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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Should We Leave the Year Behind Us?

As we approach New Year's Eve our natural instinct is to review the year gone by and look forward to the prospects of the year ahead of us. This is especially the case when we may not have had the best year, reached goals or accomplished everything we had planned. While I began to do the same, because I am very goal and task oriented, a thought had occurred to me which was 'maybe we shouldn't put the past in the past?' Reaching the end of one year and preparing for another is a very positive milestone no matter what events may have taken place. It means that we are strong and have tackled all the challenges that were put in front of us whether we reached the desired result or not.

I have had to do a lot of evaluation of the previous 10 years since embarking on my full-time JoAnnSpeaksOut mission/campaign in January 2014. I realized that each time I faced a difficult situation during those years I was better able to handle the next one. This is not something you know is happening as you live through it but only much later on in review. I have learned a lot about myself and grown to appreciate even more the family, friends and those professionals who helped me through the horrific ordeal following my sexual assault. What also came to light while evaluating the past including 2014 is that each time I opened myself up and allowed people in I witnessed the unconditional kindness of strangers there is in this world. I pride myself on seeing the good in people and avoiding skepticism as much as possible and there is a lot of compassion in humanity it's just a matter of being ready to receive it.

So I'm here to say don't be so quick to dismiss the past. Do not put the year behind you, embrace it and celebrate it. As a survivor of whatever horror you have encountered, trauma or health issue you have faced you have made this far by being brave and strong and sometimes vulnerable and it wasn't easy. But take all of that in and give yourself the credit you deserve for all that you've accomplished first before putting it behind and looking towards the future. Remember to love yourself first and all that goes with it.

We may not get to achieve everything on our "List" in one year but Life is made up of many, many years. Some good, some bad but all contribute to who we are as humans. 

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

That Time of the Year

These past few weeks before Christmas have been filled with a lot of personal reflection for me. Several reasons include: It's only the second year spending the Holidays in California with my boyfriend since I no longer live in NJ where my family and friends all live. It has been a very pivotal and productive year for me professionally and personally and finally it's this week (nine years ago) that changed my life forever.

Although I miss my family terribly at this time of year and all of our traditions I learned to bring some of them with me so Steve and I have made them part of our lives. We can also look forward to going back to NJ for Christmas next year as that plan is already set. 

When I started my JoAnnSpeaksOut public speaking and advocacy campaign I couldn't imagine the direction it has now taken. Originally I wanted to focus on what I began doing in 2009 which was tell my story to sexual assault advocates, speak on college campuses and expand to other venues and audiences which I am still working on. But once I got started so many more opportunities and options became available to me I just went with it. I was never planning on writing a blog or being interviewed for podcasts among other amazing doors that have opened up to me. It seemed to take on a life of its own which was exciting to see and experience.

Personally I have been so lucky to recently meet some really great women out here who share the same life goals as I do and start some, and what I hope to be, long-lasting friendships. It took a while to find women I could connect with out here like I did when I met my "girls" I left behind in NJ. Maybe I just wasn't ready to let anyone in and now is the right time. On top of all that I met a 1st cousin I didn't even know I had from my father's side of the family which has been estranged since I was young child and he lived a few blocks away! 

Now take all of the above and add to it the time of the year. It was nine years ago 1 week before Christmas 2005 that I received the fateful, life-altering phone call as told in my blog post 'The Call That Changed My Life' Although there would be many more difficult days, weeks ahead that one was the worst having become aware of my sexual assault, the violent predator I had come in contact with, giving my statement to the SVU detectives, being subjected to blood tests all coming to a head on Christmas Eve day by having the guy I was dating break up with me on a voice mail. I think of how it all began, how far I've come and how different my life is as a result of it. 

In the past 9 years I have been lucky enough to know unconditional support and kindness of strangers throughout the legal and counseling process. Over those years as I became more comfortable telling my story the love and support expanded to family and friends and this year when I was finally ready to show my face on a national TV interview and finally join Facebook that love and support continues to be shown to me as recently as over the weekend. I am thankful and grateful and never let a moment go by without acknowledging it all. To those victims and survivors who are new to speaking out I know how hard it is now but it does get better.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hindsight is 20/20

Why is it that rape victims are offered unsolicited, useless advice after an attack? As if the suggestions offered to them wouldn't have been carried out while they were being assaulted if that was even a remote possibility. Do they think they are helping? Better yet those who take it upon themselves to judge a rape victims circumstances as to the amount of time it took to report her attack or her actions following the assault. 

