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Surviving Epstein: How a Red Balloon Can Save Your Life With Jess Michaels

jess michaels

This interview with Jess Michaels is part of the TEDxFolsom Reimagine Series, showcasing global changemakers, innovators, and thought-leaders who will speak at the upcoming TEDxFolsom event.   

Share with us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to apply to speak at TEDxFolsom? 

I am a former professional dancer, now a dance industry educator and entrepreneur who happens to also be an Epstein survivor. As I worked on healing from the repressed trauma of sexual assault by Epstein almost 30 years later, I realized I could use all of my skills as an entrepreneurial problem solver and educator to transform how we think about, talk about, and respond to this mass tragedy. Sharing my idea of an empowered, proactive solution to the epidemic of sexual violence on the TEDxFolsom REIMAGINE stage seems like perfect synergy.

Without giving away too much – Can you provide a short summary of what your topic for Reimagine is about? 

I will be sharing how sexual violence impacts a human’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being long after the actual event because of PTSD. And I will be sharing a solution I’ve developed from my experience of carrying the weight of this pain – an emergency safety strategy that empowers and prepares parents and children in the event of sexual harm that not only prevents long-term trauma like mine, but also strengthens community trust, support, and safety and inevitably prevents sexual violence.

What was your inspiration or reflection point to generate this idea worth spreading? 

I was teaching dance classes in my hometown of Newtown, CT when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened. Living and working in my traumatized community and witnessing the worldwide, voluminous outpouring of support (hope) in contrast to the outright neglect, victim-shaming, and negative community response towards sexual assault survivors created the spark of insight for me. Communities and families are ill-equipped to face the trauma of sexual harm together and in a proactive, empowered way because they do not view this epidemic as a mass tragedy or mental health emergency.

What are you looking forward to most with your talk? 

I’m most looking forward to normalizing an emergency safety strategy for sexual harm that proactively empowers parents to protect their children – something they can very easily begin implementing within the same hour they’ve watched my TEDx talk.

How do you foresee your TEDxFolsom talk impacting viewers both locally and globally? 

I see two outcomes. Firstly, I see families and communities proactively engaging in difficult conversations on this very painful, complex topic because they will now have the helpful language to do so. Secondly, when humans with predatory sexual behaviors learn we now have emergency safety strategies in place that includes no longer keeping their secrets, I believe it will be the deterrent and prevention we’ve all been waiting for. 

If there is one nugget of information you want someone to walk away with that views your TEDx Talk, what would that be? 

Sexual assault survivors experience higher levels of PTSD than military veterans, domestic violence survivors, mass shooting survivors, and those who’ve experienced natural disasters. PTSD rewires the brain to protect the survivor from pain and one of the most common symptoms is memory loss. So sexual assault survivors are stuck in a cycle of trauma, memory loss, and isolation, perpetuating more internal trauma and inevitably less justice. When survivors do report they often receive a range of indifference to shaming responses from their families, community, law enforcement, and justice systems. All of these factors perpetuate a cycle of more PTSD and an accommodating system for humans with predatory sexual behavior to thrive. We can begin to break this crisis cycle with one simple emergency safety strategy anyone and everyone can implement easily.

What’s the best way for people to reach out to you to learn more about your TEDx talk topic? 

All inquiries and questions welcome: Hello@Jessmichaelsspeaks.com

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