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10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years

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It seems impossible that we are celebrating Jane Doe No More’s 10th Anniversary in 2017.  It was my personal experience with sexual violence and revictimization that gave birth to our organization.  However, over the years, we have become a message of hope for so many and I have come to realize that the resilience in my desire to help myself and others has become my divine calling – God’s plan for my life.

I have come to know that we learn the most from our greatest challenges.  I have learned to honor the value of taking risks, staying true to my faith, finding the courage to face my fears, and embracing my failures.  I have even come to recognize that a painful memory, triggered by a sound, a smell or an image, serves to fuel my passion for staying strong in our mission to end the silence around sexual violence.

I’m sharing my “Top 10” in hopes they touch your heart in some way

  1. Sexual violence is the MOST misunderstood and under-reported crime in the world.
  2. Sexual violence is far more prevalent than I could have ever imagined.
  3. Hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual violence are suffering in silence at this moment, reaching them can save their lives.
  4. Sexual violence crimes happen everywhere regardless of race, religion, gender, geography or socio-economic status.
  5. We all have unconscious biases. Education is the answer.  It is imperative that we make everyone aware of the realities and the personal and societal cost of trauma.
  6. First responders play a crucial role. They are not just members of law enforcement, they are firefighters, EMTs, medical professionals, legal professionals, teachers, family and friends who are the first to learn of the assault.
  7. The desire to be heard, believed and reassured that it was not their fault is what a victim needs first, foremost and always. No more shame. No more blame. No more fear.
  8. Truth is powerful. For survivors, coming forward and sharing their story is healing and empowering. It provides an opportunity to take back control while reaching other victims and educating society. #voice2change
  9. While the trauma of sexual violence may never go away, you have a choice in how to move forward. I choose love. I choose hope. I choose to make a difference.
  10. In order to help ourselves and others, we must practice self-care and nurture our minds, bodies and souls.

As Jane Do No More celebrates this important year I am filled with gratitude for the hundreds of people that share my passion to make a difference. I hope you will join us at one of the many activities that advance prevention and serve to help us liberate victims and our society from the tragedies of sexual violence.

 

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New Beginnings 2015

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Wow, what a year! 2014 was transformational in so many ways. The conversation about sexual violence has never been stronger underscoring the importance of our mission. I have witnessed the aftermath and looked in the eyes of far too many victims in pain. I have also been blessed to witness their healing when they realize there is help and they are not alone. We are in the midst of a sea change; powerful perpetrators can no longer hide and victims are becoming strong survivors who will no longer be silenced.

I look forward with renewed passion to further these important breakthroughs in our life-changing work. I am mindful that we could never do what we do without your love and support. To my dear family, friends, volunteers and donors, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

May 2015 bring more understanding, less ignorance; more healing, less victim-blaming; more light, less darkness; more humanity, less silence, more joy and less fear.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy new year.

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Erin's Law Passes in Connecticut

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Erin's Law passed in Connecticut on the last day of this legislative session. Erin Merryn was sexually abused as a child, beginning at age 6, first by a friend’s uncle, and a few years later by a family member she loved and trusted. Erin went from a strong, resilient, happy young child to an angry, hate-filled, self-destructive teenager and young adult. As a child Erin never learned about unsafe touch and was never taught to speak up and tell. She was threatened into silence by her perpetrator.

I had the privilege of meeting Erin in March when Jane Doe No More honored her with the Dr. Henry C. Lee Award. After years of suffering, self-doubt and shame, Erin reclaimed her voice and is now on a crusade to make sure every child has the ability to use their voice. Connecticut is the 14th state in the country to pass Erin’s Law.

Congratulations to Erin and everyone involved in getting Erin’s Law, CT Senate Bill 203 passed. You have a friend and ally in me and Jane Doe No More.

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2014

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a time for reflection. More and more survivors of sexual assault are stepping out of the shadows and relinquishing their ‘Jane Doe’ and ‘John Doe’ status. I vividly remember the day I came forward publicly on national television in a live interview with Meredith Vieira on April 27, 2007. It was a big step and one that I knew would change things forever, and I was ready. I had just launched Jane Doe No More, a charity born out of my personal experience and desire to improve the way society responds to victims of sexual assault.

Now, almost 7 years later, our mission is as important as ever. We are growing in strength and numbers and breaking the stigmas that permeate the rape culture of victim blaming and perpetrator entitlement. We are taking our power back and letting other victims know that they are not to blame, it is not their fault, and they are not alone. And there is much more to be done.

More and more survivors of sexual assault are revealing their names and letting their voices be heard. Some have taken to social media to tell their story, others, like myself, that have experienced re-victimization are coming forward and taking legal action in an effort to make things better for the future. Whether you are a survivor, family member, friend, or advocate, we invite you to participate in the many activities happening all month long. Check out our Jane Doe No More calendar and our Facebook page to learn more.

