that I was going to be renting out my condo. The list was long and when I would happily cross something off I thought of more to add on. I confessed to this before that I am extremely organized not only as a result of my OCD but as part of being under the Virgo sign on the astrological calendar. Look up the definition in the dictionary and it's me. I love lists and order and everything has to be done a certain way, when this doesn't happen it admittedly gets ugly. I describe it as being in my own private hell.

There was a lot I wanted to accomplish the first week out before my move date because the second week I not only had my Fall semester speech at Penn on Monday but on Wednesday the camera/production crew from Make Believe Media will be at my house for an entire day to film me for the documentary episode of Very Bad Men. On top of all this I was making plans to individually see all my friends plus my cousin in NYC before I left for LA. My mom had done a huge BBQ with everyone in August but I wanted to visit with everyone separately instead of a group setting. Some of my girls also have kids and I wanted to see them too. Just so you know a month wasn't enough time! I set a routine of getting up each day, going to the gym then coming home and packing, make phone calls. The days were endlessly busy and exhausting.

Since the Summer I had started to go through my closets and cabinets and pull anything out I was never going to use or wear again and box it up for donations to the Vietnam Veterans. They have always been my go to and were getting a lot of items as a result of my move. I had also been sending anything I could fit into small boxes to Steve who was piling them up in the 2nd bedroom of his apartment soon to be our apartment. This would give me a head start on unpacking when I arrived as the moving company would take up to 21 days to arrive with the big stuff. At the moment that 2nd bedroom was a waste of space and full of, for lack of a better word, Steve's Junk. The room had a bright future ahead as my office/dressing room and future guest room for East coast visitors. I had plans for new window blinds and a cheery coat of paint for what had been a pathetic looking space. To this day almost a year later Steve likes to tease me about having my own room but he knows all the work I did to the room and around the rest of the apartment made it our home.

Sunday would be my final volunteer event with Make-A-Wish NJ. It was the annual Walk for Wishes fundraiser and somehow appropriate to finish my 3 years with the same event when I began volunteering for them. I had participated in a lot of wishes, was a hostess for the grand opening of the Make-A-Wish Castle, their new NJ headquarters, 2 years earlier and other fundraisers. I had gotten to know the staff very well and worked alongside many other volunteers to grant wishes. It would be the perfect time to say thank you for the opportunity to be a volunteer and say good bye. They would never know how pivotal the organization was in turning a corner in my life personally after having been through so much turmoil and trauma. It was yet another step forward in that all important albeit long healing process. I had a great day with everyone including the children and families who attended and walked to raise money for future wishes. It was an emotional farewell as I walked away in tears.

This was another milestone in the process of my move and I left that day to relax and watch football at my brother's house as I had done for so many years and got myself mentally ready for what lay ahead in Week 2...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Two Weeks Notice

...I figured I would need about a month to pack up my entire house/life etc. and the timing worked out where I would give my two weeks notice via email while on vacation in LA. They didn't know I had planned to move out to LA months earlier and what did it matter I had given my blood, sweat and tears to that company with nothing to show for it except my 401k which was going to now fund my new public speaking career. Steve and I previously decided I would make the big move on October 25th for several reasons one of which I had a weeks vacation planned to come out and celebrate his 50th birthday and flights were booked well in advance as we always did to save money. I woke up that Friday morning and had run the words of the email around in my head a million times and once I finally typed it out I read it another 5 times, yay OCD! It felt really good to hit the send button on that email. As soon as it was done I sent text messages to my two closest friends in the office to let them know my plans. I had felt so terrible not revealing the news to them earlier but I needed to keep quiet until I gave my notice. They had seen it coming as far as my developing relationship with Steve and once I told them they both reacted with "finally" and as happy as they were for me they were going to miss working with me. As I would miss them too. Almost a year later and we still keep our friendships going strong. 

The email to my bosses were responded to immediately with positive words as I wasn't quitting for another job but to start a new life somewhere else. Little did they know how close I was months earlier to walking out the door and working at my gym. My job had become so stressful and unhealthy as the volume of workload was crushing that I almost never took a lunch break and sometimes didn't get up from my desk for hours as I moved from one endless task to another. I stuck it out because of the amount of vacation I accumulated and because I knew I would be starting my new life elsewhere soon enough.

I returned on Monday from vacation and the news had spread throughout the office and shop. My position at the company included working in some capacity with every employee, I had been there for almost 6 years and people didn't leave very often so it was big news. Unfortunately when you think of how great it is to give two weeks notice my experience didn't come close to how I imagined it would be closing out my time there. My boss (the one who had trouble replacing BL) didn't use that time wisely at all. No sign of anyone coming in for an interview until my last few days there so that meant they would be splitting my responsibilities among four people and I had to train all of them. Two of which were those close friends I mentioned earlier who were themselves overwhelmed by their own workload. I wasn't scheduled to train anyone until last minute and they continued to have me work on all my projects and responsibilities until a few hours before I walked out the door. It was the worst two weeks of the six years I spent at the company. Every day other employees were baffled and asked why I hadn't been allowed to hand things off as was typically done when you leave a job. None of this surprised me since I wasn't treated with respect and the valued asset I was to the company before so why would I expect it at the end of my tenure. Not to mention the natural stress and pressure I was feeling because I was picking up my whole life and moving across the country. I simply didn't think I would be coming in every day to a workload that wasn't diminishing.

