Rob: All right, everybody, you are listening to Episode 31 of the Bob Culture Podcast. I’d like to welcome the Founder and Director of Within Your Reach Inc., and Author of Breaking Through the Silence: the Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault, which has already been the #1 Best Seller in its category on amazon.com. That’s pretty awesome. On the line from Chicago, ladies and gentlemen, Miss Marissa Cohen. Marissa, welcome. How are you?
Marissa: I’m good. Thanks. How are you?
Rob: I’m good. I’m excited to talk to you. Congratulations on the success of your book. It looks like you’ve touched a lot of lives and connected with a lot of people. So, you’re doing a great thing. Thanks for coming on.
Marissa: Thank you so much for having me. That means a lot.
Rob: All right. So, we got to cover the important stuff. First and foremost, I got to ask you, I’ve had a couple people on the podcast from Chicago. I know you used to live in New Jersey. You’re in Chicago. Now I got asked, how’s the pizza out there?
Marissa: Oh, you’re asking the wrong person. I’m a New York pizza person.
Rob: Right answer. That’s a good answer. No, I like that answer. That’s awesome. But I always got to ask, I got asked about that a deep dish that everyone’s talking about. I’ve never been out there. You like it out there, though?
Marissa: I do. This is where I’m originally from. So, my family and stuff are out here. And I have to admit deep dish is very good. But if you want to eat pizza, like more than one slice in a sitting New York pizza all the way.
Rob: That is a great answer. I love it. So, Marissa, first and foremost, you’ve been through so much as I’ve heard you read several chapters on Facebook Live, you guys should check that out. It’s really intense. I thought there may be one instance where you were sexually assaulted. But it seems like there’s multiple situations and you’ve gotten stories from other people. Again, very intense to hear you tell the story. I give you a ton of credit for doing this. How are you able to turn such negative situations into a positive?
Marissa: Well, it took a lot of time. For me specifically, I didn’t talk about my first rape for six months, which in the grand scheme of things is really, really short for survivors. So for me, it was all kind of a growing experience. I finally spoke about it to my best friend hysterical crying in the car. And from there, it was kind of just like a very slow, uphill climb. I went through a lot of different phases; I tried a lot of different negative and positive ways to heal and to cope. And finally, it’s been, it’ll be eight years, January 15, since my first rape, and I think I’ve come a really long way. I found a huge support network. I’m really lucky. I have such a strong family and a lot of friends that were super helpful. And talking about it really, really helped. Being able to tell friends, what happened, and then be so supportive and understanding and believe me, was huge. A lot of people don’t come forward because they’re afraid people won’t believe them. You know, because they, “oh, that guy that you accused, He’s so nice. He would never do anything like that.” Or, “You’re dramatic anyways, though you’re making it up.” That’s really not the case. I’m only between 2% and 8% of cases are false reporting, falsely reported. And only about 5% of cases are actually reported to the police. So, when you hear you know, the two to 8% that are reported or false. That’s 2% of the 5% that are reported. That’s like five cases a year.
Rob: Wow. I remember in the story, you were telling it, I believe it was a boyfriend or someone you were in love with who had sexually assaulted you. You know, couldn’t even tell your mom at that point. I remember you talking about that. And I guess it took you a while to even confide in your friends. I think you had said you waited till you were 26 to tell your mom or something like that.
Marissa: Yeah, until I was 25 to tell my mom, and we were sitting on a couch. And by then I was already working on my book, and had been talking about changing, changing the world for sexual assault survivors and working on this non-profit and then I told my mom. The whole world knew before my mom.
Rob: Yeah, no, I get it. You know, I remember you and you guys, definitely check out her Facebook Live readings. Follow her follow her organization. I just remember listening to it. And I’m just like, it almost makes you lose your faith and I don’t wanna say humanity, but in people. You know, I remember you talking about the one guy’s family giving you the morning after jokes. And just, I’m thinking like, what is that this is awful. When I asked you about during the interview said I’m an open book, and everything’s out there you and you’ve reached out to other people as well.
Marissa: There were a lot of people who actually wanted to be a part of this book. I just didn’t want it to be 400 survivors in one book. So, I’m already working on my second one. So, if anybody is interested in working with me, as a survivor, or a professional in the field, or a friend of a survivor, or a mother or father of a survivor, you know, please reach out. I’m looking for more people to help. But most of the people I spoke to, were incredibly open about their stories. About the things that happened to them and the lead up to it. A lot of the problem is, it’s not usually a stranger jumps out of the forest, while you’re going for a jog, rapes you and leaves. It’s usually somebody you know, so a lot of that guilt and self-blame comes from, well, I mean, we were kind of flirting or like, Oh, I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. And a lot of those people that I interviewed, were super open about that, because that still isn’t their fault. You know, you can flirt with whoever you want, wear whatever you want, drink, whatever you want, do whatever drugs you want. And at the end of the day, nobody should be able to take something from you, or nobody should take something from you, that doesn’t belong to them.
