February 08, 2016

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Posted in Empowerment, Guest Post Series, Sexual Assault, Survivor Stories, Women's Rights

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Living with Sexual Assault - JoAnn Speaks Out

"There were many missing pieces to the puzzle that night but I decided to put it behind me and move on. Little did I know I was lured by a man who had repeated the routine many times before with many other women/victims."

For 2016, Herbal Papaya is starting a guest post series on issues that mean a lot to us as a company but we feel aren't discussed enough in the public light - not only in the health & wellness realm but in our culture as a whole. We'll be taking you through real stories from survivors and fighters on what it means to be empowering, inspirational, or simply human. 

To start off the series, we've asked JoAnn from JoAnnSpeaksOut to relate to us her painful story of sexual assault and how she turned her story into a positive passion to help others as an advocate for the end of domestic abuse and sexual assault. This is JoAnn's story. 

Living with Sexual Assault - JoAnn Speaks Out


I was sexually assaulted by Jeffrey Marsalis, who stood accused in 3 trials, acquitted in the first, found guilty of 2 counts of sexual assault and a misdemeanor plea in the second and found guilty of rape in the third. He was sentenced to 21 years in a PA prison which he is currently serving and once completed he will serve a life sentence in Idaho. He is described as one of the worst date rapists ever in this country.

In March 2004 I met him on Match.com. We made plans for a Friday night date. During that date he drugged and raped me. After having drinks and conversation he asked if I would like to see the city view from his apartment building rooftop only a few blocks away. I accepted the invitation then we went down to his apartment. I declined another alcoholic drink asking for a soft drink which was the drink he drugged. My only memories are from before the drugged drink and waking up the next morning (about 8 hours later) naked in his bed sicker than I ever had been.

Although I knew I only had a few drinks I just assumed I passed out from too much alcohol. He was nice to me that morning and I was very confused. I struggled to remember anything about the night before but had no recall. There were many missing pieces to the puzzle that night but I decided to put it behind me and move on. Little did I know I was lured by a man who had repeated the routine many times before with many other women/victims. I drove home to spend the rest of my weekend in bed nursing what I thought was just a bad reaction to alcohol but would later find out it was from being drugged with a substance he made himself.

One week before Christmas 2005 I received a call from the Philadelphia DA’s office regarding Jeffrey Marsalis and if I met him on Match.com. During that conversation those missing puzzle pieces were put in place. I was briefly informed of the case against Marsalis and asked if I would give a statement to the police. Three days later I was doing just that to an SVU detective who explained to me the man I had a date with fabricated everything about his life except his name. (He posed as a Doctor, Astronaut and to some a CIA operative.)

The detective further explained to me they were investigating him on numerous date rape charges. He had recently been arrested for rape in Idaho while currently out on bail for an upcoming January 2006 trial (the first 3 women) and a search of his apartment and computer not only came up with my name and profile but other women too, plus, a homemade substance he used as his Date Rape Drug. I was told the DA would contact me going forward about the case. I testified at a preliminary hearing in 2006, he stood trial in 2007 in which I supported the other women in the courtroom during closing arguments and his sentencing later that year. He again stood trial in 2009 and I was asked to and provided a victim's impact statement in which the judge took into account when he sentenced Marsalis to life in prison.

Throughout the trial process I received intensive rape crisis counseling from Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) and was diagnosed and treated with PTSD. Encouraged by my counselor, I began speaking out in 2009, first at a Take Back the Night event. I decided I wanted to give back for all the help and support I had received and speak out in hopes of helping as many I could going forward. This led to telling my story at several East Coast college campuses and to advocate trainees.

Once I moved to LA and began JoAnnSpeaksOut, it became a full-time mission of public speaking and advocacy for date rape and sexual assault. My speaking continued on West Coast college campuses and at special community events along with national television and podcast interviews. Eventually my interest grew to writing a blog telling my story and spreading the message of awareness and prevention on an international scale. In the short time I have been speaking out, it has resulted in an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone I come in contact with and I know I am actually making a difference.

JoAnn Buttaro's is a RAINN Speakers Bureau Member and WMC SheSource Expert. She founded JoAnnSpeaksOut to tell her story as a date raJoAnn Speaks Outpe survivor and communicate her message in a way that can help the most people. You can find her on Twitter at @JoAnnSpeaksOut and her website http://www.joannspeaksout.com to learn more about the cause. 

1 Response

Tracy Stein
Tracy Stein

February 08, 2016

Joann, I so admire how you did not allow this to define who you are. You literally took lemons and made lemonade. You have taken a tragedy and turned it into strength. God bless you.

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