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Jane Doe No More: The fight against rape

by Sara James, Dateline correspondent

Jane Doe. Over my years as a reporter, I've read countless police reports about her, and always found that spare, staccato pseudonym doesn't do her justice. Is her real name Melanie or Janice or Grace?  Because behind that fig leaf of anonymity, there is a real woman: A woman whose life changed in an instant, a woman who has been subjected to violence, terror and heartache.  

The name and the anonymity are meant to protect, as a sort of verbal shield.  But sometimes it's necessary to put down a shield to fight a battle. At least, that was the case for one woman  we met.  She was a woman ready to reclaim her identity. To be Jane Doe No More. A woman named Donna Palomba.

When I met Donna at lunch a couple of years ago, I was impressed. She's a warm, dynamic woman, successful in business and clearly devoted to her husband and children. But I was also struck by her natural reserve.  She's clearly a very private person.  So why choose to go public? Why tell her story on television?  Why start a Web site called "Jane Doe No More"? 
The reasons couldn't be more obvious. Strong as she is, Donna knows firsthand how devastating it is to be raped. She also knows that the aftermath -- the police, hospital, court system -- can be another ordeal. Strong as she is, she acknowledges she could have used assistance, both in coping with the emotional fallout of her attack, as well as negotiating the complicated legal labyrinth.  Donna's goal -- like most good ideas -- is both deceptively simple and potentially far-reaching.  She wants to reach the other Jane Does.  Give them the support they need.  Remind them that, while they may choose to stay anonymous, which is just fine, they shouldn't feel they must.  After all, they did nothing wrong.   They were victims of crime.   

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Since 2007, Donna has addressed thousands of people - students, law enforcement and social service professionals.  Jane Doe No More, through janedoenomore.org, has reached tens of thousands more. And every day Donna feels more certain that going public was not just the right thing to do - it was the only thing she could do to help change the way society treats sexual assault victims. 

I remember a day when it was difficult to talk about breast cancer because no one wanted to mention the word "breast" in public.  These days, no one thinks twice.  I hope the day will come when no woman feels any shame about rape.  Perhaps then, there will indeed be Jane Doe No More.

Click here to see Sara James' report, "The Man Behind the Mask."