Quiet Corner college to host 'Jane Doe No More' panel on sexual assault

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They are "Jane Does" no longer.

Three women, including Dylan Farrow, will take the stage at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson next Monday and talk about being sexually assaulted. They'll answer questions that audience members submit on index cards, and if someone in the audience wants to disclose they have been abused, crisis counselors and a safe space to talk will be available.

Investigative journalist Andy Thibault organized the timely panel discussion with help from a longtime friend, QVCC's professor of English Jon Andersen. Thibault will serve as moderator for the event, which is at 6 p.m. in the Robert E. Miller Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

"When some aggrieved people gain justice, I think it helps everyone gain justice," Thibault said in a phone interview. "Right now, we're at a turning point in history. It's always important to give a voice to the voiceless, but this particular group is just so extrordinary in their experience, their willpower, and their ability to show the way for others."

Farrow, who says she was sexually assaulted at age 7 by her adoptive father, filmmaker Woody Allen, broke her silence four years ago in a letter that was published in the New York Times. In January 2018, as the #MeToo movement went viral with help from her brother, journalist Ronan Farrow, she did her first television interview on the topic. Ronan Farrow this week won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on producer Harvey Weinstein.

Allen has denied the allegation and was never charged. A prosecutor said there was enough evidence to arrest him, but that Farrow, still a child at the time, was too fragile. Victims of sexual assault are often required to go through a grueling process of testifying about their abuse in front of the accused person and in open court.

Thibault said Farrow is not doing interviews in advance of the event. The other two presenters, Susan Campbell and Donna Palomba, each granted phone interviews Tuesday.

Campbell, a professor of journalism at the University of New Haven and columnist for The Hartford Courant, "let it fly" in an article in the paper's Northeast Magazine in 1993 that her stepfather had sexually assaulted her from age 7 to 13. She wrote a memoir about her life, including the sexual assaults, and published an update for The Courant in November 2017, when many survivors were chiming in to say, #MeToo.

Campbell said it's important for people to know it's up to them if they want to disclose their sexual assault, and that not disclosing it doesn't mean they aren't brave.

"I don't want to make judgment about other peoples' pasts," she said. "I think having people who will get up on the stage and start talking about it gives them license to talk about it, maybe with their loved ones."

Campbell said she doesn't want people to think that people can just step outside of their horrible experience and be "over it." She confronted her stepfather and mother about the abuse, and it was still a couple of years before she could write about it. She went through years of individual and group therapy and read everything she could about incest, because, Campbell said, she didn't want to live half a life.

"I came out on the other side thinking, 'You can be happy,''' she said. "The other important component of this is that I had great therapists who reminded me that my life is mine now. It doesn't belong to them."

Donna Palomba, who was bound, gagged and raped in 1993 by a man who broke into the bedroom of her Waterbury home, works in marketing but found a calling when she emerged from the hellish experience of not being believed, initially. She founded Jane Doe No More, a non-profit education and prevention group.

Her story was featured on a two-hour episode of Dateline NBC called, "The Man Behind the Mask." Sexual assault victims have been traditionally labeled as "Jane Doe" or "John Doe" in order to protect their identities, but Palomba wanted the world to know that she and other victims are real people.

"I was Jane Doe in newspapers and medical documents," she said. "Jane Doe is this nameless, faceless person, but not really a person, so you can't make a personal connection. Every Jane or John Doe is a person with hopes and dreams like everyone else. By coming forward and saying, 'No more,' I'm a real person, Donna Palomba, and this crime can happen to anyone."

Jane Doe No More has done campus events before, called "Take Back The Night," providing students a safe place to talk about their experiences and hear from other survivors. 

"I'm hoping it will show others this crime is real, and we need to do a better job as a society in understanding about it and a better job of understanding victims and letting them know it's not their fault, and there are people who will believe you and you can get through it," she said.

Andersen, the QVCC professor, said the organizers have included a trigger warning that the content of the panel could be emotional. QVCC counselor Satina Salche had arranged for people from the Eastern Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Center and United Services to be on hand, and that a classroom has been designated as a safe space in case people need to withdraw.

"You don't know when people are ready to process traumatic events," Andersen said. "We want to make sure we're here to support our audience. It's pretty exciting and intense and important. The problem of sexual assault is more prevlant in society than some of us in society can admit or want to wrap our minds around even."

Andersen said he admires the speakers for letting people who suffer in silence know there is a community who can help them.



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