RAINN Partner Spotlight: Maria Trusa, Founder of Yo Digo No Mȧs

In 2020, Maria Trusa founded Yo Digo No Más, a nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness of child sexual abuse, particularly within Latino/a communities. The organization's mission encompasses prevention, education, and providing mental health resources for survivors and their families. Maria, originally from the Dominican Republic, is an accomplished author, entrepreneur, and public speaker based in the New York metropolitan area, known for her philanthropic endeavors. In an interview with RAINN's Senior Content Writer and Strategist, Sierra, Maria's outstanding efforts to combat sexual violence and her partnership with RAINN are spotlighted.

Why are you passionate about ending sexual violence?

When I started Yo Digo No Más and wrote my first book, I didn’t realize that this would be a mission of mine. In retrospect, my first mission started in the healthcare industry; I own a medical center and an urgent care and I have been serving the underserved Latino community where we have over 30,000 patients and about 90% of our patients are Latino. In my mind, that was going to be my life, especially serving the undocumented community.

But when I started Yo Digo No Más, I started hearing from survivors through my speaking engagements that there was an urgency and I needed to take this on. There was no way I could stay sill knowing the prevalence of sexual violence in the nation. It got to the point where I invested my money into Yo Digo No Más because to me, this is an urgent matter and the work is desperately needed.

As a survivor of sexual abuse at the age of 9, I know how detrimental it is for a child to lose their innocence. When we lose our innocence, there is a part of us that stops in the process of life. I believe that God has given us innocence to become creators and when you have innocence taken, your creativity and your ‘wow factor’ is something that we are never going to get back. … Sexual violence breaks the course of life and that light is taken away. The darkness becomes the leading factor in a child’s life and I personally experienced that. I talk about my life as a child pre-rape and post-rape. As a child, after experiencing sexual abuse, I don’t remember seeing much light. I definitely lost that wow factor and life became really difficult. It was my innocence and virginity; and that being a virgin was something valued. But as things changed, my virginity was stolen from me and it left wounds that I am still dealing with.

I know I am not going to end [sexual violence] in my lifetime. But I know I am going to make a dent and I am going to start breaking the chains of sexual abuse of our children because innocence needs to be protected.”

As a survivor, what role have cultural barriers and access to Spanish-language played in your healing journey?

“The cultural barriers are created by the culture itself. We have social norms that we have been carrying from generation to generation. One of the most damaging social norms is that the children are not given a voice. They are voiceless and even when a child is sexually abused and the child wants to speak up, that child, most of the time, is not believed. The people who are doing the abuse are usually a part of the family or someone close to the family.

Normalization of sexual abuse [happens] because of silence. I call it the ‘silent pandemic’. It exists and we know it exists, however, we keep it quiet. People go to their grave with the secret, and when the secret is coming out, people keep the abuse quiet or don’t believe the child. The culture’s norms and social norms are the major problem.

That's why I talk about this and why the biggest part of my work is on breaking the silence. When we break the silence, this will accelerate the process of being able to help the children and being able to break the chains. [I think] that is the hardest thing to do. I always think of this book I read called “The Body Keeps the Score.” One of the things that impacted me the most from the book was when the author said ‘until you break the silence, you are at war with yourself.’

This means that many children and survivors will be at war with themselves until we break the silence.”

Why is the partnership between Yo Digo No Más and RAINN important?

“RAINN became my go-to resource to get information when we started doing research on sexual violence and I was blown away by the amount of effort and information that RAINN compiled through the years in protecting our children. While I have become a strong voice in the Latino community, whenever I speak, I talk about RAINN because RAINN is the support to my voice … [and offers]. the National Sexual Assault Hotline where survivors are able to call or chat online for immediate support in both English and Spanish.

At Yo Digo No Más, we currently work with children in the school district and we have done a walk in Yonkers [New York, NY] and in this coming year, we are doing a walk in New Jersey, Yonkers, White Plains, [NY], and the [New York City]. The reason I talk about this is because even during the walk, everywhere we go, we take RAINN and its resources with us. Our voice is so strong and we are reaching thousands of people. Together, we become stronger. We can empower the growth of each other so that we can support more children and their innocence together.”

What are the primary goals of this collaboration in terms of resources and support for Spanish-speaking survivors?

“The primary goal is massive outreach, especially in the Latino community because the community is underserved. It starts with our voice, and while my voice is strong and getting stronger, I would like to share this saying; ‘Pa lante sin frenos’ which means ‘ahead without brakes’. I am not going to stop. Through this collaboration, especially that RAINN has so many years ahead of us with ample experience and resources, translating these resources and making them available to the masses is our primary goal. Together, I know we are going to break the chains and make a serious dent in education because education is prevention. ”

Can you explain the outreach partnerships Yo Digo No Más and RAINN are developing together and why they are necessary?

“The education that we can bring to the children are resources that we have compiled at Yo Digo No Más and the resources at RAINN. This is necessary because parents and caregivers are eager to learn how to protect children. … In [this] silent pandemic, people do not know there are organizations like RAINN and Yo Digo No Más that are educating parents/caregivers and children on the denormalization of sexual abuse.”

What is your message to survivors?

“Forgive to live.”

"Forgive to live. As I learned when I chose to release the anger I felt toward my father, forgiveness is the biggest healing accelerator.  Without even fully recognizing it, I had been holding on to that trauma and giving my energy and power to it.  I was not truly living until I was able to forgive and start looking at my past with a sense of curiosity rather than resentment.  Protect your energy and forgive to live!" 

 

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