It wasn't all bad because my fellow employees and colleagues from outside the office were so supportive and nice and genuinely happy for me. They all wanted to know the details of my move and what I was going to do when I got out there. I shared my plans for my public speaking venture and stuck to the generic story of being a victim of a violent crime and my speaking out for prevention and advocacy. They expressed how bold it was to move away from everything I knew and everyone I loved to start a new life and a new career. I told them all that it was an easy decision because it was the right decision. This was how I felt about life changing decisions I had made in the past 10 years since my date rape. What I wanted to do may be hard but if it's right then no matter what you can get through it. I also had a lot of time to adjust because Steve and I had been together a year and a half and we had talked about it a lot before jumping into anything. 

On my last day my friends got some people together to say good bye to me with a cake and cards with words that put me to tears. The company executives whom I worked with directly every day since my first took me to lunch. I felt special as this is not something they do for anyone. I came back from lunch finished up a few last bits of work and emails and made my way around the building to say good bye to everyone personally. I truly enjoyed working with all those people. We had a lot of fun times together in and out of the office and I would miss seeing them every day. Finally it was time to leave so I took the box of personal items from my desk and walked out the door. It was very emotional and bittersweet...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Idaho Sentencing

...Now that I accomplished another milestone in my recovery which was the speech at WOAR's Take it all Back event it was time to concentrate on the victims impact statement for the Idaho court. The writing Laura had me complete early on in counseling would become very valuable since I had written my feelings down when they were very raw. I was going to use those words along with, thanks to all my therapy, my ability to now step back and verbalize how my life was directly affected by Marsalis' assault on me 5 years earlier. The words flowed easily and once finished I read it over and over and made my edits. I brought it into my next counseling session with Laura for her to read and us to discuss. She liked what I had written and made a few suggestions which I later implemented. On May 18th I emailed the victims impact statement to the Idaho Department of Corrections. I let Joe Khan know of the phone conversation I had with the pre-sentencing investigator and subsequent email containing the statement. A few days later I was contacted again to be notified that the sentencing date was set for June 30th.

There were nothing I could do now but wait which I had been doing for the past few years. Waiting for the preliminary hearing, waiting for the trial, waiting for the sentencing, waiting for his extradition, waiting for the Idaho trial. It never got any easier. The other victim that I had become friends with after meeting at the ABC News interview kept in touch frequently via email and phone calls. She lived in Virginia at the time so we didn't get to meet up for lunch or coffee like normal friendships but then again our friendship was born out of something abnormal. She had also submitted a victims impact statement. Finally on June 30th I received a call from Joe Kahn who was in Idaho with the victim who had been Marsalis' girlfriend. He shared the news that Marsalis was handed a Life sentence to be served consecutively from the  Philadelphia sentencing. I was excited beyond belief. Once again he told me the statement I submitted made an impact on the judges decision who also expressed his disgust with Marsalis the similar to the judge in Philadelphia.

This sentence meant many things to me. First, it was all over now. There would be no more trials. My participation was complete. Second, Marsalis would never see the light of day again. He will spend the rest of his life in prison and I (if given the chance) will dance on his grave. Third, I will get to live out the rest of my life knowing I was safe and he will never hurt another woman ever again! The words I spoke that day were "I feel like I can breathe again".

Later that evening I received an email from the ABC news associate producer with the sentencing information. They had been there for the trial and sentence as a part of the special to be aired including my interview. I also learned that Marsalis and his attorney (a different one than in Philadelphia) granted an interview to also be conducted by David Muir for the special. The two other women who participated in the interview and I were able to watch the sentencing footage aired on a local Idaho station and we shared our feelings with each other via email including our speculation and anticipation of the interview by Marsalis.

The next day on July 1st Joe Khan emailed to tell me that on the same day of the sentencing the Pennsylvania Superior Court unanimously rejected Marsalis' appeal. He had one last shot with the PA Supreme Court but that was unlikely due to the unanimous decision of the lower court and even if heard, the justices have excellent decisions relating to sexual assault prosecutions. Everything was moving in the right direction as far as his victims were concerned and the wrong direction for Marsalis...

When Opportunity Knocks

...In early August I received an email from the prosecutor on my case Joe Khan regarding a documentary interview request. Joe continued to have our best interests at heart and served as gatekeeper for any press requests. He had been contacted by a Canadian production company who creates documentary and non-fiction programming and distributes internationally. The story producer and researcher for Very Bad Men was in the early stages of developing an episode on date rape and Jeffrey Marsalis as part of their 4th season for their 30 minute true crime show and was interested in having one of his victims tell their story as a cautionary tale. They already had interviews with detectives from Idaho and Philadelphia set up. Joe included the original email from the producer and asked that if we were interested in participating we can contact her directly. 