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Federal and Connecticut Action Regarding Rape and Sexual Assault

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Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action. That is the title of the report issued this month by the White House Council on Women and Girls.

The epidemic of rape and the associated culture of indifference, entitlement and misdirected blame of sexual assault victims remains ever-present in our society today. The good news is that more women and men have the courage to stand up and say NO MORE. It is time that we break the stigmas that surround this crime and hold the real perpetrators accountable.

Deeply troubling is the statistic in the report of a study that found that of the male college students who admitted to committing acts of rape or attempted rape, nearly 63% said they committed an average of six rapes each. Couple that with the study in 2010 by the Department of Justice that 95% of college rapes go unreported and everyone can see why a renewed call to action is urgent.

The time for action is now and Connecticut is responding. I was at a press conference yesterday in Hartford to support new legislation to expand our current law to align with the recently passed federal Campus SaVE Act (Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act) and require that all of our institutions of higher education commit the time and resources necessary to implement best practices in victim-centered response and prevention education and training.

Join Jane Doe No More as we work to improve the way society responds to victims of sexual assault through education, awareness, advocacy and support. And let your voice be heard; this Tuesday February 4, 2014 is ‘Time to Talk’ Day. Together we are making a difference.

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Positive Thoughts for a Fresh New Year

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What will 2014 bring? I am reminded of a great quote by Henry Ford; “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”  So much of what we set out to do is dependent upon our mindset.

I have seen too many people bring those around them down with their doom and gloom attitude and stories of woe. How refreshing it would be if before we spoke we thought for a moment about how it is going to make the other person feel, and chose to say only something that will lift the other person up.

Of course there will be times when we need to share bad news or have a healthy discussion about something we disagree on. But no matter how difficult the topic, we can always choose to think first and speak from a place of compassion and understanding. Can you imagine the progress that could be made!

I am starting the new year renewed, refreshed and ready to cherish each day and do all I can to make this world a better place. So in the bone-chilling days of January why not wrap yourself in positive thought and join me in spreading love and warmth. I think you can.

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Reflections on 2013

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As we close in on the end of 2013 and I reflect back on this year, I am struck by the ever-present contrasts of good and evil. None of us will ever forget that fateful day one year ago when a young gunman took 26 precious lives in a mater of minutes. This year the families of the victims have asked us all to participate in a week where acts of kindness abound.

What a wonderful way to pay tribute to the victims and get us all in the holiday spirit! Teachers and students from a high school in Attleboro, Massachusetts have put forth a challenge to perform 26 acts of kindness and even offers a list of suggestions to help get started. Bravo! The world is in dire need of more kindness, more compassion and understanding and greater concern for one another. Together we can make the season bright with hope for a better tomorrow.

Wishing you peace, love and joy this holiday season and always.

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Federal Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Against UCONN

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When a victim of sexual assault says ‘I regret ever reporting it’ there is something terribly wrong with the process. 7 young women, all current or past students of UCONN came forward with their attorney and filed a federal complaint stating their civil rights under Title IX have been violated. Each woman’s complaint has striking similarities of being treated with indifference and in some cases downright contempt.

On Friday, November 1st 4 of the 7 women filed a federal sex discrimination lawsuit in Hartford against the university for how it handled complaints of their rapes and sexual assaults in the hopes of creating much needed change.

I am proud of these courageous women and Jane Doe No More stands ready to support them in their efforts. Our mission is to improve the way society responds to victims of sexual assault through education, awareness, advocacy and support. No more shame. No more blame. No more fear.

Please help us further our mission by making an end-of-year online donation on November 12 and 13 via GiveLocalCCF.org. During this 36 hour campaign,

100% of your donation will be bolstered with matching funds from local sponsors. It is a wonderful way to maximize your donation. Thank you for your help.

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Stereotypes and Young Male Sexual Abuse

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Let’s face it—stereotypes are a part of our world. That’s why most little girls play with dolls and most little boys play with cars and trucks. Boys are raised to be strong and tough, to fight their own battles, and look out for their siblings and friends.

But who is looking out for them when they are preyed upon by someone they trust? Boys are still children – often weaker and certainly more vulnerable than their perpetrators. And perpetrators often exercise their position of authority, using resources such as money, bribes, or threats - to use the boy for sexual purposes.

Strong scientific evidence points to the fact that one in six boys will have experienced sexual abuse before age 16. This ugly fact is shared by 17 million American men. It is so important to let them know that they are not alone and it is not their fault.

