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

Saturday, August 22, 2015

NOVA Conference Workshop

A few months ago after submitting for the 2nd year in a row I was chosen to conduct a workshop at the annual (National Organization for Victim Assistance) NOVA Conference. I was excited, honored, nervous among many other adjectives since this was going to be my first workshop. It's content would be me sharing my story of date rape, the legal process, counseling and life following from a victim's point of view to an audience of professionals mostly made up of victim's advocates.

The 41st NOVA Conference was held in Dallas this year and it would be a whirlwind 2 days for me flying in on Tuesday afternoon to check in, get acquainted, on Wednesday attend other workshop/events, then it would be my turn to speak. We were set up at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel with the entire Ballroom floor and I was surrounded by other attendees wherever I went feeling right at home with all these compassionate people who understand me and what I've been through. 

Wednesday morning was a Victim's Tribute with speakers who had impressive resume's and numerous awards. There was song and dance presented by two very talented women and a father from MADD who lost his precious son to a drunk driver and shared his story and memories. I had a chance to briefly speak with him after as his son & have the same birthday which immediately made me feel connected to him. The event ended with a beautiful candlelight ceremony that represented all categories of victim's and their survivors.

Then I went back to my room to mentally prepare for my speech which was scheduled from 1:00-2:30 pm. The previous day I scouted out my room/venue to become familiar with the layout so I knew what I would be walking into that afternoon. This workshop would be the longest time frame to fill since I began speaking over 6 years ago but although anxious it would allow me to share many details I sometimes can't due to time constraints. As the 1:00 hour approached I gathered up the few materials I had along with myself and made my way down to The Spectrum room.

Before entering my room I was greeted by my assigned volunteer, a lovely woman, who was going to take care of distributing my presentation handouts to the room full of participants prior to my speech and as they departed handing out the Workshop sticker for the conference booklet so the attendees could document each one completed. The room was nearly full and as I set myself up it approached capacity just before I began speaking with a few joining in the minutes after I started. The room was perfect for the type of workshop I was running which was me telling my story and no use of the AV or Flip chart provided. It was intimate and filled with an estimated 75 NOVA members. 

After introducing myself and laying out what my objectives were for the workshop I began telling my story and filled it with as many specifics as possible hoping there was something in it to benefit each and every participant somehow. During particular high and low points of the details I shared the group would react which I found very comforting. They were in this with me from start to finish and I liked that very much. I remember looking down at my watch to get a sense of where I was in time and an hour had passed by seemingly effortlessly. At this point I could reassess how to bring it all together leaving 15 minutes for Q & A. These were much different questions than posed to me by college students welcoming the challenge to answer them efficiently. 

Relieved and satisfied when it was over I was greeted by many thanking me for telling my story and others sharing stories of their own or asking additional questions. They were an amazing group of women and men making me feel as if I contributed positively to the subject which was my only goal. I took a moment to accept my success for having done something new and different that I ultimately enjoyed. 

Before leaving the conference there was a closing ceremony I wanted to attend since I was only there for a day and a half it was important that I experience everything I could in that short period of time. Even more people approached me in the lobby area and inside the ballroom saying that had attended my workshop offering kind words. 

What I got out of this was knowing I can expand my speaking horizons and that it's something I would like to do again. I left the conference and Dallas very happy!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Life's Challenges

Los Angeles was the most recent host of the Special Olympics World Games and I was lucky enough to have been a Volunteer and selected to be a part of the Media Operations Team as a Steward. My assignment was for the 1st day of the games when they conduct their Divisioning round at the Table Tennis event. I worked with several other volunteers sharing the same post and we connected immediately. It was a fun, exciting, upbeat atmosphere and we didn't find out until later that our event was one of few that had a DJ playing music the entire day which only added to the spirit and energy. 

I sat at the bottom of the viewing stands meeting not just other volunteers, but athletes, coaches and delegates from around the world. I observed the athletes/kids, despite their various challenges, acting just like any other no matter which country they were from. It struck me how amazing that is to see them tease each other, be competitive also sharing in each others joy when winning or consolation when not moving ahead in the event. I observed many other inspirational moments that day.

A young guy in his 20's named Sergei from Sochi, Russia flew here to be a volunteer for the week. He caught the "bug" when he volunteered for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in his hometown a few years ago and shortly thereafter signing up for the Special Olympics World Games planning his first trip to America. We talked for about a 1/2 hour sharing our life stories with his English being excellent. I was so impressed by him, his spirit of adventure and interest in giving back at such a young age and honored to have had that time getting to know him.

That day I took a lot of pictures for the purpose of not only posting them on social media and raising awareness for the Games that week but so I wouldn't forget a moment of my experience. My volunteer partner had stepped away for a few minutes so I was left alone to people watch. Because of the Divisioning round scheduled that day it was a less formal atmosphere for the athletes and many of them sat in the stands instead of their designated space which was further away from the competition area. I turned around to observe a very sweet gesture between the athletes from Pakistan and Hong Kong neither of which shared a common language. They were digging into their backpacks for pins from their country and exchanging them. I waited until they were done and then asked if I could take a group picture for which they then posed. A few minutes later I was approached by one of the Hong Kong athletes and presented with one of their country's pins. I was so touched and said thank you several times noticing that she was bowing to me so I did the same in return hoping I was being respectful. This nearly brought me to tears and I turned away thinking about the experience wanting to remember that moment for a long time.

Several days prior to the start of the Games many towns in the Los Angeles area were chosen as Host Towns and assigned country's in which they would act as their ambassadors showing the athletes and delegates the local sites and culture. Two women from the Pakistani delegation started to chat with me and my fellow volunteer. We asked how they were enjoying LA and who their host town was telling us it was La Verne. Their faces beamed with smiles as they described the hospitality shown them and what a great time they all had. One described the experience as "Feeling it was a home away from home". I couldn't get those words out of my head and was so proud that the true spirit of Americans comes through when it matters most.

A little bit later after a 3rd volunteer joined our post a delegate from Ireland approached our table with a question (as did many others that day) and we struck up a conversation with her. I shared having previously traveled with my mother to her country and how much I loved it there hoping to return someday to see more of it. Just as she was about to leave she dug into her official fanny pack (one that we all received as part of our World Games uniform) and presented each of us with her country's pin. This was my 2nd on a day I didn't even consider getting one. I proudly pinned it to my credentials along with the other. My fellow volunteers promised to reciprocate with a US pin once they acquired one as they would be there for the entire week. 

It was very fulfilling and I am thankful to have been a part of such an important event. As I met the athletes who live with their various challenges yet go on with life as usual it got me thinking. Each one of us has a different story to tell and our own challenges that we face, some being so much more difficult than others. It is how we face them that really matters and how we choose to let if affect our lives and the outlook we have going forward.