I couldn't believe what perfect timing this was for me as I was preparing to embark on my new public speaking venture. This time I was emotionally ready to appear without a disguise and it would give me additional interview skills and experience. I responded quickly to Joe with a thank you and let him know what I was up to as far as my future was concerned. I then immediately looked up the production company to see their credits and was very impressed not to mention excited for the prospect. I emailed the producer with a brief list of my speaking accomplishments and having previously interviewed with ABC News. She responded by saying how important a victims perspective would be for the show then we set up a time that evening so she could do a pre-interview and also included a link so I could watch some clips of previous seasons episodes. We spoke for about an hour and a half most of which was me telling her my story in which she only interrupted a few times with questions. She was very supportive, offered some kind words and answered any questions I had regarding what her plans were for the layout of the episode, what our next steps would be and when it would air.

Two weeks later she reached out to provide me with several filming dates and asked which worked for me. Their crew was going to be in the area filming the prosecutor, detective and another victim and they were coordinating everyone's schedule. I was given a list of dates for the 2nd week of October which worked perfectly since I would already have quit my job and starting the process of packing and moving. In a strange coincidence the very next day as I was corresponding with Joe Khan he relayed to me that he was informed by ABC News that they would re-air the Primetime Crime special but on 20/20 August 30th. I was not only happy to hear that the show was still being put on TV for the opportunity of even more viewers exposure to the crime of date rape but that it was going to be on the prestigious 20/20. I shared the news with my family and close friends and everyone tuned in except ironically for me as I was on a plane that evening to LA to spend my Birthday weeks vacation with Steve but he recorded it and we watched the next day. 

I'm a believer in signs and all these things happening at a time when I was moving on with my speaking and advocacy for date rape and sexual assault were a good sign to me that I had made the right decision. It's not that I was afraid to leave my job behind and begin something different, I had done that several times before and knew I could adapt to any situation. It was just that it reinforced what I was doing was right for me. The next step in the interview process came when I was contacted by the production manager to narrow down the interview date, sign and return some documents, discuss how we would use my home to shoot the interview and the exterior for Broll and what I should and shouldn't wear for the interview. In the 2 weeks leading up to the interview she and I corresponded frequently regarding details for the big day so when it arrived I was admittedly nervous but excited and ready...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Year Older

...Today is my 48th birthday and what a great year it has been. I have actually been through more life changes this year than in any of the previous years. Not only did I quit my job to start a new career in a new state on the opposite coast of the one I spent my entire life but I rented out my condo packed all my belongings and shipped them out along with my car. I had to say good bye to my family that I'm extremely close to and my eclectic group of friends who I could not live without and a few amazing yet now former coworkers. I was also moving in with my boyfriend which was going to be a completely new experience for me as I had never been married or even lived with a guy before or lived with anyone for that matter since I was in college. I had always taken care of myself and would now be adjusting to sharing my life with someone else. All the above are very positive changes but that didn't make them easier.

It all started a year ago this week while I was visiting Steve for a weeks vacation and to celebrate my birthday when I sent out that email notifying my bosses of my two weeks notice. The next several months were a whirlwind of packing and good bye's and unpacking and then the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's all in my new home, new state and with new people. I distracted myself by cooking for everyone as we invited "holiday orphans" to celebrate at our house and on New Year's eve I celebrated the east coast and west coast time zones midnight.

Then January meant a new year and time to get to work on JoAnnSpeaksOut. I put a loose plan on paper and where I should start first and got right to work. I was hitting all my goals and making a lot of progress for a new business in a new state. It was good that one of my work strengths was research because I had to do a lot of it acclimating to new geography, how and where I was going to promote myself and every time I had an appointment it was on a road I hadn't driven on before to a town I hadn't been to before. We take all that for granted when we grow up, work and live somewhere our entire lives. Promoting myself was new too but I was always good at doing it for my employer so I learned to turn it into my direction instead. A website was a must so I learned how to design one by using a template and set off on designing my own because who better would know what I wanted than me. Social media was a must and I dove in head first to twitter. Next was starting my blog and finally Facebook.

It's important to share with you that after the horrible experience with I had completely shut myself off from anything that would put my face and personal information out to the public. My solution to protecting myself from being as vulnerable as I was when I met Jeffrey Marsalis was to go dark. I didn't start a personal twitter account until last year and didn't go on Facebook until a few months ago. I had to open myself up to all these things at my own pace and when I felt comfortable. It was all part of the healing process and although my date rape was 10 years ago I had to take each step when I was ready not when everyone else thought I should and it all worked out. This doesn't mean I still don't have things to accomplish emotionally but I'm okay with it.

Once the Summer began I was finally feeling settled in to my new career and surroundings and was more confidant with everything. I experienced all that LA has to offer in the Summer with Steve which brings me to last Friday. I can't explain why but my upcoming birthday had me missing what I left back in NJ (family & friends). I told Steve how I was feeling and he let me have my moment instead of dismissing it or saying it was wrong. Today I woke up not even thinking of my age because it doesn't matter. I am healthy and happy and lucky for my life and those family and friends I share it with...