I have had the privilege of meeting incredible survivors of male sexual abuse who have become part of our Jane Doe No More family and I am proud to call them my friends. During the month of October we will be addressing male sexual assault on Facebook and we invite you to join the conversation.

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Child Sexual Abuse and the Importance of Strong Communication

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What could be more precious than a child? For me, just seeing a baby or a toddler immediately lifts my spirits and brings me joy. It is hard to imagine that anyone would want to harm them. Yet statistics show that more than 3 million children are the victims of child sexual abuse. Deeply troubling is the fact that the perpetrators are most likely family members or someone that the child knows and trusts.

Understandably, children often don’t know what to do, or who to go to for help, and most struggle alone. It is a terrible weight to bear. Children that suffer in silence may appear withdrawn and display regressive behaviors (such as a return to thumb-sucking or bed-wetting), sleep disturbances, eating problems, and behavior and performance problems at school.

It is critical to develop strong communication skills with your children so they feel comfortable talking to you about anything. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Let them know the difference between good touch and bad touch and that no one should touch the ‘private parts’ of their body. Throughout the month of September we will be posting important information about child sexual abuse on our Jane Doe No More Facebook page. We invite you to join the conversation.

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Safety Starts with Knowledge

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The heightened terrorist alert now in progress underscores the vulnerability that all of us living in this uncertain world face. Government officials are working feverishly to gain more knowledge of the potential attacks and 19 embassies have been ordered closed as a result. "This is the most serious threat I’ve seen in the last several years," Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said yesterday.

How do we protect our loved ones and ourselves? Safety first. We are dedicated to creating awareness about the crime of sexual assault and it begins with knowledge. Many young people are headed off to college and will be living away from home for the first time. All month long on Facebook we will be discussing ways that you and your loved ones can stay safe. Wishing all those headed off to school a year filled with wonderful experiences. Have fun and be safe.

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Addressing Sexual Assault in the Military

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This month, on our Jane Doe No More facebook page, we have been addressing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. It is our hope that by raising awareness the need for dramatic change will be exposed and a corrective plan of action will begin. Currently the military justice system is so inadequate and so dysfunctional that most victims are too intimidated to come forward.

Thank goodness for Senator Kristen Gillibrand, for spearheading the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee to tackle the issue. Last month Gillibrand proposed a thoughtful plan that passed with bi-partisan support that included removing the handling of sexual assault crimes from the chain of command. However, a day later, Carl Levin used his power as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee to counter with his own plan that leaves the handling of sexual assault crimes within the chain of command. This is simply not good enough. We must let our collective voices be heard. Let’s give our brave men and women in uniform the protection they need from sexual predators and let these cases be handled outside of the chain of command by an independent, unbiased military prosecutor.

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Relaxing with the Help of Nature

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Happy Summer! I was sitting outside last night enjoying the summer solstice and beautiful sunset. And this weekend we are treated to the biggest, brightest moon of the year; the 2013 supermoon.

With all the craziness of our busy schedules we often lose track of the beauty that surrounds us in nature. For many of us, especially survivors of sexual assault, anxiety is a battle. For me, just being outside and taking the time to really appreciate the world around me helps me unwind and put things in perspective. I do my best thinking when I am outside walking, jogging, working in the garden or just relaxing. Nature has a way of awakening our senses and stimulating our brains.

Stay safe and get out there and unwind and enjoy — you deserve it!

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Protecting Victims Through Parallel Justice

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One day you are going along with your daily routine and in an instant your life changes. Someone takes control of you against your will. They damage your mind, body and spirit in a personal and deeply invasive attack. You are the victim of a sexual assault. What obligation do those sworn to protect and serve have in helping you recover and in protecting you from further harm? What is society's obligation to you as you work to restore your health and rebuild your life? You may be astounded to learn that in most states in this country, there is very little obligation to victims of violent crime.

Consider this: There are over 400,000 untested rape kits containing DNA evidence sitting on shelves in this country that span decades; the Pentagon reported that an estimated 26,000 people in our military were sexually assaulted in 2012, yet few reported for fear of reprisal; in recent weeks three high-ranking military officers in charge of sexual assault prevention were, themselves, charged with assault or harassment.

These staggering statistics shine a light on a culture of neglect and disregard toward victims of sexual assault that absolutely needs to change. Without regard for the victim, there can be no justice.

During the month of June we will be addressing the proven concept of Parallel Justice, a process that requires mandated efforts on behalf of victims. Be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter posts and share with your friends. The recent news underscores the importance of all states and the military to incorporate this critical process.

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Staying Vigilant, Even in Your Neighborhood

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The time is now! The series of violent events over the past several months have shaken many of us. It seems just when things can’t get any scarier or crazier, a new story breaks. The three young girls abducted and held captive for 10 years by one man in Ohio is the latest travesty. What is going on? The greatest county on the planet has seen some very dark days. There are many predators that live among us. Unfortunately, they don’t have special markings; there is nothing to distinguish many of them from their well-intentioned neighbor.