My awesome fellow Volunteers on each side of me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Solving Unsolved Sex Crimes

A little over a year ago I received an email from my colleague at Strength United, a community agency affiliated with CSU Northridge committed to ending abuse, empowering families and developing leaders. I have worked with them most recently as a sexual assault survivor speaker to their Advocates. Ann Conkle, Outreach and Engagement Officer reached out to me after receiving a request from the production company for Cold Justice a show that follows detectives around the country as they solve cold cases. The were developing a spin-off show that would focus on sex crimes with particular emphasis on cold cases related to untested rape kits. An issue that has been brought to light within the past few years. They were in the process of picking detectives for the new show and needed sexual assault survivors to role play with the potential detectives. The producer ideally wanted victims who had been through the prosecution process and comfortable speaking about their experience. Ann said she immediately thought of me and if I was interested in participating provided me with the contact information for the producer along with the date in which it was scheduled.

I had watched every episode of the original Cold Justice show with my boyfriend and was excited that this potential spin-off show could help solve sexual assault victims cases in the way it helped murder victims families. After letting Ann know all this and thanking her for the referral I emailed the producer with my story and background which began our correspondence in preparation for the day ahead and what I could expect.

As I arrived to the production offices that day I was greeted and introduced to the staff and crew then settled into a waiting area where three other survivors of sexual assault joined me. While alone we introduced ourselves and shared our stories of (coincidentally) date rape and the paths that our lives took subsequently. It is always a safe space when surrounded by only survivors with no one else listening in on our conversation. We can share as much or as little as we like with each other knowing we have been in the same shoes, so to speak. The women I met were all so brave and strong moving on successfully with their lives except for one young girl. She was openly telling her story for the first time trying as best she could to navigate her way through the experience. The three of us knew what that first time was like and offered what we knew she needed as far as support and guidance. 

A representative of LA's Peace Over Violence, a rape crisis organization, arrived and would stay in our waiting room to be there as we each returned from role playing with the detectives. She checked in with each of us and if necessary would provide one on one counseling. Every victim/survivor reacts differently after retelling their story and it's important to have someone there to provide counsel. 

I would be the third called in by production to role play. They introduced me to two very seasoned special victim's unit detectives who told me about their background and experience investigating these types of crimes. I remember thinking how similar in demeanor and compassion they were to Detective O'Malley who was the law enforcement professional that took my statement and the first person I told my story to in its entirety. The crew explained that everything was going to be recorded on video. There were cameras in and outside of the room and I was fitted with a microphone similar to my doing an interview. The "interview" took about 45 minutes to an hour. The idea was for all of us to react as if we were meeting for the first time, having my statement taken and being provided the information on how the legal process would move forward as a victim. Once finished I met briefly outside the room with the producers while they asked me for my feedback of the detectives performance. Then I rejoined the ladies, each time one of us returned we discussed our experience and opinions with the others. Before leaving we exchanged each other's information.

Shortly thereafter the producer came to thank us for our help and we all discussed our hopes and excitement for the show to air on television. Cold Justice airs on the TNT network and about 2 months ago during one of their recap shows they introduced the legal team who would be part of the Cold Justice: Sex Crimes spin-off and I couldn't have been happier. The new show will premiere Friday July 31st at 9:00pm East and 6:00pm West. I hope it's a success, helps a lot of victims heal and puts their attackers behind bars where they belong.

Additionally this week I received my RAINN Newsletter with an article providing information about the assistance they provided to each victim for each episode as well as details about Cold Justice: Sex Crimes and RAINN. See link below to read more.

RAINN Partners with TNT's Cold Justice: Sex Crimes to Provide Support to Survivors

Friday, June 19, 2015

Misguided Justice

I have been following the news reports quite closely from the moment I heard 2 prisoners escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility a NY State maximum security prison. This story is very personal to me as a victim of a violent sexual predator who currently serves a 21 year sentence in a Pennsylvania maximum security prison and then will be transferred to an Idaho maximum security prison to serve a Life sentence. In the time period leading up to my attacker's, Jeffrey Marsalis, trial and during my counseling I shared my fear that he would escape, somehow find and harm me for testifying against him. Although seemingly irrational and I've spent a lot of time working through it, there was and (now proven) is a very small chance it could happen.

The two convicted felons (Richard Matt & David Sweat) now on the loose were heinous, vicious murderers and I can imagine what the victims are thinking and feeling until they are finally caught and returned to prison. As the details unfolded and continue to do so every day I think about them because I know from personal experience the fears I had that they are now living out in real time. If I could I would speak to them or meet with them face to face to show my support and share that I want to be there however they may need me.

As if it wasn't bad enough that these violent men were now free it was then reported that a prison employee took it upon herself to not just decide that a judge and jury conviction was incorrect but to help the two escape. I don't care that she may have been charmed by one or both of them or whatever else her attorney may explain away her behavior but she went to the next level by assisting them. Since her arrest I watch the footage of Joyce Mitchell online or on television and get extremely angry. My disgusted reaction is a result of my knowledge and experience of what it takes to put a criminal behind bars no matter what the crime and how high the stakes and the personal investment made not just from the victims and their families but from law enforcement and the prosecutors office. Every step throughout the legal process is, as I see it, another hurdle to get over in order to get justice as a victim. The stress and anxiety experienced can only be described as all consuming until the verdict comes in from the Jury and they say the magic word "GUILTY". But even then there is still one more hurdle to overcome and that's the sentencing by the judge. Will it be what the accused and now convicted deserves?

So the trial and sentencing are over and the convicted are "safely" away in prison only does the real healing begin for the victims and families. But not in this case! If this was happening to me I would show up in court every day that Joyce Mitchell appears and write as many letters as humanly possible to the judge and prosecutors office asking that no mercy and the harshest penalties be imposed on her for undoing what a jury and judge had done. Since it, thankfully, not happening to me what I can do is share my experience and publicly show my support for the families of the victims who crossed paths with those awful men.

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's Not OK

The past few weeks have been happily busy for me as I work and volunteer and throw in a few social activities here and there. I've had the opportunity to meet some amazing new people some of which have become my friends. Since moving out to LA new friendships have been slow in coming but I knew if I was patient those important connections would cultivate. My recent part-time job has allowed me to be exposed to some very interesting people all with their own unique story to tell. Each also accepting and supportive of my own story. It's inspiring! Recently, as a large group of us sat around chatting, discussions of a previous work environment involving a very uncomfortable experience some women had were brought up. I listened to what several had to say and filed it away in my mind. We were separated for the remainder of our work day and the subject wasn't revisited.

