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

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's About Feeling Safe

This blog was inspired by a conversation I had with my mother, a regular reader of my posts (shocker LOL). We were talking the other day and I mentioned a post Prevention is Possible 2.0 and the latest mobile phone apps I had written about. She then told me that my niece (a Sophomore in college) is using one but didn't know the name. As soon as I got off the phone with my mom I sent a text to my niece who told me she downloaded the SafeTrek app but thankfully had no need to use it yet. Because I had a more personal connection with this particular prevention tool I decided to not only look at their website but learn more about the development and inspiration behind it.

The SafeTrek app works by first downloading the app (for a small $3 monthly fee). When the user feels unsafe at any time she or he can launch the app and hold their thumb down on the safe button. When the user feels safe again they take their thumb off the safe button and enter a personal four-digit pin. In an emergency the thumb is released, the four-digit pin is not entered and the police will be notified of the users location and emergency. 

It all started in May 2013 at the University of Missouri by four young, progressive, compassionate male college students. I spoke to Aaron Kunnemann who is one of those amazing young men. He shared with me the following...After constantly receiving crime report emails and hearing stories from their friends about incidents that were occurring on their University of Missouri campus, four of them decided to tackle the problem that the campus blue light system was failing to solve. Once running the initial SafeTrek concept by friends, it became very clear that there was a need for it. 

They do no market the app (my niece actually found out about from reading an article on Tumblr) but choose to invest their time and energy into the app itself. As far as the product's development it's by only listening to and focusing on the users. They've been able to solve their problem in the simplest way possible - a single button design that puts police at your fingertips. The team came up with a solution which "has become the core of why we have been successful and how we continue to maintain an almost perfect 5 star app store rating on the Apple App Store", Aaron states proudly!

What's next for the SafeTrek app? Development is continuous as they look for ways to improve SafeTrek everyday. Right now, they're laser focused on optimizing operations and user experience in the United States, but may look to expand internationally in the future.

The four guys behind the SafeTrek curtain are:
Zach Winkler - Mobile App Developer/Computer Science
Zach Beattie - Entrepreneurship/Business Administration 
Nick Droege - Student Body President/Biological Sciences

Aaron Kunnemann - Project Management/Business Administration

I want to add how amazing I think these guys are and I'm so inspired by how many good young men are out there like them and the ones I see and meet at Take Back the Night rallies and Advocate training's. The good guys don't hear it enough.

Check out the SafeTrek App website here to learn more and instructions to download or donate to call center expenses.

SafeTrek - Mobile Phone App

Monday, January 26, 2015

Prevention is Possible 2.0

...Since I began my full-time mission as public speaker and advocate of sexual assault a year ago I have done my best to keep up on all the latest topic related news, TV and movie releases, legal matters and awareness campaigns. In doing so I have come across a new and exciting trend of prevention tools. Last October I posted Prevention is Possible about four innovative products in development or pre-order stage. Since then four more products have come to my attention. I was impressed by the stories of the inspiration and development of each prevention tool. As part of my own personal awareness campaign I wanted to provide and share the information. Although each is unique in its own way their ultimate goal is to provide prevention and protection against sexual assault.

Good2Go is a mobile phone app for Apple and Android phones targeting college-age adults and described as "the educational app for sexual consent". Its goal is to create a tool to help young adults understand the importance of asking for and receiving affirmative consent before and throughout sexual activity. It is the 1st sexual consent app that I believe to be progressive and invaluable when it comes to ending the He Said/She Said. A line of communication has been opened up between a guy and a girl resulting in consent.

Drink Safe offers the option to guard your own drink by either using their Drink Safe Coaster or Test Kit which detects GHB and Ketamine the most commonly used date rape drugs. It was featured on The Today Show for Spring Break safety. Since my personal story of sexual assault began with a drugged drink I can't express what a lifesaver these tools can be in the prevention of sexual violence.

Charm Safe is also a mobile phone app yet with technology that allows the user to stay connected for quick access to help and support when needed. Their mission is "to empower women to explore the world and connect with people in a safer way." In my opinion it's like having an invisible Buddy. No woman should fear going out and having a good time and this tool provides piece of mind.

Sexual Assault awareness and prevention tools have come a long way in just a few years. They are fulfilling a need we all wished there wasn't but it's all about one less victim.

Click on the links provided below to learn more and support them if you decided to do so.