Rob: This is good information. I mean, the fact that you shared your story is very inspiring. But I mean, we’re not even 10 minutes into the interview, and I’ve learned so much about the statistics. I think I had heard that, you know, whatever percent of the time that it is more often, somebody that you do know, or in some sort of relationship with. But this is this is good information for people, you know, who may be in compromising positions. So, I do appreciate it. And I was going to ask if you were going to put out a second book. So that’s, that’s awesome to hear. Good. Good for you. Just keep it going. So, I got it, I got to ask What gave you the spark to turn these negative situations from yourself and others and turn them into a book? And do you have any sort of writing background?
Marissa: I actually have always loved to write; I could just never channel it into something in focus. So, I’ve taken creative writing classes, and I’ve, you know, written blogs and articles and things like that. And I always loved it. But I could never find something that I wanted to dedicate a solid amount of time to, and work on publishing and work on all this stuff. What ended up actually happening was, it was a slow build, to create this book. When I was in college, I was doing research with a professor about sexual assault on college campuses. And this was two years after my assault, so I still wasn’t talking about it. And it started to really open my eyes to how prevalent it was. And the more people I spoke to, because I would speak to friends and it was my job to get people to interview for our documentary. The more people I spoke to about it, the more people came forward. So, when I’d share my story, they would then share theirs. So actually the first girl who ever told me their story and kind of validated the fact that I wasn’t alone is in this book. And that’s actually the story. I read that with the horseback riding.
Rob: With the fraternity?
Marissa: Right. Yeah. And so, the more people I learned about, the more I, the more I wanted to help. And then when I started working for a military hotline, and people, military members, soldiers, veterans, would reach out and say, “Well, this happened to me 30 years ago, when am I going to get over it? You know, how long does this do this last? And then when am I going to get over it? How long does it last?” And that’s not a question you can answer. Because there’s no set timeframe, like 10 years from now, you’ll be fine. It’s all about your healing journey, and the type of things that you go through and the ways that you try, and the way that you heal. And that was something that really inspired me. I wanted to help. Because you really can’t give somebody a timeframe, especially people that are trained to be strong and trained to fight back. And that was really confusing for them. So, when they started telling me or asking me these questions, I was like, I need to help. So, I started by asking people, you know, what they did to heal and how long it took them. And that kind of branched out and became this huge book full of survivor stories. But I still incorporated the, you know, how long and what did you do? But also Tell me your story, and what advice would you give because I want other people’s perspectives of how they healed and how they think other people can heal, and most of the people just said talk about it.
Rob: Yeah, it’s like, I mean, this is a very poor comparison, but it’s like if something’s weighing on you, and yeah, you have to talk about it. You know, I guess that would be a good first step for someone who’s been sexually assaulted.
Marissa: That’s not a poor comparison at all. It makes perfect sense. It really, it’s a big weight on your shoulders that’s lifted once you start talking about it.
Rob: That’s great. And this leads perfectly into my next question. What is your advice to anyone who may find themselves in a situation where they could become a victim of sexual assault, or maybe even someone just going into college or starting a new relationship? Is that something you even cover in the book?
Marissa: It is, I have a lot of people from the book, who were assaulted in college, or assaulted, I mean, 90% of people that are assaulted or assaulted by an acquaintance. Only 10% of cases are the guy jumped out of the bushes and raped me in front of my house. That rarely happens. So really risk reduction techniques. If you put your drink down, don’t pick it up. Because there are over 55 different things you can put in somebody’s drink that dissolve immediately are tasteless, odorless and colorless. Including Visine. Visine is the newest trend. If you squirt a whole bottle of Visine into somebody’s drink, it knocks him unconscious for eight hours. So just if you put your drink down, don’t pick it up, buy a new one, you know, write to me on Facebook, and I’ll give you the $8 that it costed to buy your new drink. I don’t care. And then use the buddy system stay with people you trust on. I can’t say don’t put yourself in compromising situations. I was in bed with my boyfriend, who I trusted and he took advantage of me. So just kind of be as aware of your surroundings as you can be, and always have a safety plan.