I got home late that night but when I woke up the next morning I started to think more about what was shared with me by those women the night before. I became angry about what they had to experience and decided when I saw them that evening I would bring up what I do as a public speaker and advocate of sexual assault awareness and offer my support. My instincts told me that these women were strong and outspoken and most likely receptive to what I had in mind. I approached one of the girls shared my idea and she couldn't have said Yes to me fast enough telling me she had already considered taking action. She provided me her information along with a friend of hers also and I told her I would get working on some ideas how we could move forward to report the offensive behavior.

Although I can't discuss in detail just yet what happened because it's not my story to tell I can say that a man hired as an entertainer frequently used vulgar, offensive language, stories and jokes in his routine. The women were working while this was going on. He is clearly only moderately talented because there are plenty of entertainers out there who do not lower their standards to such a level in order to get reactions from an audience. We all have varying standards of tolerance when it comes to things that may be considered off color and even one woman's disapproval should not be ignored but this was more than enough women to organize a group and lodge a complaint. Especially when one woman has heard the dialogue repeated from this "entertainer" before. We have power in numbers.

The point I'm trying to get across is that women should never be hesitant or afraid to speak up because there may be others who are thinking the same thing. The only way we can stop this type of bad behavior is to call out the offender to someone in authority and make them aware that It's Not OK!

Monday, May 18, 2015


This originally appeared as a Guest Blog for The UnSlut Project. Please check out their website & "work to undo the dangerous sexual bullying and 'slut' shaming in schools, community, media and culture".

On Saturday May 9th I participated in the 2nd Annual Lace Up for RAINN 5K. I was really looking forward to the event again this year since it had such a positive affect on my life and career as speaker and advocate for sexual assault awareness. Originally I found out about the event as a proud member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau.

The event is set up as a virtual 5K so you can join in with your team or as an individual from wherever you live at whatever time of that day is convenient and for someone like me who would be walking by myself it's perfect. The goal is "to raise awareness in a fun, approachable way and to connect with others who are passionate about the cause". Last year the event did just that for me. At the time JoAnnSpeaksOut only had a website and Twitter account so once I completed the 5K I posted my picture and comments on Twitter with all the hashtags and as a result I connected with an amazing girl (also a sexual assault survivor) from Michigan. We became fast friends over social media having many things in common and in part because of her I was inspired to start my blog which is now going strong almost a year later.

Within the past few months I have expanded my social media presence for JoAnnSpeaksOut onto Facebook and Instagram and knew I would be able to spread the message of Lace Up for RAINN much further. I even had the confidence this year to create a fundraising page with a template provided by the event organizers. I set a modest goal and with the help of my always supportive boyfriend who assisted me in spreading the message I reached that goal. Because of all those generous donations 10 victims of sexual abuse will receive the help they so desperately need and deserve.

The numbers came in for the 2015 Lace Up! RAINN reported 210 participants nationwide with 651 miles run in communities across the country to raise awareness. Most importantly $20,879 was raised to support more than 2,000 survivors of sexual assault.

My fundraising page will continue to be active through the end of May. If you are interested in helping to make an impact on the lives of many survivors please consider a donation.

JoAnnSpeaksOut Fundraising Page

Maybe next year I will go the next step and organize a team but for now here is my picture as an individual participant.

Monday, May 11, 2015

SAAM 2015 Recap

I am excited to share that with a very full April calendar Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2015 (SAAM) was a great success. I attended many events, delivered several speeches and as the month progressed the availability on my calendar decreased. Interviews were conducted, articles and podcasts were posted, press releases were sent out and local TV news reported on my work as a speaker and advocate. It can best be described as a flurry of activity for 30 continuous days and at the end I was left with a overwhelming feeling of hope for the future of date rape and sexual assault awareness and prevention.

The month began by my meeting up with a date rape survivor just like me except in addition to counseling she found healing through yoga. Justine then used her writing talents to create a screenplay and develop a movie project called 2000vinyasas, a story similar to her own. You can learn more in my post 2000 Vinyasas - The Movie

The next day I was interviewed by an impressive young woman Jessica from GirlsSpeak. She was writing a series of articles for SAAM to be posted on her website blog. As a result of the interview I was quoted in two articles posted within as many weeks the 1st about Sexual Assault Myths the 2nd about Helping Survivors

The following week my podcast interview, recorded in March, with the awesome ladies of the Vagina Chronicles was posted. We were connected initially from my work as project adviser on the Tell The World music video being developed by Rob Hustle hip hop artist and activist. This project, currently in production, allows sexual assault survivors to speak out. Angela & Nicolle contacted Rob to say they would like to promote the project by interviewing any of the project advisers available. They generously allowed me to take up most of the podcast telling my story and then provide information for Tell The World. You can listen via this link Vagina Chronicles.

In the 3rd week of April I had the pleasure to attend an Evening of Innovation at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. Through my work as a RAINN Speaker's Bureau member I completed an interview questionnaire for Prevail Games developing Bridge to Solas a mobile role-play designed to help survivors on their path to healing. Alexx Murphy and her intelligent, talented team of women went up against 5 other student teams in the 2015 CRUNCH Student Design Challenge + Incubator for a $10,000 prize for startup funding. Although the ladies did not win the ultimate prize they took home the People's Choice Award. A huge accomplishment in its own right.

Week 4 & 5 of SAAM brought about my scheduled speaking engagements. As a result of my E! True Hollywood Story interview in February I was contacted by a former Philadelphia DA intern who worked on my case 10 years ago asking if I would speak at their annual National Crime Victims Rights Week ceremony. It was a beautiful event honoring families of murder victims, reported on by the Merced CA newspaper and ABC30 Fresno in which both highlighted my speech and message to sexual assault victims.

Norco College invited me to speak at their very first Take Back the Night. I was impressed by how well organized it was and the number of students that came out to participate. I presented my entire story of being sexually assaulted by a serial date rapist, the legal and court process, counseling, healing and finally moving forward with my life. There were beautiful student singers, poems read and a quilt with squares made by attendees including myself.

Finally, even though it was the 2nd Annual Denim Day Rally & Press Event it was my first time attending. Peace Over Violence, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence of any kind in LA since 1971, joined forces with Guess? Foundation to promote Denim Day LA & USA and beyond. There were guest speakers such as the Mayor, Police Chief and District Attorney of Los Angeles along with performances by Aloe Blacc and Maya Jupiter. I befriended a young masters degree student in social work and intern at POV. It was motivating and a lot of fun and you can read more about the message and how to get involved here Denim Day 2015.