Good2Go - Mobile Phone App

Drink Safe Technologies - Date Rape Drug Detection

CharmSafe - Mobile Phone App

Monday, January 19, 2015

Volunteerism and Healing

This post was inspired by the Martin Luther King Jr holiday and implementation of a Day of Service. In my early 30's I began volunteering shortly after the death of Princess Diana. I admired her for true courage and bravery as a woman who put her flaws out there for the world to see and strength it took to stand up to a powerful royal family on how she wanted to raise her children and live her life. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic and crisis she went to Africa to visit the infected people. Just weeks after her death in 1997 I decided to honor Princess Diana's memory by signing up to volunteer after approaching a booth at a Fitness & Health Expo. I could have volunteered anywhere but my mother had many gay friends and at the time knew of some who lost their battle with the evil disease that was AIDS so I chose an HIV testing clinic. I spent 2 1/2 years at the Clinic just one evening a week until I took a new job that wouldn't allow me those hours. The staff there was so appreciative and for me it took little time out of my day to offer and I loved working with them and meeting all the people who came in to be tested. 

Fast forward to the Spring of 2009. I had spent the past 3 1/2 years going through the legal process and rape crisis counseling as a result of my being drugged and raped by Jeffrey Marsalis. He had now been sentenced to 21 years in a PA prison for Sexual Assault and Life in an ID prison for rape to be serviced consecutively. I was nearing the completion of my counseling and feeling mentally healthy. I now had a lot of free time on my hands since it wouldn't be taken up by going to court and therapy sessions not to mention I had the free time emotionally to add something like volunteering to my life. I had a few ideas as to what kind of work I wanted to do which was with children in some capacity. I had yet to be married and no children so this would be a way to spend time with and help them all at the same time. I did some research on global volunteer organizations because I am a travel junkie and liked the idea of traveling to countries where they are less fortunate than we are in terms of education, infrastructure, medicine, etc. I then researched Big Brothers Big Sisters as my brother benefited from them when he was a child. We grew up without a father and his Big Brother was a great addition to my brother's life. I also called my friend Renee to ask her about Make-A-Wish because she had been a wish grantor for them a few years earlier and told me about her positive experiences. After a few weeks of weighing all my options I finally narrowed it down to Make-A-Wish and started the process right away. Within 6 months I had not only completed the paperwork, background check and training but was volunteering at the annual Walk For Wishes fundraiser and assigned my mentor at the event. Just weeks after the event I was a full fledged volunteer Wish Grantor and leading wishes. 

Moving to California in 2013 didn't change anything either. I reached out to the Make-A-Wish LA chapter and began the process of transferring before I even got out here. They welcomed me with open arms. I attended the training, as each chapter does things a little differently, worked the Walk For Wishes and finally started granting West Coast wishes. Later today I will be meeting another volunteer and we will be attending a Wish Reveal for a very special young teenage girl.

Many victims of sexual assault end up giving back in some way such as becoming advocates or working the hotline at a rape crisis center. I was giving speeches and telling my story to advocates and on colleges campuses as part of awareness and prevention but that wasn't enough to fill up my time and essentially preoccupy my mind away from the subject of sexual assault. Choosing an organization outside of rape and sexual assault gave my brain the availability to heal in other ways. It was rewarding on multiple levels but it also allowed me to not think about me. I was tired of being inside myself all the time. The trials and counseling were all about me and while a victim is healing from a recent trauma that's the way it should be but to move forward in the healing process Life has to go on.

If you ever thought about volunteering today as a National Day of Service is the perfect day to start the process. If you have been through a traumatic event such as date rape or sexual assault and think you're emotionally ready to give your time to someone else today is the perfect day to start the process. Volunteering helped me in so many ways to move past the violence that was inflicted on me. It has become a valuable part of my life and I can't imagine not part of a wonderful organization such as Make-A-Wish. 

To learn more about the MLK National Day of Service or Make-A-Wish I have provided links below.

MLK Day of Service


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Bigger Picture

This past January the University of Virginia announced they would be reinstating the campus fraternity that had been suspended after a Rolling Stone article reported a student was gang raped by member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at a party in 2012. The Charlottesville police investigated the allegations in the article and found "no substantive basis to confirm...the allegations". Then a week later fraternities on campus were allowed to resume social activities on the campus. The school did announce 'New Security Guidelines' are now in place although 3 fraternities said they would not sign on to these guidelines such as Sober Monitors because they have they own security measures.

