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‘A Product of Rape’ – Behind Valerie Gatto’s Desire for the Miss USA Crown

Every year, 51 determined and passionate women strut their stuff to compete in the Miss USA pageant, but this year’s Miss Pennsylvania USA has a motive behind the crown that is quite distinct from the rest.

Whether on Cosmopolitan, Time, Today.com or Entertainment Tonight, you might just be hearing Valerie Gatto’s story now, but over the course of the past year, I have had the pleasure of working with this phenomenal woman on numerous occasions.

From a fitness photo shoot to countless runway shows, appearances, and even a request to speak and share her personal story back at an event in August, Valerie has constantly supported and participated in my ambitious endeavors. I hope that by sharing her story I can help bring exposure to her very unique platform in some small way!

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Valerie in a Tidal Cool bridal gown with myself and designer Andrea Howell at my La Nuit Noire event benefitting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Valerie first caught my eye on Facebook when I was booking models for a Tidal Cool Creations swimwear fashion show. This bombshell’s photos were stunning! In addition to doing a flawless job rocking the beachy runway, she did anything she could to lend me a hand in setting up and running the event since the second she walked into the venue.

Valerie in a gold sequin Tidal Cool bikini. Photo by Sarah Quinn.

Valerie in a gold sequin Tidal Cool bikini. Photo by Sarah Quinn.

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Valerie in a signature Tidal Cool Creations party dress. Photo by Sarah Quinn.

Valerie in a signature Tidal Cool Creations party dress. Photo by Sarah Quinn.

Valerie didn’t have your typical childhood as she explains on her website, “to truly understand who I am; you need to know how I was raised, where I came from and where I am going.”

At 19, her mother, who was raped at knifepoint, had every intention of putting Valerie up for adoption. But, the night she was born, Valerie’s great-grandmother said to her mother, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Valerie’s mom decided to raise her and so, the now Miss Pennsylvania USA grew-up in a positive, hard-working environment with her mom, maternal grandparents and aunt. Because of this loving and supportive upbringing, she’s now showing the world that “anything is possible no matter your circumstances” and you can become a success.

According to The National Women’s Study, 683,000 forcible rapes occur every year; which equals 56,916 per month; 1,871 per day; 78 per hour; and 1.3 per minute (National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 2000).

Think about that, 1.3 rapes per minute. That is unacceptable.

Valerie is on a mission to utilize her mom’s rape experience to educate women on being more aware of sexual assault… and it’s working. She told TODAY, “I’m educating women about a topic that’s so serious, but it’s so awesome to see their responses. They say it changes their life… Being a voice is life-changing, and I just want to keep going.”

Valerie Gatto modeling for Dona Jo Fitwear.

Valerie Gatto modeling for Dona Jo Fitwear. Hilary Bishop Photography.

Gatto also told TODAY, “Being a child of a rape, not knowing who my father is, not knowing if he’s ever been found, most people would think it’s such a negative situation,” but instead Valerie is using her story to change lives and she believes, “God put me here for a reason: to inspire people, to encourage them, to give them hope that everything is possible.”

Valerie’s ambitions don’t stop there. Aside from following her acting and modeling dreams, she is currently a marketing consultant who aspires to obtain her MBA and go on to become CMO of a Fortune 500 company.

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In my first interview with Valerie just two days after she was crowned Miss Pennsylvania USA 2014 in December, she said something that really resonated with me and my outlook on life, “it is important not to dwell on your failures, but to grow and succeed.”

So why Valerie for Miss USA?

Valerie represents the real woman. Behind all the pageant glamour and fancy dresses this girl is one of the most genuine, down-to-earth people you could ever hope to meet in your entire lifetime.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Miss Pennsylvania embodies this. She is someone that real women, no matter what situation they may be in, can be inspired by. She represents strength and using the life you have been given to be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. She is the perfect example of finding purpose in your current circumstances so that you can always progress forward.

I personally know what it’s like to have had difficult experiences and what a struggle it is to pick yourself up and then manipulate the circumstances at hand in a way to transform the situation from a negative into a positive. It’s not easy and I admire any woman who has the strength and courage to do the same!

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Valerie and I after she shared her story at an event for FAIR girls. Pink dress by Tidal Cool.

When you’re around Valerie, she doesn’t just light up the room when she enters, she literally radiates positivity. I have seen the direct effect her presence has on people in a small setting, so I cannot even begin to image the impact she can have by becoming Miss USA and having the entire nation at her hands to listen to her story.

Here is how you can help make that happen! Let’s #SAVEOURQUEEN! (Official rules)

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Good luck Valerie! I am so beyond proud of you and I am grateful for all of the support you have shown me throughout this past year. Go get that crown!

No matter what happens, never stop changing the world. <3

To follow Valerie on her journey check out her websiteFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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