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

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.