When Valerie Gatto was crowned Miss Pennsylvania in 2014, the successful 24-year-old was all smiles.
Seeing her now, it would be hard to believe that Valerie is the product of a violent act: at just 19-years-old, her mother was dragged from a busy street by a man who held a knife to her throat. He then raped her.
As a result of the heinous crime, Valerie was conceived. Her mother was left to make a difficult decision: she could keep the baby and raise her child herself, or put her up for adoption and continue to pursue her dream of become a lawyer.
Ultimately, she decided to keep her baby. Valerie, now all grown up, now educates young women on how to protect themselves against sexual assault.
Valerie Gatto, who described herself as a “product of rape,” hopes her experience growing up as well as her mother’s attack can show that anything is possible, even from such a bleak starting point.
She is living proof that something bright and beautiful can still emerge from darkness.
Valerie, now 29, learned about the crime committed against her mom when she was just 9-years-old. Despite the fact that the story was somewhat censored for her young ears, it still broke her heart.
She now knows that her mother could have been murdered, in addition to being raped, but was apparently saved by a bright light that scared her attacker off.
“I like to think of that light as my mother’s and (my) guardian angel,” Valerie told the Pittsburg Tribune Review.
Strong family support system
Valerie’s mom initially didn’t want to keep her child, but her family support system was so strong that she changed her mind.
Valerie’s mother put aside plans to attend law school in order to raise her daughter.
The beauty queen said that, throughout her life, her mother told her she was “her light.”
“She (her mother) always would tell me I was her light — I am the light to illuminate the darkness for all to see, and I look at it from that moment of conception, there has been that light associated with darkness.”
She grew up with her mother and maternal grandparents
Valerie grew up living with her mother and maternal grandparents in a stable, loving home.
She was raised by her mom and her grandparents and went to church every Sunday, crediting her faith with helping guide her to her true purpose in life.
“I knew God put me here for a purpose, and he’s the reason my mother and I were saved,” she said.
Valerie was crowned as Miss Pennsylvania in 2014 and has since used the title and her story to encourage and support others, from opening a food bank to distributing free clothes, to helping others born as a result of sexual assault.
She also teaches women to protect themselves from sexual assault.
”Being a voice is life-changing, and I just want to keep going,” she said. “I’m not sharing this story for publicity. I’m not doing this for any selfish reasons. I truly am doing this to change the world and make a difference”, she told Today.
She has participated in the International Men’s March to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence.
Valerie firmly believes God has put her on this earth for a special reason.
“I live my life not thinking of it as something negative, but looking at how to turn a negative into a positive,” she said.
“It’s a story that could inspire a lot of people and, if I stay a strong person, I can inspire many other people.”
Watch this inspirational young woman being interviewed in the clip below.
Valerie is a courageous woman who is the strength and support for so many others in similar situations who maybe don’t feel as loved and supported as she does.
Please share so that others can be inspired by her and her mom’s incredibly brave story.