Rob: This is good stuff. And I hope people are listening and take this in even for someone just going into college. You know, I’m paranoid as it is with the world. You know, if I’m playing a show at a venue, and I have a bottle of water, you know, I’m sitting on my drums I play I get it. And my bottle water sitting there from before I don’t even touch it. And you know, I’m a 34-year-old man. But you know, I’m just paranoid about it. Like you said, there’s what over 30 different things or however many different things that can happen. You know, better take this stuff seriously.
Marissa: And it’s not just women, they’re targeting either I just want to make sure I put this in. A lot of the time, I bartend. And so, I’ve seen guys put Visine, or pills or something in guys drinks. Because if they’re there with a girl, that guy is now useless and can’t defend her. I’m not. I’m not saying every girl needs to be defended. But it’s not just women that are being targeted.
Rob: That’s crazy. And I’m sure being a bartender, that’s a job where you probably get, I don’t say harassed and they probably hit on constantly. That’s like one of those jobs. Oh, man.
Marissa: Yeah, it’s definitely a hyper-sexualized job.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, I get it. But good, you know, good, good information. So, it must be hard to trust people just in general, after going through, I think in your book from what you had read, I definitely got to pick it up. I mean, it’s just so interesting. And I’ve learned so much just talking to you, for less than 15 minutes already. But it must be hard to trust people. After going through those things. And let alone be in any sort of relationship with someone. I think the chapter you had read about one girl who had been sexually assaulted said, even with someone she loves, or really does trust, she can’t get close to them without kicking them or it’s just a reflex. It’s, you know, it’s got to be hard. I mean, how are you able? If you are you able to overcome that? How are you able to overcome that?
Marissa: Everybody reacts differently, I know that I have said to myself 1000 times that I don’t want to be jaded by this. I don’t want to let it affect my outlook of people. I don’t want to let it affect my relationships. And I, I would honestly say I’m very lucky after that guy, my ex-boyfriend, I moved to another country. And I met a guy who treated me like a princess and knew everything. I told him everything. And he really showed me what a boyfriend is supposed to be. And what I should expect. And so, I want to say that because of that particular instance, I have not been jaded. Sometimes it’s hard to trust people. And I definitely consider myself to be more cautious now. I’m certainly not as naive or trusting as I was. But I like to think that I am able to separate the guys that I’ve dealt with that were bad, for lack of a better word, versus the rest of humanity.
Rob: Again, I’m not great at these examples. What you’ve gone through is so intense and the fact that you just told me you’re able to overcome that. That’s great. More power to you. I mean, you’re putting it all out there, you have the facts, you’re giving advice to everyone, and now you’re able to overcome these things. And, you know, I was worried it might affect, you know, relationships with anybody. You know, just not, someone you’re in love with, but just people in general, you know, there, there’s so much craziness going on in the world, which we’ll get into soon. But I give I give you so much credit for that. It’s like, when you get out of a bad relationship, you know, not just like, you know, something went wrong in the relationship, and you didn’t like it, and you carry it into your next relationship. You know, like, that’s a big issue for people. So, I can’t, imagine what you’ve been through. And I can’t imagine trying to overcome that. So, more power to you,
Marissa: Thank you. And it certainly didn’t take a day, you know. It took a while, um, my next boyfriend right after, and we dated for like, a month. But he was the one that really got the brunt end of the stick. Because having sex with me for him probably wasn’t fun at all. I was probably a mess. And trust issues out the wazoo and super clingy. And I mean, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I had lost total control of myself. I was pretty promiscuous that whole next summer. Because I couldn’t, I was trying to fill a void. I felt a big black hole in my stomach, and I couldn’t figure out how to fill it. So, I did some things that I don’t necessarily regret, that helped me really understand what a relationship, what to expect from a better relationship. But yeah, that guy, poor guy he, probably hates me.
Rob: Don’t say that. I mean, you know, you’ve been through a lot and look at you overcoming this, I wanted to ask, in fact, I saw on one of the reviews on amazon.com. A lot of great reviews also on Facebook, too. So, congratulations. That’s fantastic. I think someone had said the timing of this book couldn’t be more perfect. I even wanted to ask you lately in the sports and entertainment and business and politics world, pretty much everything. There’s been a ton of sexual harassment assault claims coming out, like, you know, the past, what, two weeks, it’s been crazy, I have to ask any comments or thoughts on this? Are you not surprised?