SAAM was first observed in April 2001 growing out of Sexual Assault Awareness Week from the 1980's. In 2009 President Barack Obama was the first president to proclaim April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it's been growing stronger ever since then. I was significantly more involved than last year and I hope next year will be that way for many other advocates and activists alike.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sexual Assault Reporting & Repeat Offenders

I recently read an article in the NY Times regarding the difficulty rape victims (women & men) have in reporting their sexual assault especially on college campuses. Less than 10% of students report their assault to the college or police. There is a laundry list of why survivors don't report and one reason is that the reporting process for victims can be perceived as unfriendly. Most victims feel alone and fear the consequences of reporting their attack. What they don't know is 90% of sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders and if we could stop college sexual assault offenders after their second attack we would prevent 60% of sexual assaults. 

Now there is a sexual assault reporting system being developed called Callisto that will provide a 3-part process for victims/students to participate. If the victim sees their attacker is a repeat offender and then chooses the third reporting option the first two steps become very valuable. See three steps outlined below:

1. Fill out an account of the incident online.
2. Securely save the report
3. Report now or later

As a survivor of a serial date rapist (although as an adult and not a college student) I am completely on board with this type of reporting system. My attacker committed multiple sexual assaults before and after he raped me. I have met and had long discussions with many of those women and they all wish they had known of the victims that came before them because then they would have had the courage to come forward and report their own assault. As a result they feel there may not have been the victims to follow them. These are feelings that I had to work through as part of my rape crisis counseling. It is not easily accepted or able to move past.

My assault included being drugged first and my attacker raped me while I was unconscious. I woke up the next morning naked in his bed, violently ill and confused. To add to the confusion my rapist was nice to me. I struggled to remember what happened the night before and couldn't make sense of it. Jeffrey Marsalis raped dozens of women in the same way and if there was a resource that I could have gone to validate what my instincts knew wasn't right about that night I would have reported my attack to the police immediately. Instead he went on to rape women for another year and a half before finally being arrested leading to two trials and convictions of sexual assault and rape. He will now spend the rest of his life in prison and never hurt another woman again but "only if"... Instead of focusing on the past the I can not control I chose to focus on the future and advocating for what I can control.

Callisto is currently in its design and development phase.

UPDATE: I was contacted by a member of Callisto and as their first goal is to create a supporting and empowering experience for survivors and in order to do so they are trying to get as much feedback as possible during the design and development process.
They are looking for current college students or college survivors of any age that were assaulted in college. If interested please fill out the brief survey (link below) and you will be contacted shortly.

Callisto Research Participation Form

Friday, May 1, 2015

Denim Day 2015

On April 29, 2015 I attended the 2nd annual Denim Day Rally and Press Event. Although invited last year my mom was in town for a visit so I was unable to go. This was the 16th anniversary of Peace Over Violence's Denim Day and the second year since they partnered with fashion sponsor Guess? Foundation.

The message of Denim Day is There is No Excuse and Never an Invitation to Rape. Its origin began in 1998 when Italian women lawmakers wore jeans to Parliament to protest the highest court of appeals ruling that a victim could not have been raped if she was wearing tight jeans because she would have had to cooperate in taking them off. 

Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patti Giggans organized the first Denim Day event in 1999 and in 2011 it grew into a national movement. It's mission is to 'Wear jeans with a purpose, support survivors and educate yourself and other about sexual assault.' Peace over Violence is a sexual and domestic violence, stalking, child abuse and youth violence prevention center in Los Angeles.

National Denim Day began as a part of April's Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Although it's just one day the theme this year during the rally and encouraged by Patti Giggans and Guess? Chairman Maurice Marciano was to continue spreading the message throughout the year. Guess? and its Guess? Foundation has become a very active partner kicking off a fundraiser on April 20th and donating $2 for every pair of Jeans and select accessories sold in their stores to Peace Over Violence which is a nonprofit organization with a total reaching over $150,000.

Also in attendance were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who gave an inspirational speech and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck who shared his decades long commitment to sexual violence victims as part of his law enforcement career. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey told us the work her office is doing to prosecute sexual predators and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas gave an uplifting, motivational speech to all in attendance that day.

Finally, we were treated to musical performances by spokespersons and recording artists Aloe Blacc and Maya Jupiter. Maya Jupiter wrote and performed a very special song 'Never Said Yes' inspired by the film The Hunting Ground which exposes the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. The song download is available for free through May 8th.

I met so many great people that day who all have the same goal as I do which is to spread sexual assault awareness worldwide and end sexual violence for once and for all. To learn more about Peace Over Violence, Denim Day or download Maya Jupiter's song I have provided links below.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Still Speaking Out 6 Years Later

As I was preparing for my trip to Central California this week and a speech at the National Crime Victims Rights Week ceremony in Merced it was not lost on me that 6 years ago almost to the day I gave my first speech. 

While I was receiving counseling at WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape) the Director, Carole Johnson, had been monitoring my progress with my counselor Laura. They had decided I was in a good place where I could tell my story at their annual Take It All Back event on April 25, 2009. At the request and with just the right amount of encouragement from Laura she presented the idea to me of including me in the "Survivor Speaker" part of the day. I wasn't all that uncomfortable with public speaking, although this would be something so much different, but I had trusted her thus far (over a combined year of therapy sessions) and agreed to speak. Laura said we could work on the speech together and assured me that while I presented it she would be right by my side.

I went home and worked on my 'assignment' for the next two weeks so I would be ready to show Laura what I had written and we could review and discuss it at our next meeting. Since I had never been to a Take Back The Night event I was unfamiliar with the format. She told me that the survivors tell their story in a way that was most comfortable for them. It just so happened that my story had a beginning, middle and almost an end I decided to tell it in that order. My story was also unique for survivors of sexual assault because I had been through each phase starting with my report to law enforcement, rape crisis counseling and the trial process from preliminary hearing, closing arguments to sentencing. Not only that but the added stress but it was also a high profile case with endless print and television media coverage and my recent participation in an ABC News interview they were completing for a Summer air date.

Two days before the event I met with Laura, she read the speech, which she liked and we talked about what I might expect as I presented it. The very same week Jeffrey Marsalis' Idaho Rape trial was going on and I was following along as best I could from NJ with all my help from the online reports by the local news media there. The next day, Friday, the jury had gotten the case and that evening after my workout I received the message from Philadelphia prosecutor Joe Khan that Marsalis had been convicted of Rape and sentencing was scheduled for a few months later. These were the words I had been waiting years to hear and as I drove home that evening I spoke with Joe who told me the jury deliberated only a few hours and came back with the guilty verdict. I now had a real end to my story and added that to my speech which I would be giving the next day.

On Saturday morning I drove to the Independence Visitors Center in Philadelphia where Take it All Back was being held and walked into the room where all the festivities were going on. The atmosphere can only be described as welcoming with everything related to supporting victims and survivors of sexual assault. It was beautiful! I scanned the room for Laura and once I spotted her practically ran over to share the good news. I am not embarrassed to say that we screamed and hugged as we discussed the guilty verdict and briefly talked about what was next as far as his sentencing. This news we shared with the Director Carole and many others who work for WOAR that knew about the case and me since I had been arriving for regular counseling sessions at their offices for quite a long time.

