It all started in the summer before my senior year in high school. Prior to living in DC, I had attended a public school in CT and I went back for a summer to work as a legal intern in a family friend’s local law firm.
Over the course of 2 months I gained in-depth experience about what goes into sexual assault cases; what one should do when it happens, where to go, and the legal grounds on which individuals can pursue justice against an offender. I even helped settle a case on behalf of a woman in her 40s who was pursuing action against her parents for childhood abuse. It was the first time I was truly exposed to what was going on behind closed doors. Frankly, it seemed like something straight out of a nightmare — but this time it was real. The job taught me a lot, and made me passionate about doing whatever I could to help individuals like this woman regain control over their lives, as well as face their fears with the support of lawyers who believed them.
Toward the end of this internship, a close childhood friend of mine, who was on his way to play D1 football, broke down one afternoon when we were hanging out. He told me his cross-fitness trainer was stretching him out and then molested him. I was shocked because here was a guy I consider to be completely invulnerable to this kind of attack totally disarmed by a gym owner (who, by the way, was ex-military, involved with steroids, and possessed multiple firearms). My friend left the gym that day in a hurry and while he was telling me his story, we could see texts coming in from the offender in an effort to gage his own risk.
I immediately offered to help my friend in any way I could, and was able to put some of my newly gained knowledge from the law firm to use. I informed my friend not only of his legal rights, but of the importance of reporting the crime so this man could not take advantage of someone else. He agreed, and the day went on…
Later that night we went to a graduation party. There were a ton of kids I had grown up with since kindergarten, had played football and lacrosse with. We all knew each other very well. My friend decided to speak out about what happened to him. As he spoke about his experience, others began to open up about attacks they had also suffered. There were about 10 others…
At this point, there was no shame or stigma in the room, only support for the victims. I just stood there looking at everyone thinking “holy shit… these kids clearly trust each other, but no one said a word about what had happened to them up until now. That’s how this continued to happen.”
When my friend spoke out about what happened to him there was immediate and unanimous consent to take action against the local cross-fitness trainer. I couldn’t believe how quickly things escalated. Back at the firm I was hoping to bring them all in as clients, and was actively collecting any evidence I could find which could strengthen my friends’ collective cases. However, they needed to want to pursue action. The police met with this perpetrator, who was missing from his house along with his guns. Shortly after there was a call to the police that there was a man with a gun at a local community college. He was immediately intercepted. After 7 hours of negotiating, and eventually shooting the man with rubber bullets, he ultimately took the cowardly way out. I didn’t even know what to say at this point, but the reality was my friends’ families no longer needed police to be sitting outside of their homes in case the guy was going after them in retaliation.
Objectively, over that summer I learned what sexual assault, rape, and harassment was in its purest legal form. I applied this knowledge to my personal life by helping my friends deal with a very real and traumatic situation in their lives. It wasn’t until college, though, that I felt guilty. The advice I’d given my friends, specifically regarding the high likelihood of offenders repeating their attacks on other victims and how early reporting is key to break the cycle, I realized I hadn’t taken this advice for myself. This was good advice, so I decided to share my story. When I was very young I was sexually assaulted by one of my best friend’s older brothers. I had just gone next door to pick up some sports equipment that I left in their garage. Back then I was very naive and didn’t really understand what happened. Looking back, the vast difference in age tells me this was a horrendous act by a vulgar person. Who could possibly think to prey on little kids like that. Surely someone twisted enough to do it again.
I was studying neuroscience and computer science at the time and still couldn’t understand how I personally failed to recognize my own attack. I hadn’t thought of myself as a victim even after all I had been exposed to. The one time I ever brought it up with my best friend, the response I got was, “my brother would never do that to anyone,” and so I simply buried it as far as I could in my memory.
The thing is though, even if you try to forget a traumatic memory, it’s still with you. You cannot physically remove it from yourself.
I remembered my friends from that summer, I remembered the woman whose case I worked on, and how dispositioned I was to even be able to help other people who endure trauma, pain, and suffering from their own experiences with offenders. I called my lawyer the next day and am currently in the middle of pursuing legal action against this individual who robbed me of a childhood.
I realized very quickly that the real world is failing survivors. This was not a world I wanted to live in, and I knew things had to change fundamentally. The statistics showed how few of these incidents get reported, let alone play out successfully in court. I wanted to find a solution to this issue, so I turned back to what I was good at. I began extensive research to find out what was known, what was unknown, where we needed to be and how to best use the tools we have to get there.
This need for a solution is why I started JDoe, which stands for John or Jane Doe. I wanted to provide a safe place for survivors to pursue justice together just like my friends had. The reality is that approximately 90% of offenders are known by their victims, and the vast majority of offenders are repeat offenders. It’s been a long time coming, and will continue to take a lot of work, but I really think we have the capacity to prevent future generations from having to go through this again.
I don’t know if I would have had the courage to pursue this venture if it weren’t for Cliff Boro, who after one meeting told me this: “I believe in you, I believe in your company. When can you start?” It was exactly what I needed to hear. I was going to build a solution that could reach a billion survivors of sexual violence that is safe and anonymous, while holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. All I know is that change and strength starts with us, and together we can take on those who think it’s okay to prey on the vulnerable —
Here is a link about the gym owner: http://www.theday.com/article/20130316/NWS01/303169974
Disclaimer: I originally posted this to Facebook on October 17th, 2017, however, a medium post also seems beneficial as it’s important to have context in understanding why we are bringing JDoe to life.