Marissa: Well, I come from a theatre background. So, the whole casting couch scenario was pretty well known to us, which is essentially what everyone is saying about Harvey Weinstein. You know, if you want your career to if you want a career in this field, you need to have sex with me. If you want a career in this field, then I deserve to this and that, and this and that. So, is it surprising to me? Not really, because I’ve known about that concept, and people used to joke about it and they’ve like made pornos about it. So, it’s just a big joke. But it’s really not — because it’s all based on things that really happened. And now all those things are coming out. To me. It’s bittersweet, though, because I’m happy people are finally talking about it, and making it an issue and, and, you know, making it more well known that this really happens to people. You know, and celebrities are still people. They’re celebrities, but they’re people and if they’re not untouchable, then, you know, everybody else that is being affected by it should feel empowered.
Rob: Are you not surprised? I guess is the question.
Marissa: No, I’m not surprised. Because Sexual Assault is a power and control thing, not a sexual thing. It’s not about like; I really want to have sex with that person. So, I’m going to take it. It’s, I can overpower that person. And I will. I’ll manipulate them, coerce them, force them do whatever I can. Because they want to control you. They want to violate you and they want to take something that doesn’t belong to them. And pretty much destroy a human being. So, is it surprising that people in power positions are raping people that are trying to build themselves up? Absolutely not. It happens all the time.
Rob: That is a very informative answer. Good answer. I know you’re knocking these out of the park. Really great. I really should pick up the book because I mean, you’re doing great. And I believe right, it’s available on amazon.com.
Marissa: Yes, it is breaking through the silence the journey to surviving sexual assault.
Rob: Check it out. It’s getting great reviews. I saw a bunch of five stars. That’s all I’m saying. What does it mean to you to have completed telling your story, having been recognized great reviews, like we’re just saying and being received so positively? What does that mean to you?
Marissa: I can’t find words to describe how grateful I am for all the support I’ve been getting on Facebook Messenger, or publicly, or via text or email. I got an email if you don’t mind. Let me pull up an email from a person I met once, and he is a law enforcement officer and I believe he’s a retired Army veteran. And I happen to be at a training with him for the Northern Illinois Critical Incident Stress Management Team. And him and I just kind of got to talking. And I told him about my book. Apparently, he picked it up that day, because he wrote,
“Marissa, I met you at the critical incident stress management, training and Schaumburg. As we talked about, I purchased a copy of your book, I feel it is a must read for law enforcement officers, it really brought to light a little bit of how a victim feels. I, as a male police officer have never realized what a victim goes through after a sexual assault. I’ve been a law enforcement officer for over 30 years. It takes a lot to shock me, your book did, I’m sorry for what you went through. But I’m grateful for what God has done with you. I hope others can learn from your writing; I look forward to meeting you again in the future.”
And that, to me was so nice. He didn’t need to write that. And that was exactly the point I was trying to get across. I’m grateful for all the support. And that’s amazing. But what I really want to do is teach people, I want people to understand what I understand, because until you understand the depth of how much sexual assault changes and affects a human, we’ll never actually make a significant change.
Rob: Wow, does do things like that kind of restore your faith a little bit?
Marissa: Absolutely. I’m actually one of my writing projects before this book was, I called it Life is Beautiful. And I would just kind of walk around and write about all the beautiful things I see — interpersonally. The way people treated each other and simple as holding doors for people because I did lose my faith in humanity. And my way of restoring it was by looking for the beauty. And by looking for the kindness. And hearing these reviews and getting the messages from people I haven’t talked to in like 15 years, that are that are telling me what you’re doing is so important and inspirational and then telling me their story. It does restore my faith in humanity, because it shows me that we are becoming a team, you know. There’s strength in numbers, I’m actually going to plug here, I’ve teamed up through Within Your Reach with another non-profit called The Re:definers. And we’ve been working on a project called I’m a statistic that basically is meant to unite survivors. We’re doing video, a video web series on YouTube, where we interview survivors about their experiences and how talking about it really helped them. Because we want people to know that we are much stronger in numbers, there’s a lot more of us than there are people that are assaulting and harassing and shaming survivors, both men and women. So that whole team mentality and people rallying together and helping and being kind and everything that we were talking about before. Really, it’s really means a lot.
Rob: I like what you just said and hearing it coming from you. Like I had said earlier hearing you read those excerpts on Facebook Live. I’m sitting here thinking like, people are terrible, and why are they doing this to you? And you know, the excerpts about other people. I’m like, why is this happening? Even today, you read or not today, but I guess a couple days ago, I watched the video today, where someone had exposed themselves to a woman and a went to court. And she was trying to do the right thing. And she ended up being questioned and it was completely invasive on the stand. And I guess she had that great statement at the end of it. I hope I’m not giving away like spoiler alert here. But just really it really intense stuff. Not to say like I’d lose my faith in humanity, you know, I’m a glass half full kind of guy. But to hear you say that, that that there’s more positive than negative out there is awesome. I mean, you are completely overcoming this and you’re helping other people. It’s crazy. I cannot give you enough credit. I mean, just really well done, Marissa, great job.