After much anticipation it was now time for the schedule of events to begin which included a proclamation by the Mayor, music and dance performances and then it was my turn. I walked up to the podium with my typewritten speech and Laura joined me but stood just off to the side. I gave that speech through shaky words and tears at times finally at one point reaching for Laura's hand which I held on to as if my life depended on it. When I got to the part and as I shared with the audience the previous day's guilty verdict the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. It was unexpected and overwhelming and I was thankful that it was the last part of my speech because I broke down into Laura's arms after that reaction. Their reaction to my news a direct result of the fact that guilty rape verdicts and difficult to achieve. A sobering fact that we are all trying to change. The support I received from all those people was a lot to handle and as I describe it to you now I feel it all over again. 

That was the beginning of my path to telling my story to as many who want to listen. Six years later I am about to give another speech as an honored and invited guest of the Merced County District Attorney and Victim Witness Assistance Program for their National Crime Victims' Rights Week ceremony. I am excited to be here to share my story and spend the day with other victims of violent crimes and support them any way I can. I also get a chance to thank those who help victims through the worst moments of their lives. They are the true hero's which should never be forgotten because if it wasn't for those in Philadelphia law enforcement, the prosecution team and counselors at WOAR I would not be here today.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Born To Be & Little Words of Kindness


I learned about Born To Be, a retreat center for victims and survivors of sexual assault where they could go to heal through writing, painting, art, etc. from the RAINN Speakers Bureau in which I am a member. Born To Be is a project currently in development along with The Little Words of Kindness campaign created by its founder Jenna Kandyce Linch who herself is a survivor of child abuse, domestic violence and rape. Little Words of Kindness, which is also a work in progress, allows anyone to participate in either the letter writing project the donation of journals, notebooks, diaries or pens or both. 

Jenna, a nature lover, found it healing to be out in nature and thought the peaceful surroundings would be beneficial for other survivors too. The name Born To Be came to her while out running one day and thinking how, as survivors, we struggle to define where we fit in and where our lives are headed as we piece our lives back together. The more she got to thinking about the name the more it stuck by representing the mission and goal of Born To Be Inc. Its mission is to help victims and survivors see how beautiful they are and help them regain the confidence to see who they were born to be and meant to be in life.

Jenna started Born To Be Inc a year after she was date raped by her ex-boyfriend. The project grew out of an online petition first urging the government to fund special schools for victims and survivors where they could heal from their sexual assaults. It changed direction from there to develop a retreat where victims and survivors could go to encourage healing through painting, art, writing, etc.

Many victims in counseling are asked to write or journal as part of the therapy process, I was one of them and found it extremely effective. I know of several other women who choose to express themselves through music and songs they have written. Writing has always been Jenna's voice as she suffered sexual and domestic violence through childhood with nowhere to go and no one to talk about the abuse ultimately learning to survive on her own at the age of 17. Born To Be Inc is currently in the "work in progress" stage but the goal is to establish a place of solace and serenity where victims and survivors can go to get support from each other throughout their healing process. This idea is innovative and progressive and would provide another option for victims of all forms of sexual abuse. I was able to find this kind of solace at WOAR, the rape crisis center in Philadelphia, but these organizations are not always available for geographical reasons, lack of funding or simply not the type of place some victims would be comfortable visiting.

The Little Words of Kindness campaign came to Jenna after reading a letter sent by a survivor telling her what an inspiration her MySpace writings were and what a difference they made in her life and then sharing what she had been going through. After reading that letter she thought "what if I could start a campaign where survivors write each other notes to inspire, encourage, motivate and lift one another up while sharing their experiences?" Hearing kind words from strangers, those who have been through similar situations, can make all the difference in the healing process. I can confirm this because while I was sitting in the courtroom during my attacker's trial with his other victims and although we couldn't speak to each other there was a bond that provided a silent strength no one else outside the group could provide us. There was a support system through our similar traumatic experience that friends, family and other loved ones simply couldn't offer. Survivors know that we won't judge each other and we can't guarantee we will get that from anyone else.

Writing gave Jenna her voice back as it did for me. I was encouraged to write by my therapist throughout my rape crisis counseling process. Jenna wants to make writing supplies available to hand out at shelters, hospitals, rape crisis centers, colleges and events such as Take Back the Night. Every survivor deserves the right to get their voice back. Those of us that were successful in doing so want to share that feeling with others.

If a volunteer decides to write a letter it's as simple as a putting down on paper what comes from the heart and no particular length is required whether it be short or long. They can also write multiple letters, there is no time limit to submit them and can be anonymous as well. This is such a simple yet powerful way to let survivors know they are not alone and gives them the spark of hope they need to begin moving on.

In my ongoing effort to pass along information providing alternatives to healing from sexual assault and prevention tools I thought this would fit into this category. It's unique but has a direct effect on victims as the letters go directly to them. I can personally share that in the time between reporting my rape to law enforcement and beginning my counseling I felt alone, out of place, confused among other feelings. If I received a letter of support from another survivor or even a stranger it would have been so helpful for my mental well-being.

Jenna is now looking for survivors of sexual assault to decorate a postcard now through April 2016. Her goal is "to turn postcards into a canvas for a healing process and to exhibit the postcards collected over the course of a year". More details provided on this website...

Awakenings Foundation and Gallery

For more information and Jenna's story visit her official website.

Jenna's Story & Born To Be

Jenna also started a blog where she is looking for writers to post testimonials, poetry, stories, helpful hints, etc. It's described as a for survivors from survivors.

Little Words of Kindness Blog

Little Words of Kindness Campaign Information

Mail letters directly to:
Jenna Kandyce Linch
Born To Be Inc
600 S Graves Street
McKinney, TX 75069

Email letters to (that will be printed and sent):

Saturday, April 4, 2015

2000 Vinyasas - The Movie

In March I was sitting in a room with other Make-A-Wish volunteers for a special training session. As I have recently stated when I meet people that ask what I do it frequently starts a conversation. Next to me was a UCLA student and sorority member so I mentioned that I spoke on her campus last year for the Clothesline Project & Speak Out event for Take Back the Night. We briefly chatted about her school campus, my impressions after visiting and speaking there then I handed her my card. During the break another volunteer approached me to say he overheard what I did and told me his wife was working on a movie project in which the lead character was sexually assaulted. He asked if I would speak to her further about my story to which I responded 'of course' and we exchanged cards. 

Within a few days Justine and I began an email correspondence discussing our backgrounds the path to my speaking career and how she came to write and develop the movie 2000 Vinyasas. We then set up a time to meet and discuss a collaboration. I also sent her a few questions ahead of the meeting because I wanted to spread the word about this unique movie.