Rape victims experience complex physical and emotional feelings during and after an assault. If they were drugged and rendered completely unconscious for the entire sexual assault as I was but knew sex had occurred and I didn't consent it's very hard to verbalize the attack to anyone. The victims I know floated in and out of consciousness while Jeffrey Marsalis raped them, some describing it as having been in a dream like and confused state. 

Reporting is also a complicated decision. Rape victims are ashamed, confused and question what they did to provoke being attacked. All you want to do is forget about it not relive what happened to strangers (i.e. police, doctors, advocates). Because I was drugged I wasn't even sure of all the details because my memory was fragmented only remembering prior to being drugged or after I woke up 8 hours later. How do you explain to someone what happened when you can't explain it to yourself? Why subject yourself to questions that you don't have the answers to?

We are seeing a lot of delayed reporting in the news lately with the Bill Cosby accusers. Their accounts of having been drugged and raped (some failed attempted sexual assaults by him) are decades old therefore being scrutinized by the public only reinforcing what the women thought immediately following their attacks. "He's a powerful celebrity, who is going to believe me?" Fans of the actor/comedian and skeptics immediately turn to the claim that a victim is in it for the money. Trust me when I say it's never for the money or the attention. If it were so easy to come forward and solicit monetary compensation or seek media attention then why wait 10, 20, 30 and almost 40 years? The victims are accused of reporting now for the same reasons the victims didn't come forward to report their sexual assaults originally. The skeptics can't have it both ways.

The public and media have the benefit of assessing accusers and their stories after the fact but the victim doesn't have that luxury because she is living in it. Let's give victims the benefit of the doubt because it's easy to go back but impossible to look forward.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

At a recent CSU Long Beach Survivor Recovery Panel I had the privilege of sitting with 3 other rape survivors, all strong, brave women who worked their way into healthy, productive lives after such heinous assaults. I shared my experience of the event the following day in a blog called 'Many Ways to Heal'. Although I didn't go into much detail at the time because I wanted to do further research on how one of the women found her way into a holistic approach of healing that I thought was important to share with as many as possible. It's called Trauma-Sensitive Yoga and what I believe to be an important alternative to the traditional counseling of talk therapy. I first met Zabie Khorakiwala at UC Irvine's Greek community Peer counselor training. Zabie is a Violence Prevention Coordinator for UCI CARE Center and was running the training group where I was an invited speaker. Until meeting again at the CSULB event I didn't know of her story but as soon as I heard the path she took towards healing and what she's contributed as a result I knew how important it was to spread her message and yoga program.

In May 2007 Zabie went out to celebrate senior sorority night with her other sisters. She was president of her sorority and this would be the last big night out together before finals and graduation. Zabie put her drink down before going into the bathroom but when she returned to the bar and took a sip of the drink she began to feel the immediate effects. She was sexually assaulted that night and describes the feeling of being an out of body experience, knowing what was happening but powerless to do anything about it. 

Zabie stayed in bed for several days following the rape focusing only on her medical needs but knew she had to seek professional attention. Although she called her best friend to accompany her she didn't disclose the reason why she was going to the Student Health Center. Alone in the exam room with the Nurse Practitioner she disclosed details of the rape where at that point the UCI police were contacted. It was then her best friend realized what had happened. Zabie gave her statement to the police but told them she didn't want to pursue further action as she only wanted to complete her plans to graduate and attend grad school and asked them to keep the report confidential.