In light of the most recent news from the Charlottesville Police regarding their investigation results it's so very important not to forget that the Rolling Stone article was quite extensive and uncovered a culture of rape that has been going on for decades. Female students who have come forward in the past experienced mixed message and failures in the university's reporting and punishment systems. This backed up by UVA included in a list of over 80 colleges and universities under investigation for Title XI violations which denies students of their equal rights to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints.

After a thorough investigation by the Columbia University School of Journalism at Rolling Stone's request "Jackie's" claims have been found to be without merit. An apology has been issued by Rolling Stone magazine for their failures and the reporter Sabrina Erdely apologized saying she would not repeat the same mistakes. There are many other female victims who are students of UVA that in the past 20 years who have come forward publicly and spoken out about their campus sexual assaults, the hostility by other students and administrative cover-up. UVA hasn't had a strong feminist culture to support women on campus and up until very recent protests had a very low student attendance for the annual Take Back The Night. Although "Jackie's" story was found to have no merit the reality is there have been many victims of sexual assault on this campus who have not been allowed their voice to be heard or the privilege of due process.

I fear that this particular outcome regarding the fraternities at UVA will overshadow the real issue which is part of a much bigger picture. This university has a lot of work to do when supporting sexual assault victims after they report an attack and to change a culture and objectification of their female students pertaining to their reputation as a "party" school all the way down to the vulgar fight song. Ultimately the Rolling Stone article put a spotlight on what UVA hoped would remain on their quiet southern campus.

As a footnote I would like to add that I have a connection to Sabrina Rubin Erdely. In 2008 she wrote "The Crime Against Women that No One Understands" appearing in Self Magazine. It was an in-depth report on date rape and my attacker Jeffrey Marsalis and in the days when only the Philadelphia and Idaho local media were interested in the case she brought it into the national spotlight. I was not approached by her to be interviewed for the article but I know a few of the women who participated. Ms. Erdely made mistakes with the Rolling Stone article A Rape on Campus but accurately reported on the crimes committed by and victims of serial date rapist Jeffrey Marsalis. I will be forever grateful to her for that reason.

Today Show Report
UVA reinstates fraternity at center of Rape claims

Charlottesville Police Unable to Confirm Fraternity Rape

Wall Street Journal Article
Rolling Stone Retracts UVA Rape Story

Rolling Stone Article
A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA

Self Magazine Article
The Crime Against Women That No One Understands

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tell The World

In December I was contacted through my website by a musician/hip hop artist & activist regarding a new project that he was working on speaking out against sexual assault. His name is Rob Hustle, he had a few questions and asked if I would be willing to speak to him. He also included a link to his YouTube video of the last project on police brutality. I watched the video and liked his music and then emailed him as I was curious about the next project and how I could be of help.

We connected over the phone the next day and began chatting about what inspired him to take on sexual assault awareness. Rob received a message from a rape victim who had seen his YouTube video. She was raped by a police office 6 months earlier and followed through with a rape kit and reporting of the assault only to be told that she would be the one charged if she didn't drop her suit against the city. Rob's video about the abuse of power by the police was similar to what this victim had experienced and she not only wanted to share her story with him but also her support of his endeavors. He was immediately affected by what he read feeling sad for what the victim had experienced then angry at those who would get away with it. But instead of moving on he decided to fight back and do something about it by making this his next project. 

I have met so many compassionate people over the years since my sexual assault and I'm always so humbled by those with no personal connection yet still supportive of me as a victim and survivor. Rob Hustle is another one. He reached out to me because of my experience with speaking out and advocacy work for date rape and sexual assault victims and survivors. Because this was all new to him he wanted to know which organizations to contact, what, if any, response he would get from victims and survivors and was he on the right track with his ideas. I was so impressed by Rob and what he was doing I let him know that and told him I would fully support the project in whatever way he needed me to.

The website is now complete and in it is his inspiration for the project, the three parts to the project and how victims and survivors can get involved and participate.

Below is a link to the website that I hope you will review and share with as many as you can. A victim's voice is the most powerful thing they have so let's give all victims the power they deserve even those who have yet to speak out.

Tell The World

UPDATE: Rob was contacted by the talented ladies of the Vagina Chronicles Podcast and asked if any of the Project Advisers would be willing to do their show. They so generously allowed me to tell my story of date rape and healing and provide their listeners with all the Tell The World details as well. I have included a link to their podcast with my interview.

The Vagina Chronicles Podcast