This taken directly from the project website "2000 Vinyasas is the story of a young woman's transformation and awakening through the power of yoga. After a devastating sexual assault, Vanessa loses everything but learns that true recovery and true love are possible when her focus shifts from what she needs to what she can do for others." This movie, although not an exact account, is similar to Justine's story of sexual assault and healing through Yoga. After the assault she confided in her mother who found the best counselor in NYC so Justine could begin intensive therapy and work towards healing. She continued and completed her counseling after a year and a half. At the same time she was also participating in intense physical workouts including triathalons but decided to transition into yoga as her counseling began to wrap up. Almost immediately and like a revelation Justine realized yoga was what she needed all along and began to study the practice of yoga. She describes a peaceful moment when the story came to her all at once and went home to write it in just 2 days. 

The course to develop this movie was atypical. The first time Justine heard the script read aloud was very emotional for her and didn't like the way it sounded so put it aside to forgot about it, until she met her now partner Jeff Caldwell while working together as leads in the play Arsenic & Old Lace. They became fast friends and while Jeff was taking a writing class he asked if she had anything so she decided to hand over the script which he actually loved. Their partnership began then leading to the development of the movie 2000 Vinyasas. It's been a whirlwind ever since including a fundraising campaign and their tireless work to find additional backing to get the movie made. Justine explained to me If that doesn't happen within the next few months they will move forward on their own independently.

Justine describes the process of writing the screenplay and everything that is involved with making the movie helps contribute to the ongoing healing process from her sexual assault. It forces her to be comfortable with saying it aloud and when it's not in her own voice it's through the voice of the actor playing Vanessa. As a victim of sexual assault I can relate to how difficult it is to say the words aloud and the lengthy process involved in getting to that point where you can say it easily.

Finally, Justine felt it important to add the movie also serves to enlighten the industry and the public that the subject of sexual assault should not be so taboo that it can't be the topic of a feature film. There are television shows and movies that use rape in their story lines for entertainment and voyeuristic purposes and that is acceptable but the lead character based upon a real woman's sexual assault is not good for mass market appeal. This movie enlightens the moviegoer by how complicated the recovery process is for victims of sexual assault.

More information about the movie, the project and becoming a supporter can be found through the website link below.
2000 Vinyasas

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Still More Work to Do

In my Day 1 SAAM blog I wrote about how inspired and excited I was for the interest shown by all the new people I was meeting through my recent job adventure. Today, Day 2, I want to talk about those who choose to not just be unreceptive of victims and survivors stories but engage in nasty name calling to supporters who attempt to affect a change in rape culture. The people aren't just on the opposite side but engage in everything that is bad about a narrow-minded thinker including victim blaming, verbal abuse, harassment, etc. 

It all started because I backed a woman who launched a campaign to postpone or cancel Bill Cosby comedy shows and support all the women (his victims) who bravely came forward to speak up and tell their horrific experiences with the comedian/actor. I then promoted the cause through my Twitter and Facebook accounts. About a week later I was included in a twitter tirade launched by a very small minded man who uses words for evil as well as try and hurt people instead of using them for good or productive results. The following is a summary of his multiple tweets: Calling into question her intelligence, accusing her of being paid off and finally the ever popular whore label. This is by no means the first time I have experience such nasty, hateful remarks nor is it the first time I blogged about it but coming off of an encouraging few weeks it was a reality check for me which in hindsight was not at all a bad thing by any means. 

Reading someone spew hate in tweet after tweet has a dual effect on me. First, it reminds me there are so many in this world who don't see things the way I do and probably never will. No matter how much information you provide them their opinion is not going to change nor do they want it to. Second, it only motivates me to work harder and spread my message further. I think the negative, closed minded part of the population is small and will slowly become isolated from the rest of us especially if they use their words to bully instead of express their opinions in a more clear and intelligent format. They can call me or my colleagues and supporters nasty names but as I have been known to say before "consider the source". The big picture is what they say doesn't really matter. Most of us regardless of what side of the topic you are on do not want to engage in that type of behavior and will step back from anyone who finds it acceptable. 

I choose to spread my message of date rape and sexual assault awareness to the open-minded and those who are simply unaware of the topic and looking to learn more. Even if they listen to what I have to say in speeches, tv interviews or read my blogs and tweets and never do anything about that's OK with me because not everyone is interested in being an activist. What they are interested in is being informed which the most I can wish for the general population. The reality is one day just maybe someone they know will come to them and share their own personal story of sexual assault and they now know just enough on how to react appropriately and compassionately.

The social media trolls will always be there but by no means do we have to acknowledge or engage them. I continue to tune out the negative and welcome the interested.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spreading the Message

Most recently I began working as an 'extra' for TV & movies and it has not only been a '10' on the scale of cool but the people I'm meeting and working with have been inspiring as well.

I should really explain first how I got into doing this type of work. As some of you well know I moved to LA in late 2013 to start the next chapter of my life with my boyfriend Steve and also begin JoAnnSpeaksOut. Steve has a successful podcast where he interviews anyone and everyone in all aspects of the entertainment industry not to mention he also has a comedy and writing background along with many of his friends working in TV & movies in front of and behind the camera. I have always been a huge fan of television and movies and a self described addict watching hours and hours of both. Steve encouraged me to look into doing extra work for fun and I liked the idea because it's flexible and would fit around my busy schedule. 

Another reason I was interested is that I have always lived my life for the experiences. I am not afraid to try new things even if I only do them once which includes traveling the world by myself, trying out as a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader and many others that I won't go into now. After the Jeffrey Marsalis trials were over, I knew he was safely behind bars for Life and my counseling was completed successfully the drive and determination for me to never regret "NOT" doing something was even more prevalent. I have been known to say that I will not lay on my death bed replaying my life and thinking of the things I didn't do but only the things I did.

So even though I'm only a few weeks into this new work I have been deeply moved by the responses to my answering the questions 'What is it that you do?' and 'What brought you to working as an extra?' Because extra work brings people from all different backgrounds, ages, places in the world everyone has an interesting story to tell and there is a natural curiosity to learn about those you will be working with for what could be long hours. I answer the question by being brief and straight to the point "I'm a speaker and advocate for sexual assault awareness". This brings a multitude of reactions but NEVER a negative one. Some ask if it's due to a personal experience, some ask that I elaborate on where and how I work and spread my message, others have taken me aside to discuss the subject or ask me a lot of questions or my opinion on the latest news topics surrounding sexual assault. In the past few days a young girl opened up to me about her assault and counseling and an older gentlemen offered contact information for the family crisis center where he volunteers as a math/physics tutor when I asked him while elaborating they really need someone like me to come in and speak there. Finally a young guy told me of a smart phone app he has developed to help women in an emergency situation so I gave him my card and offered to share that information in a later blog when he was ready to market it.

