Story By John Murray
Donna Palomba continues to fight back.
This time it’s not against a masked rapist, two incompetent Waterbury police officers, or an insensitive newspaper; now Palomba and her Jane Doe No More organization are taking on modern American society, and its response to sexual assault.
Palomba survived an horrific sexual assault in September 1993 when a masked intruder broke into her Waterbury home and raped her at gun point. Eleven years later the case was solved by then Waterbury police chief, Neil O’Leary. The rapist was a family friend, John Regan, who knew that Donna’s husband, John Palomba, was out of state attending a wedding.
The bizarre case drew national attention when NBC Dateline aired a two hour special on the crime entitled “The Man Behind The Mask”, in April 2007. Up until the airing of the Dateline show Palomba had been referred to as “Jane Doe” in legal documents, and in media reports about the crime. By stepping out on national television, Donna Palomba became Jane Doe No More, and she announced the formation of her non-profit organization on the Dateline show.
At first the organization was a powerful web site that steered visitors towards help and healing, In its fourth year now, Jane Doe No More is starting to flex some muscle.
“We are growing up,” Palomba said.
Jane Doe No More is no longer just Donna Palomba. Fourteen other sexual assault survivors are now in training to become spokespersons for Jane Doe No More. The group formed a class in March and is learning about public speaking and how to effectively share their own stories.
“We are building a brand,” Palomba said. “These 14 individuals reached out to us, and one woman drives from Philadelphia each month to attend the training.”
Eventually, Palomba envisions a small army of sexual assault survivors speaking out on behalf of Jane Doe No More.
“Jane Doe is not just one voice,” Palomba said, “it’s all of us. Victims become survivors, and then we become empowered. Jane Doe is more than an organization, it is a movement.”
Palomba’s organization teamed up with East Coast Training Systems, owned by Waterbury firefighter Drew Serrano, to run “Escape Alive” self defense courses throughout the northeast.
After a jogger was raped in West Hartford last November, Palomba and Serrano offered an “Escape Alive” course at Hot Tomatoes restaurant in Hartford.
“After the attack women were scared to death to go running,” Palomba said. “The self defense class at Hot Tomatoes was astounding. We had 430 women show up. It was wild.”
Jane Doe No More also teamed up with Mom & Pop Films of Easton, CT and Quinnipiac University to develop ‘Duty Trumps Doubt’, an 8 minute roll call video for law enforcement. The mission of the video was to increase sensitivity around the often misunderstood and under-reported crime of sexual assault.
Duty Trumps Doubt debuted at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Orlando in October 2010, and to date, Jane Doe No More has given away over 1500 free DVDs to police departments across the country.
“It is our goal to create a series of videos for law enforcement and the public to improve the way society responds to victims of sexual assault,” Palomba said.
The response from law enforcement has been positive.
• The Executive Director of Connecticut’s Police Officer Standards and Training, Thomas Flaherty, wrote the video was “very effective. The message is strong, clear and graphic.”
• Jim Peschong, the assistant chief of police in Lincoln, Nebraska wrote, “The video is right on point. How we initially conduct business as a police officer and as a person will have a lasting effect on the victim, on the crime scene, the prosecution and ultimately on the perception of the police. The video provides a very important message that we can all learn from even after being involved in the law enforcement profession for over 35 years.”
• Craig Miller, the deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department wrote of the video that it was, “very powerful and very personal. It is a reminder to officers that the victims are real people experiencing real pain.”
But the video, self-defense courses and spokesperson training classes are hardly the only things in the works at Jane Doe No More. Palomba has traveled across the country for speaking engagements in Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and all across Connecticut.
Later this month Jane Doe No More is embarking on its first corporate campaign.
“We are grateful to Rick Caswell, the CFO at Sikorsky who has agreed to chair our campaign, and for the Sikorsky Finance Women’s Forum for their incredible support and for choosing Jane Doe No More as their priority charity,” Palomba said. “We have expenses and the more money we can raise the more impact we can have producing more training videos for law enforcement, for medical professionals and for families of the survivors.”
On March 18th Jane Doe No More presented The 2nd Annual Henry C. Lee Award & Recognition Dinner and honored Susan Herman, author of “Parallel Justice For Victims of Crime”, Neil O’Leary, for solving the rape case and his work on the Jane Doe No More board of directors, Didi and Richard Dobbs, for volunteering to create the training video, and Rebecca Abbott, for her assistance in using Quinnipiac University students and facilities in filming and editing “Duty Trumps Doubt.”
On October 15th, 2011, Jane Doe No More is partnering with the ING Hartford Marathon to “End the Silence”. Any runner who names Jane Doe No More as the beneficiary of a 5K, half marathon or full marathon run will be helping to improve the way society responds to victims of sexual assault.
“We have a lot going on,” Palomba said, “and it’s just going to get bigger and better.”
Palomba has an office at NVCC that serves as headquarters for Jane Doe No More, which now has more than 100 volunteers and scores of college interns.
“My story is just one of thousands,” Palomba said. “By sharing my story in such a public way it seems to have helped other survivors share their story. It lets us take back the control we lost in the attacks.”
Palomba spends all her time now working on Jane Doe No More. “I feel more in control than I ever have in my life,” she said. “I have found meaning to the horror.”
How long will she Palomba focus on Jane Doe No More?
“Forever,” she laughed. “I’ve found my calling.”
For more information go to www.janedoenomore.org