The next few weeks and months were pressure-filled with school responsibilities, family health issues and the aftermath of a sexual assault and everything that comes with that traumatic event. She stopped wearing makeup, began dressing only in sweats and not taking her final school assignments seriously ultimately hitting a low point. As a result Zabie decided to make an appointment at the school counseling center. After revealing to the counselor her story of sexual assault other personal challenges she was having the counselor responded with 'That really sucks'. Zabie was left with a sour impression of the experience never to return knowing that counselor was ill-equipped. Later in San Diego where she began her new job post graduation but still not feeling well she visited another counselor yet still not finding the correct fit only feeling drained physically after each session. During the rape she described feeling frozen and the talk therapy was only bringing back those feelings without the benefits of a positive result.

Zabie was working at a homeless shelter and befriended two co-workers who talked about yoga, how much they enjoyed the practice and persuaded her to attend that very first class. She remembers feeling nervous while getting ready because it was something so new and unfamiliar. The positive effects were immediate feeling physically in sync and safe and can only describe it as "having her breath back." Following the sexual assault her life was frantic, chaotic and out of control with deep-seeded trauma. Yoga allowed her to be in the quiet of her own mind, be in her own body and leaving it all up to her to have the resiliency to heal. She had a powerful, transforming experience, signing up for a membership going as often as 5 days a week. After moving to Washington DC to attend graduate school she found a yoga studio there and then a new studio when she moved back home to Irvine.

The path to trauma-sensitive yoga began with teacher training at Core Power Yoga in Cost Mesa later followed by a week long training in the Berkshires MA at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. There 150 yoga teachers with 200 & 500 hours training all working with different communities of trauma to include rape crisis center advocates, police, prison employees working on restorative justice. She was finally surrounded by people "who get it" incorporating yoga with other services such as the power of body based treatment and learned how it's different than traditional yoga classes. This practice of yoga teaches how to empower the survivor to move in ways that feels comfortable for them and uses empowerment based language such as: Listen to what your body needs - You are always in control of your practice - I invite you to meet your body and breath where it is today. Other important details to be mindful of are props like straps and candlelight in the yoga studio. Sensitivity adjustments must be made such as no physical assists can be used with survivors only verbal cue's. The goal is to create a safe experience. 

Zabie created her own 8 week program for sexual assault survivors out of this training. She developed an important intake process asking if the survivor is ready to experience the courses intimate practice for the next 8 weeks. Also asking what injuries they may have due to self-harming, for example and are they suffering from anxiety, depression, currently meeting with a counselor and why do they want to participate in the program. At that time the survivor may share what happened to them and what's going on in their life and where they are in the process of healing. Upon completing the 8 weeks it's a transforming experience for the survivor. At the first class Zabie provides each student with a safety jar that they can decorate to help them feel safe and happy. She gives them an intention rock at each class to write what they intend or something they may need more of in their life this allows them to see progress they made and at the last class the jar is brought in so the student can share their journey each other. Survivors have supported each other through the court process, title ix, counseling, law enforcement, how to set boundaries with family and friends, adapt self-care into their life and being intimate again.

She now teaches her program 3 days a week: Tuesdays at the Orange County rape crisis center Community Service Program - Wednesdays at Be The Change Yoga in Irvine and for the UC Irvine students Thursday (8 week course). If you are interested in learning more about Zabie's program please visit her Facebook page or Breathe Network Practitioner page both links provided below.

Zabie is now co-authoring a book and this has been taken directly from her Facebook page.

We can't wait to connect with you and share your stories of inspiration and hope in Transcending Sexual Violence through Yoga: The Book! Has yoga had a powerful impact on your healing process? We would love to hear your story. Email us at and

Zabie has also published several articles and been interviewed on the subject.

Transcending Sexual Violence Through Yoga

The Breathe Network

Published Articles & Accomplishments & Video
Huffington Post, 'How Yoga Helped Me Transcend Sexual Violence'
Presented at the NSVRC National Sexual Assault Conference - 2012
Elephant Journal, 'Make Any Yoga Class Trauma-Sensitive'
Elephant Journal 'Why Talk Therapy Doesn't Heal Rape Trauma: A Research-Based Profile'
Breathe OC Magazine, 'Transcending Trauma'
OC Magazine, 'O.C. Yoga Class Aims to Help Victims of Sexual Violence'
UCLA, Feminist Magazine, Kickass Women
Rachel Grant Coaching - Wrote 3 blogs featuring specialized posture for home practice:
'Transcending Sexual Violence Through Yoga'
'Yoga Postures to Support Healing for Survivors of Sexual Trauma'
'Embodiment and the Creation for the Soulful Relationship with Your Body'
Pinterest Blog, 'Healer and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Teacher'
Huffington Post Interview - Yoga: Helping Survivors of Sexual Trauma to Heal
Transcending Sexual Violence Through Yoga: 8 Tools for Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