Marissa: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you saying that.
Rob: You know, I don’t you know, I got to look at these things through somebody else’s eyes. And I think you know, a lot of people who have who have gone through these things would definitely get a lot from this book. I’ve gotten a ton from this interview already. Or people who you know may luckily have not gone through any of these things but may one day find themselves in a situation or like we had said maybe going into college maybe in a you know questionable relationship. You never know what’s going to happen. You know, it’s always good. It’s always good to be prepared.
Marissa: Absolutely. It’s always good to know your surroundings. And if it doesn’t feel right then it’s not right. Love it should never hurt.
Rob: That’s a good one. Love should never hurt. That’s great quote. Is that the name of the second book right there?
Marissa: Maybe I think there is actually an organization that says that.
Rob: That’s great. I wanted to ask you, and obviously, we’ve pretty much you know, talked about this during the whole interview, but any message you’d like to relate it anyone, I mean, trying to survive life with or, or after sexual assault? You know, so maybe someone who’s already gone through it?
Marissa: Just know that you’re never alone. Um, there’s a huge network of people that are out there, there’s 1000s of private organizations around the country and around the world, whose mission is to help you. Free counseling everywhere. I mean, I could probably refer people to 100 different places that I know of. But know, you’re never alone know that there are people out there that want to help. Know that you can talk about it, and you will not be talked down to or you will not be not believed, like you will be supported, and you will be empowered. There are many more nice people other than mean, people. The mean people just speak louder, because they’re insecure.
Rob: Wow. Yeah, I’m just blown away about how positive you are. And I’m not knocking it by any means. I think it’s great. It’s, it’s inspiring for me, you know, just after the things you’ve been through the things you talk openly about. And you’re sitting here going well, people are nice. You know, like, it’s just, it blows my mind.
Marissa: And I think I have 17 stories in that book. And seven that I took out.
Rob: Oh, really?
Marissa: Oh, yeah. Those are being saved for the second one. But some of them I just didn’t, I didn’t want to publish because they’re too personal, or I’m still in contact with those people just didn’t want to start any problems.
Rob: Wow, the four videos that I saw on Facebook, I mean, those are intense for me. So, I mean, first of all, not just you, but to everyone who contributed their story to that book, I give you guys a lot of power and support, you know, coming from a 34-year-old man who’s happily married. Um, all relationships don’t suck. You know, I’m very happily married. And, you know, please don’t lose your faith in people.
Marissa: No, I agree. And I also want to publicly thank everybody that allowed me to interview them and share their life with me, and share their story with me, because it is such an important message and whether they know it or not. They’re really helping people. I’ve been told by countless people through private means that, you know, oh, this story I really identified with and it was really good to see that those symptoms that they had, you know, didn’t just happened to me. And, you know, this person story word for word was exactly what I went through and it really helped me cope. So, everybody’s story has helped somebody and it’s really nice to hear. I wish I could call them out by name, but I promised their, their stories would stay anonymous. But I have been reaching out to them as I’ve been hearing privately that they’ve been helping a lot of people.
Rob: I get that, that’s the best way to go about it. And I’m sure they appreciate that. Can people get in touch? I mean, I take it you’re open to people getting in touch with you, how can people get in touch with you?
Marissa: Sure. So, either via Facebook, it’s Marissa Cohen — has a picture of my face tape being pulled off my mouth, just like the cover. And in my book, I also have me within your reach email available. It’s me@MarissaFayeCohen.com.
Rob: Good stuff. Marissa. Marissa, I really appreciate you coming on. I appreciate you just completely opening up. Guys. I can’t say it enough. If you’re thinking about getting this book, first, watch the videos on Marissa’s. Facebook. It’s intense. You know, my wife didn’t even want to watch them with me. I mean, it’s some intense stuff, but also very informative. Very inspiring. This girl knows what she’s talking about. More power to the people who contributed to this book. Of course, I got to shamelessly plug it because that’s what we do here on the Bob Culture Podcast. We’re all about those shameless plugs. Check it out, breaking through the silence the journey to surviving sexual assault. It’s on amazon.com you can get it on your Kindle. I think we’re going to pick it up right now after we’re done this interview.
Marissa: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Rob: Thank Marissa, thank you for coming on. Thanks for a few minutes and let us know when that second books coming out