At the kickoff for SAAM (April 1st) I felt it fitting that I share the positive experiences I've had in such a short period of time spreading the message of sexual assault awareness to such a broad audience. This is the best outcome I could ever wish for as part of my JoAnnSpeaksOut mission. All the victims, survivors, advocates and activists want is for people to start talking about the subject as if it was any other topic to be discussed. the time is way past due to bring it out of the shadows and raise the voices above a whisper when the words rape, date rape, sexual assault are spoken.

I think we are there and I couldn't be more excited about the future because if everyone starts talking about it the victims can begin to heal the perpetrators can be arrested and prosecuted and shame can be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Start By Believing

'Start By Believing' is part of a unique citywide awareness campaign focused on the public response to sexual assault in addition to the police and health care workers. On March 18th the Denver Police Chief Robert White and Mayor Michael Hancock held a press conference to announce the campaign and what led to its creation. In a rare collaboration the Denver Police Department approached Denver NBC9 News anchor Kyle Clark to take part in the Start By Believing Campaign. Kyle has made the commitment to him and says they were raped or sexually assaulted he will Start By Believing and encourages others to do the same. In the next few weeks he is also sharing survivor stories during the evening newscast in order to spread the campaign's message and create broader public awareness. Survivors will tell what it was like and the positive impact it has when someone did believe them.

As a survivor of date rape I can't express enough how important that first reaction is to a victim when they share their rape or sexual assault with a trusted friend, family member and/or law enforcement. I was very lucky to have support from everyone I told but have heard way too many stories from victims who have gathered the courage to tell someone and received indifferent or negative reactions. I have heard the detective victimizing the accuser during the report or police officers making statements of judgment as to the victims actions before and during the assault or what they may have been wearing. Other victims have told me of family and friends marginalizing the assault or encouraging them not to pursue reporting because it will be shameful for the family or no one will believe them anyway.

The Denver Chief of Police is asking that officers to believe the victim when they come forward to tell their story. The idea behind it being a presumption of belief is the best way to catch rapists because on average a sexual predator attacks 6 times so if the first victim is not believed then the potential for 5 more assaults can occur.  If I hadn't thought my story and the events of that night wasn't so odd or unusual I would have come forward and told someone, most likely a friend but it would have been a start. There were so many more victims my attacker Jeffrey Marsalis assaulted after me that my speaking out may have prevented any number of them. It took a lot of counseling for me to work through that guilt.

Furthermore, Police officers told anchor Kyle Clark that if they start by believing it's simply to treat the claim as any other crime reported then the case has the opportunity for a thorough and fair investigation. Isn't that all a victim really wants anyway which is to be treated fairly? I'll answer that, YES! 

More details and information provided in the links below.

Denver NBC9 News Report

Start By Believing Campaign Information

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Poster Campaign for Project Guardian

In February I learned of London based Project Guardian and connected with one of it's biggest supporters who is working at the grassroots level. It was important to me as a frequent user of public transportation when I lived in NY & NJ and now her in LA that I help in any way I can to promote awareness for a little known or discussed topic. 

Project Guardian is simply stated a 'long-term project involving British Transport Police (BTP), Transport for London (TfL), Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, which aims to reduce sexual assault and unwanted behavior on public transport in London'. This passionate supporter who's twitter name is UnderreportedSH & address @Underreported22 learned of it in Autumn 2014 on the radio and through her own formal survey research found out that very few people who use London Transport have heard of it. Only 13.8% of survey respondents are aware but know very little about it. She was concerned by the high level of advertising space used for other safety and security issues on London public transport by the TfL i.e. 'report suspicious luggage' or take care on 'slippery stairs' but none for Project Guardian.

As a result this one concerned citizen started a campaign to push for the introduction of a widespread and long term poster campaign for Project Guardian on all forms of public transport with the message that reportable offenses include 'sexual touching, exposure, outraging public decency, lewd comments, leering and harassment'. More importantly perpetrators and those victims of sexual harassment or assault need to know that they will be taken seriously by police and bystanders. She says "as a society, we need to stop ignoring our culture of normalized violence against women and girls in public spaces!"

Although there has been no direct response from TfL to the poster campaign on Twitter and answers to queries via email have been slow they have said that "an integrated communications campaign is in development for launch late Spring". Additional information as to what this will consist of was not provided but on Twitter the British Transport Police said "it's going to be an online-base campaign for London to begin with, we understand" yet no further response when asked if posters would be appearing.

The Poster project has received very good support from the community and public as individuals, organizations and charities have re-tweeted messages. The message here is to show those in charge of Project Guardian that it is a service supported by the public yet equally people want it to be given a higher profile so that women can be empowered to take back their streets and public spaces and to feel safe in them again. anyone can become involved by contacting @Underreported22 on Twitter or Project Guardina directly asking when posters will be seen in public. A goal in the near future is to create a petition so as to make the message even louder.

Ultimately it's about focusing on trying to stop gender based violence against women and girls given the universal lack of recognition for their rights in all aspects of society, public and private lives.

A Message from the poster campaign organizer:

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far. Let's keep the campaign positive. Project Guardian is fantastic but more needs to be done so that it can be fully utilized. A purely online campaign is not sufficient to tackle the problem because with 2.3 million journeys made by bus alone in London a widespread poster campaign millions of travelers could be easily informed by Project Guardian. Washington DC has posters telling users of public transportation that harassment will not be tolerated, Taiwan has alarms on public transport for passengers concerned about sexual harassment so now London needs to start leading the way.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mixed Messages 2.0

In September 2014 I wrote a blog titled "Mixed Messages" the subject of which three law enforcement officials in Oklahoma were sexually assaulting women on the job. At the time the captain of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol offered some valuable advice on how women should protect themselves when getting pulled over but then said "to follow the law in the first place so you don't get pulled over." At the time I read the article I was so outraged as to the mixed messages sexual assault victims receive sometimes that I wrote the blog and shared the article (link above). It has now happened again.

Today, through the UltraViolet organization I learned that the University of Oregon is using a rape survivor's private therapy records against her in a lawsuit. The university is using a loophole in a federal law that covers health services on college campuses. Simply stated most student health centers are subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) filled with loopholes that allows schools to access their records without their consent for non-medical reasons.

The mixed message here is that colleges are providing valuable health services to students and then using their medical records when it benefits the college. Mental health services for sexual assault victims is crucial as I can personally attest to and the University of Oregon campus health center offers these services. Most times it's the only option for cash strapped students. In this case the university was preparing a lawsuit against the survivor pertaining to her rape report but the university received pressure from students, faculty and the community so they dropped the suit but the damage was done. Trust has been lost as students were scared off from using the school's therapy center where the staff publicly called the administrations actions unethical. Survivors of rape and sexual assault need counseling to overcome their trauma and eventually lead them on a path to healing. If they think at any time anyone can access their records they will reject much needed therapy.