Zabie is the perfect example of a woman who wanted to heal so desperately and wouldn't give up until she found what was right for her. Then in an act of selflessness she shared her personal story and the path she took with others in order to help them heal. 

“In the United States, we have built an incredible crisis advocacy response to survivors of sexual violence—sustained by the relentless dedication and unstoppable passion of advocates and volunteers who have put their bodies, minds and spirits on the line in a field that requires a 24-hour day, 365-day year commitment.
 Yet, after the advocacy in the Emergency Room, when the community support group stops meeting or for those who never had the opportunity or the safety to say the words “I was raped” aloud, where do survivors turn next as they navigate this (sometimes) lifelong journey of healing?
 Where do our advocates and educators, who are so often survivors, turn when the trauma they witness daily starts to merge with the trauma they worked so hard to heal, and the line between their trauma and their client’s trauma begins to blur?

It is time we think more creatively, more holistically, more honestly and more intentionally about how to best support survivors in healing; move outside of our standard practices and typical referrals to finally meet the body, mind and spiritual needs of our diverse survivor population.”
– Molly Boeder Harris, Founder & Executive Director of The Breathe Network

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Women Who Write

Through my boyfriend Steve I was introduced to a really cool longtime friend of his, Elle. In the year that I've been in LA we've run into each other at many social events. She had mentioned a monthly gathering that I might be interested in attending and thanks to her invitation yesterday was my first Women Who Write event organized and hosted by Vicki Abelson. It was an amazing experience and I can't wait to return next month. 

Women Who Write is a Reading for Women by Women Who Write and occasionally men too. Songwriters are also included among the guest speakers. My first meeting had an impressive lineup of talent: Musician Sheila E., Actor Activist Mike Farrell and Singer/Songwriter James Lee Stanley who so happened to have collaborated with Sheila E. over 30 years earlier.

The attendees are women of all ages from different backgrounds and their writing talents not only include traditional fiction/non-fiction but poetry, self-help, etc. Some have been coming for years and others like me are new to the group. Invitations come from other members. It was a very positive, uplifting, friendly atmosphere and for someone like me who is new to writing a place where I could soak it all in like a sponge. I was able to connect with several women and discuss other writing discussion groups they attend and have already been invited to one. 

The first guest James Lee Stanley has a list of credits a mile long and got up with his guitar to sing several of his songs. Sheila E. spontaneously joined in with shakers he brought with him. Then Mike Farrell got up and told a very inspirational story of his journey as a young man before he started acting. He then read a little from his book. Finally Sheila E. (who I was beyond excited to see) spoke about how she was surrounded by music as a child by her very talented family, how she learned to play percussion from her dad and the beginning of her career. She went on to talk about her current passion project of working with foster children and introducing music and arts back into their lives and the schools in Oakland CA where she was born and raised. She talked about a particular tour that brought her to writing and the emotional personal confrontation of being sexually abused as a child and her own speak out campaign on the subject. 

It was an honor to be there while she shared her path to healing from such a horrific experience. Sheila is a beautiful person inside and out with a relentless positive spirit. I was moved to purchase her book so I could learn more about her life and career. Afterward while she signed my book I shared my story of date rape and how we have a similar speak out and awareness campaign. She had some very kind words for me which I appreciated. I then mentioned how I saw her play in Philly in 1984 and she smiled as that was the very early days of her career.

A day later and I'm still invigorated by my experience of the entire event and look forward to learning from experienced female writers and hopefully improving personally and professionally.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Many Ways to Heal

This week I was invited to and participated in an event at CSU Long Beach. As a part of the UC Irvine Speakers Bureau I received a request to sit on the university's peer education group PAUSE (Prevention Awareness Uniting Students with Empowerment) Recovery Panel as a way to create awareness of sexual assault for the students on campus. I was asked to share my story of being drugged and raped along with 3 other women. Then the audience would be open to questions. 