We must all take it upon ourselves to be more vigilant, law enforcement cannot be everywhere and let’s face it; the only one who is physically with us all the time is us. We need to think differently and carefully about where we are and who we are with. Sure, it’s a sad statement that it has come to this, but the age of innocence is over. Together we can and must work together to stop the carnage. In closing, I want to share the provocative op-ed piece my dear friend Lisa Wexler wrote for the Hartford Courant. Lisa Wexler is a talk radio host on WFAS-AM, a lawyer, author and Jane Doe No More Advisory Board Member.

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Goodness Prevails in Boston

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Amid the devastation and horror in this week’s terror attack in Boston emerged selfless acts of compassion and caring. We witnessed glimpses of what this great country is all about. In an instant, people opened their homes, removed clothing to serve as tourniquets to help the injured, and, at their own peril, ran to help others.

Strangers became friends in a defining moment that brought them together forever. In the face of evil, goodness prevailed. If only we can harness that goodness to take a stance against evil and violence of every kind. Listen to a friend in need; confront a bully; console a neighbor; hug your child. Each day is a gift and for some, tomorrow will never come. Make each day count.

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Tips for Protecting Ourselves in Uncertainty

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We live in an uncertain world in an uncertain time. As I write this, there is a serial rapist at large in the Lake Highlands area of Dallas, Texas. The DNA evidence collected from three separate victims, all from the same area, is consistent with one perpetrator. And his DNA does not match anything currently in the national DNA database called CODIS.

Despite a massive increase in resources, police have not made an arrest. As you could imagine, the people in this community are very concerned and skittish. Besides being vigilant, there are things that all of us can do to protect our loved ones and ourselves.

M. William Phelps, crime expert, author and star of the series Dark Minds on Investigation Discovery speaks about the mindset of a serial rapist and offers some simple but important precautions that all of us should be mindful of. You can check out the article and listen to his interview here. I had the pleasure of collaborating with M. William Phelps on the book Jane Doe No More published in the fall of 2012.

For those of you in the Connecticut area, Jane Doe No More is offering free self-defense classes for women and girls 15 and older. Please check our calendar and register for an Escape Alive Self-Defense class near you.

Enjoy the holiday weekend and be safe.

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Faces and Voices of Survivors

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The sun is streaming in on this beautiful March morning and while my yard is heavy laden with snow I know there will soon be a transformation to croquis and daffodils sprouting their heads to let us know spring is here. In much the same way, it is with anticipation of good things to come that I reflect on the many survivors of sexual assault who are now strong and confident individuals.

They are the faces and voices of Jane Doe No More and are part of our R.A.P.E. (Raising Awareness through Personal Experience) Outreach Team. Just as each flower is different so are these brave survivors, each willing to use their voice and share their very personal story to help others. This has become an important part of their healing process just as it has mine. No more shame. No more blame. No more fear.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the kick-off of our Faces and Voices Campaign. I hope you will enjoy getting to know the many survivors that will be featured on our website, in print, and through social media and find comfort and inspiration in their words. Please share this powerful campaign with your friends and family, you never know whom you may touch and just how important it might be for them to hear.

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The Invisible War Spotlights Sexual Assault in the Military

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The media is buzzing about the much anticipated 85th Academy Awards ceremony that airs tomorrow night. For weeks, it seems everywhere I turn I hear about the movies and the actors that have been nominated to win Hollywood’s elusive golden boy, Oscar. And there are some extraordinarily well-done movies this year. After all, we are in the doldrums of winter and as I sit here nursing a cold it is kind of fun to think about the excitement of this festive evening. It is not ‘what’ but ‘who’ will the actresses be wearing. I read that female stars on average try on 25 to 40 gowns before making their selection! And the designer that is fortunate to have his or her gown worn by a celebrity is launched forever.

Morning shows offer viewers suggestions on hosting your own ‘Oscar party’ from décor to food to favors. Lets face it, it’s fun to escape for a while and enjoy the fanfare and the glamour of the red carpet.

This year, I will be watching the documentary film category with particular interest. The provocative film “The Invisible War” directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering dares to highlight sexual assault in the military. "Every time there's more attention to this issue, there's more activity in Washington," said the director to Martha Raddatz at ABC news. "We made this film because we wanted to change things...we wanted the military to do what [it needs] to do to protect the men and women who are protecting us."  Whether “The Invisible War” walks away with an Oscar tomorrow or not, it deserves high praise for putting a spotlight on this all-to-often concealed war. Dick and Ziering, I salute you.

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