What is the point of offering medical and mental health services to students and encouraging them to use it only to turn it against them? We can't allow this precedent to continue to spread like a weed throughout colleges and universities across the country. UltraViolet has begun a campaign and drafted a petition that will be submitted to congress to close the FERPA loopholes.

To learn more, get involved and sign the petition follow the link below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'Social Media Nightmares' Premiere

Within the past few months I have written a few posts referring to an interview I had been preparing for to be aired on an internationally reaching cable TV channel. I am happy and excited to announce that the show titled 'Social Media Nightmares' aired on E! True Hollywood Stories on Wednesday February 25th at 10:00pm and will soon be linked to my website. I am part of the episode to include several other stories and will be speaking about meeting my attacker Jeffrey Marsalis on, the sexual assault, rape crisis counseling and trials to follow. My interview airs in the 1st 15 minutes of the show. The Producer that I worked with was and continues to be passionate and supportive of me and the subject of date rape and sexual assault and her commitment to get the story out there was relentless. I am so grateful and lucky to be part of this show which hopes to reach the largest audience yet of all my television interviews.

E! True Hollywood Story 'Social Media Nightmares' Interview

If you're interested in reading my previous posts and thoughts at the time I was contacted, preparing and completing my interview they are 'Never Forget Why' and 'Continued Media Interests'. I am really looking forward to seeing the final product as I don't get the view the edited version until it premieres on TV just like everyone else. Although it's important for my message to reach all ages and genders, this show should reach the more targeted audience that is at risk for acquaintance rape, date rape and sexual assault and the E! channel is prime to reach that audience.

I would very much appreciate if everyone who reads this could share the link. The more people who view the show the greater the chance that a victim of sexual assault can receive the help they need or better yet my story could somehow prevent future victims. An event has also been created on my Facebook page JoAnn Speaks Out that you can Like, Comment and Share.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Civil Matter

As I woke up this morning and to began contemplate the subject for my blog post I started checking my JoAnnSpeaksOut email, Facebook and Twitter accounts. There it was right in front of me more negative comments from @This_iz_Stupid. Let's first go back to my post from February 8th "A 'Life' Sentence - No Other Option" in which I wrote convicted rapists (child or adult) should only ever receive a Life sentence. There is no rehabilitation for rapists which explains why the Sex Offender label was created and added to rapists sentences. Rapists leave prison and they rape again. I spoke about my own personal experience with my attacker, Jeffrey Marsalis, and how he not only believed he did nothing wrong but his attorney used the classic 'victim blaming' defense stating his multiple victims were bitter and angry for having been lied to by him about his fabricated medical career, background, etc. The prosecutors, detectives and victims all knew that if he was ever to be released from prison he would rape again.

I received a tweet from @This_iz_Stupid saying "rape isn't as bad as murder, murder is the only crime that should be life". This resulted in support from several of my friends (both child rape victims) tweeting back at the anonymous account to the effect they must not be a victim and if they never experienced an assault how do they know. I responded with a comment stating how rape changes a victims life forever in the same manner a murder victim's family is changed forever. Other supportive comments included "statistics always show they don't stop." 

What led me to this post was another tweet this morning from @This_iz_Stupid saying he/she?? "grew up with a b*tch step mom trying to take my dad's money with false rape accusations. (You could tell it was false cuz she wanted $4.5 mil)". Then @ROYALMRBADNEWS favorited the tweet. This was the last straw for me so I decided to not respond at all to the tweet but to use my words constructively. 

First, how does @This_iz_Stupid know for a fact that his/her step mom was falsely accusing his/her dad? Victims of sexual violence can all too well relay the stories of their attackers having a Jekyll & Hyde type personality. Sexual predators can portray themselves one way in public and another way behind closed doors. 

Next, the civil lawsuit does not immediately place a lack of credibility on the accuser. In the case of Jeffrey Marsalis (my attacker) there were dozens of victims who came forward to tell very similar stories of having been lured in by his charm and fabricated identity and the circumstances of their rape encounters with him. A prosecutor has to consider many different factors before moving forward with a rape case not to mention there is a statute of limitations on sexual assault. It is not uncommon for victims to decide to bring forth a civil suit against their attacker instead of going forward with a criminal trial. This does not alone make their accusation in-credible.

Finally, why does the public not blink twice when a murder victims families pursue a civil lawsuit to obtain justice for their loved one when the criminal trial doesn't have the proper outcome? The family only wants justice and will seek it any way that they can and rightly deserved I might add. My personal experience with seeking justice allows me to understand exactly what they are going through. Just as with a murderer or rapist receiving a Life sentence for their crimes a rape victim should be able to receive justice in a civil lawsuit the same way a murder victim's family does without judgement and criticism. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trauma Recovery Survey

As a proud member of the RAINN Speaker's Bureau I not only receive speakers requests but information regarding other events, projects, etc. happening in the sexual assault community. Most recently I was notified of a research study and provided contact details if I wanted to participate. This particular study examines how people overcome traumatic experiences specifically whether people's recovery from traumatic events, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, is related to volunteering and helping others. I felt as if this was tailor made for me and contacted them immediately. After a few mutual introductory emails I was provided with an ID number and a link to the survey so I could complete and return it. As always I was happy to be using my negative life experience for something positive with the potential to effect change in some way.

A few weeks later I was contacted by the project leader who through a review of my website became aware of my advocacy and awareness work of date rape and sexual assault. He explained to me they were still in the data collection process of the study, still surveying those individuals who have experienced traumatic events and asked if I would post the survey flyer to my website in hopes of getting more participants. Since I thought the particular research work they were doing was valuable I was eager to step in and help in any way. 

This idea started when Joseph Wagoner, a doctoral student at Claremont Graduate University and adjunct faculty member at CSU Fullerton began working in the Institute for Research on Social Issues in the Fall of 2012. (After obtaining a Bachelor's & Master's in Psychology at CSU Fresno) The Institute investigates social issues that influence our society and he began working on a project examining how people overcome traumatic events. His advisor Dr. Allen Omoto and other members of the institute became specifically interested in whether those victims of domestic violence and sexual assault overcome traumatic events by helping other people having the same experience. It has been shown there is some evidence that volunteering and helping others can enhance well-being and interpersonal relationships. However it is unclear how traumatic events help or inhibit volunteerism and helping others. Overall, they are interested in how people move from being a victim to survivor and if this influences their intentions to help others.

If you or someone you know are interested in this project contact Joseph Wagoner directly. More details and his contact information are on the Flyer. The link below will take you directly to my website where the Flyer is posted.

Trauma Survey Flyer