This was a well organized event with about 100 attendees. If you know anything about these campus events that is quite a large group and considered very successful. I was inspired by the interest among the students. Panelists ages ranged from 20's - 60's and although similarities occurred in our stories we each had individual experiences to share. 

The first speaker was a women who 50 years ago at the age of 15 was raped at gunpoint in her own home while her parents and brother slept in their beds. Her rapist then terrorized her for a year afterwards calling and hiding outside her house. Although the police had been called and conducted an investigation (there were other rapes in the neighborhood that night) it wasn't thorough and he was never caught. She suffered for years and after having seen many therapists her healing came when she finally met a counselor who specialized in trauma. It was then her healing process began and brought her to a place where she can finally speak out.

The next two women in their 20's and 30's were both drugged and raped while they were in college, one at a house party and one out a bar celebrating the end of the semester. Each were in situations where there were others around (friends, party goers, bar patrons) who could have at some point stepped in to help but for some reason did not. Similar to the first woman one had seen many therapists but finally received help from a specialized in trauma counselor and the other survivor although didn't find success in traditional counseling had finally found peace through a holistic healing arts approach specifically yoga. Neither one of these two women had positive experiences with law enforcement and their rapists were never caught. They are now happy one having recently gotten married and one having a sweet new baby who tagged along with her that evening.

Then there was me of course and I shared my story of having met my rapist on, navigated my way through the legal and counseling process and began my speak out and advocacy campaign not only to help others but to pay it forward. As I listened to each of these amazing women's stories I again realized how lucky I am for having had the support from not just my family and friends but law enforcement, prosecutors and received rape crisis counseling first before working my way through those unqualified for such specialized care. Not one of those three other women was able to say the same which saddens me when I hear it.

Once we completed our speeches the audience asked a wide range of insightful questions and some even stayed afterwards to speak with us. I was proud to be part of an amazing event and meet the other courageous survivors who have moved on with their lives and are too now giving back. One of them said that being raped will always be a part of you but it doesn't have to define you and without having said the words to myself I try to live them every day.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why Not The First One?

I recently met a guy who had been very honest with me about his initial reaction to the first Bill Cosby accuser and where his opinion now stands today. We were introduced through a friend and he asked what brought me out to LA and what I did for a living. After hearing my story of being drugged and raped by a man that also sexually assaulted multiple other women in the same way his eyes widened and he reacted by saying how sorry he was for what happened and then commented about the similarity of multiple date rape victims in my case and the Bill Cosby accusers. He said that so many women have come forward and now there is no doubt in his mind about what the actor/comedian had done to them. He also said when the first woman spoke up and told her story he was a bit skeptical but as the accusations and stories increased he was convinced of their legitimacy. We continued with the discussion for a few more minutes and then moved on to another subject. 

There aren't a lot of people who admit they are wrong when it about a polarizing subject not to mention how few have the open-mindedness to actually switch there opinion with such a hot button issue as Rape. As a former victim now survivor I can't say enough how much I appreciated his willingness to see the issue from all sides and come to a final decision. It is my hopes for a future where everyone can go through the same thorough thought process. Just because we make an initial decision doesn't mean that we can't change our minds at some point.

The conversation got me thinking though about why when hearing a horrific account from only one sexual assault victim isn't enough to be convinced of their accusation. I'm not just talking about celebrities but with any man including adults, college students and teenagers. Frequently more than one victim comes forward before any action (criminal or otherwise) is taken. Excuses are even made on behalf of the accused. He's a great actor. He comes from a good family. He's so young. Just to name a few. Is it that the crime of rape is so heinous people don't want to believe anyone can even be capable of it especially from someone we may we know? Do they think there is an agenda behind the accusation? Why does the accused get the benefit of the doubt first before the victim? Do we really think we know a person so well? I don't have answers to any of these questions. What I am certain of is that we don't really know anyone completely. I am not saying this as a sign of my mistrust of people or that I believe everyone is dishonest and puts on a facade. That couldn't be further from the truth. I actually give everyone the benefit of the doubt and have to proven otherwise. I have seen such good in strangers through the past 10 years that I know it's out there. My point is human beings are complicated and they only let others see of themselves what they want them to see. 

