Ending the silence

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Jane Doe No More works to raise awareness about rape

Jane Doe No More recently settled into its new office at 203 Church St. in Naugatuck. From left, Executive Director Nora Mason, Administrative Coordinator Carol Wilton, intern Chelsea Vetre, and Donna Palomba, chairman and founder of Jane Doe No More. ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — For 14 years Donna Palomba was Jane Doe.

A victim of a violent sexual assault in 1993 while living in Waterbury, she was the target of allegations of lying by police officers. It wasn’t until 2004 that her assailant was brought to justice.

Palomba’s experience fueled a fire in her to end the silence about rape.

In 2007, she shed the moniker Jane Doe in favor of chairman and founder of Jane Doe No More.

Jane Doe No More is a non-profit organization with a mission of raising awareness about rape and helping victims of sexual assault with their healing process.

“It’s all about breaking the stigma and making it okay to say the word rape,” Palomba said.

Palomba, who now lives in Woodbury, started the organization from her home. Over Jane Doe No More’s five-year existence, the organization has steadily grown.

From Palombo’s home, Jane Doe No More moved to a small office in Naugatuck Valley Community College. Now, through the generosity of a few local attorneys, the organization has found a home at 203 Church St.

“We really bootstrapped right from the beginning. We still have part-time staff but full-time passion,” Palomba said.

As the organization has grown, so has its presence in the state and nationally.

The organization is not a service-oriented one, explained Executive Director Nora Mason. Rather, its focus is on empowering victims of sexual assault and dispelling misconceptions about rape.

“We all need to do a better job of understanding it,” Palomba said.

People think they are immune from sexual assault, Palomba said, and that it doesn’t happen in their neighborhood.

However, Mason said, based on statistics it’s very likely that everyone knows someone who has been a victim of sexual assault.

The organization goes about its mission by reaching out to the community through educational programs, like its Raising Awareness through Personal Experience (R.A.P.E) Outreach Team—a collaboration of sexual assault survivors, law enforcement professionals, victims’ advocates, and volunteers who speak to empower victims of sexual assault who have yet to come forward.

“We’re really trying to give individuals the tools to gain some control back and then go out and help us raise awareness,” Mason said.

“The first step to healing is talking about it,” Palomba added.

A focal point for the organization is college campuses where, statistics show one in four women will be assaulted within the first six weeks of their freshmen year and 95 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

Along with empowering victims to come forward, the organization also works to educate first responders about rape.

The organization, working with Mom & Pop Films of Easton and Quinnipiac University, developed an eight-minute video, “Duty Trumps Doubt.” The video is a roll-call video for law enforcement officers who respond to a sexual assault crime.

The video is not an instructional one, rather Palomba described it as a “powerful reminder” for first responders.

The video features victims along with law enforcement agents discussing their experiences. There are 2,000 copies of the video being used in law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Naugatuck Police Department, Mason said.

Now that Jane Doe No More has found a home in Naugatuck, the organization will look to continue to grow and spread its message of hope and healing.

“We really want to spread the word and let people know we’re here and what our mission is,” Palomba said.

Jane Doe No More is hosting an open house Oct. 13 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at its office, located at 203 Church St. rear. The organization is also one of the designated beneficiary charities of the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 15.

For more information about Jane Doe No More or Donna Palomba’s story, visit www.JaneDoeNoMore.org