I will always believe the victim and their claims of sexual assault which have to be dis-proven otherwise. So the next time a sexual assault victim comes forward believe her (or him) first. Not vice-versa.

UPDATE: Given the release of the Bill Cosby deposition documents and the words coming directly from his mouth I only hope that those Cosby's fans who were on the fence about his victims claims are now supportive of them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


December recognizes Giving Tuesday and I'm sure you struggled as I did to what charity or charities in which to donate. I decided on a select few that I thought needed it the most in my own opinion. They included Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence organizations, my alma mater and a sustainable climate advocate although I will keep the specifics private. #GivingTuesday is relatively new but a wonderful idea and it got me thinking that it can be a great stepping off point for the rest of the year. 

I have recently learned that there are other ways for my favorite organizations to receive much needed funds. One of them is through Amazon Smile. If you plan on doing any online shopping this season, and most of us will, then you can select from one of their spotlight organizations or a charity of your own choosing and that includes schools, non-profits, etc. You can also change it at any time. Amazon donates 0.5% of your eligible AmazonSmile purchase to your chosen charitable organization. I completed the process when purchasing my nephew's Christmas present and it was that simple. This is just one example of a purchase driven donation with many more available. See the site link below.


Throughout the year I also purchase products for myself from specific organizations that either donate a portion of the money back to their causes or have a buy one, donate one mission. With the gift giving season here it's another great way to give back when you're already going to be buying for someone else. I can personally recommend the following:

Joyful Heart Foundation - Supports Survivors of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

Too. Apparel Women's Underwear - One pair donated to Women's & Children's shelter for every pair purchased

RAINN Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network - The Nation's Largest Anti-Sexual Organization

In the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's we may get caught up and lost in the shopping and parties but we should remember there are victims of sexual and domestic violence out there that need help and support all year long. The above organizations and many others are filling that need. It's so simple to provide that to them in a small way.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It Can Happen Anywhere

In a time span of just 6 hours on a Saturday night I saw 2 news reports, the first on NBC4 in Los Angeles and the second on CBS' 48 Hours. They each reported extensively on places where a large number of sexual assaults are occurring that I was completely unaware. As I've written before I do my best to stay informed as an advocate for victims of date rape and sexual assault but these are happening where the hierarchy either don't want to hear about it or don't want to do anything about it.

A report titled The Secret Inside the Postal Service uncovers an extensive list of reported sexual assaults, harassment and stalking against postal employees across the country. Victims are being attacked on their routes but even more alarming is that 1 in 5 sexual assaults were committed by other postal employees. One victim complained repeatedly to her managers yet they went ignored. Many reports of assault were investigated by the Human Resources department and never passed along to the postal service's internal police force and therefore never made it to the master list of reports by victims. The USPS stated they have a 'zero tolerance policy for sexual assault' but clearly are not following through with this policy. A link to this report follows.

A report by 48 Hours titled The Sober Truth investigated what's going on behind the scenes at AA-Alcoholics Anonymous. Members with criminal backgrounds including sexual and violent offenders are being allowed to attend meetings with everyone else. There is a well-known 13th step among members of harassment and unwanted sexual advances. Men who specifically prey on vulnerable women early in sobriety. A culture of sexual assault is going on by members of AA and other members are bullying the victims into not speaking out. Alcoholics Anonymous, the corporation, simply doesn't want to get involved. A link to this program follows.

In both reports victims are in places where they believe they are safe such as their workplace or AA but it's just the opposite. Instead, even if they are brave enough to come forward they are not supported in the proper manner or they are harassed into keeping quiet. This is unacceptable and we need to spread that message to both of these large organizations. Maybe we should also encourage these victims that there are many supportive organizations like RAINN and Joyful Heart Foundation or the hundreds of local rape crisis centers that will be there for them when they decide to speak out. Knowledge is power so let's share that power with the victims!