Photos Courtesy Yo Digo No Más
The world’s oldest silent pandemic is sexual abuse against children. One Westchester businesswoman has vowed to end it.
Maria Trusa is a successful woman. She was a key player in growing a prominent Westchester-based medical group and is a partner and CEO of Formé Medical Center and Urgent Care in White Plains, in addition to being a mother of three. Raised in the Dominican Republic, Trusa moved to the U.S. when she was 15 and was married at age 17.
When Trusa was 9 years old, her father placed her in the hands of a man who violently raped her. This moment would rob her of her innocence and shape every decision she would make in all the years that followed. Despite the successes and triumphs that awaited her, Trusa says she was broken on the inside and that it took more than four decades for her to work up the courage to even talk about what had happened to her. When she did, she realized that she was going to do everything in her power to combat sexual abuse against children in the world. “You can heal, but it takes an enormous amount of awareness and help. It took me 47 years to tell my secret, but pain leads to change,” says Trusa.
In 2020, Trusa published a book about her life and her traumatic rape, titled #ISayNoMore. She went into grave detail early on about the incident, though some of the people closest to her questioned why she was revealing so much. Did she really want her pain to be public? That same year, she founded Yo Digo No Más (“I Say No More” in Spanish), a nonprofit social platform created to put an end to sexual abuse against children. When many were feeling like their lives had come to a halt due to the pandemic, she started a company and launched a movement.
With her own trauma still weighing on her, the emotional toll of starting a movement might cut down anyone. Trusa, however, knew that this fight was much bigger than just herself. “I started writing my book in 2019. Toward the end of the year, I went to Vermont with about 10 young Latina women I was mentoring,” said Trusa. “I shared the story with them that I was writing this book about my sexual abuse. When I told them my story, one by one, eight out of the 10 young women shared that they were also sexually abused as children. That is the night that the name of the movement was born. I was crying hysterically. We all embraced, and I yelled, “Yo digo no más! Yo digo no más!”
Trusa began doing speaking engagements, and nearly every person she encountered had experienced sexual abuse as children. She decided that she wanted to put this silent pandemic in front of the world, to provide an open forum for people to be able to share their stories, break the silence, and stop feeling alone. “I decided I was going to find a way to break the chains of sexual abuse,” says Trusa. “I didn’t have it all figured out, but I knew that this was the legacy that I was chosen to leave.”
“You can heal, but it takes an enormous amount of awareness and help. It took me 47 years to tell my secret, but pain leads to change.”
The first time she spoke publicly about Yo Digo No Más, she experienced a moment of anguish and self-doubt on-camera. “I wondered if I was going to destroy the image of the Latino community, our Latino heritage, which has had to work so hard to be respected in this country. I worried that people might be hurt and even killed by their abusers if they spoke out. But I realized that I had no choice.”
Shortly after launching her online platform she met Dr. Edwin Quezada, the Yonkers superintendent of schools. She shared her story and her dream to create a curriculum in schools via her nonprofit that would educate children and families around sexual abuse and help existing silent victims to be freed from the shackles of their trauma. Dr. Quezada gave an enthusiastic yes, and since then, the Yonkers school district has been working with Trusa and Dr. Kimberly Alba, a psychologist special-izing in trauma, for over a year on a curriculum and series of books.
The first product of that collaboration, A Safe Space, is “an interactive and educational book created for children between 10 and 14 years of age, with the purpose of helping them to identify situations regarding sexual abuse, its signs, and consequences, as well as to encourage the development of an environment in which they can feel safe and to which they can turn in case they need help.” The plan is to pilot the program in Yonkers and spread it to other districts, followed by states and, ideally, across the world.
“Yo Digo No Más is not mine. It belongs to all of the children whose voices have been taken away from them.”
In tandem with all of her behind-the-scenes work, Trusa also hosts a show on the nonprofit’s digital platform, where she recently interviewed the mayor of Yonkers, Mike Spano. He bravely shared his story of sexual abuse at age 12 and offered gratitude for Trusa providing a space to have conversations like these. The city hosted a sexual-abuse awareness and survivors march last April that was attended by an estimated 1,000 people and is anticipating 3,000 attendees this year.
Yo Digo No Más is the ripple in what is likely to be a tidal wave in a worldwide movement that seeks to end sexual abuse. According to the CDC, about one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the U.S. experiences child sexual abuse in their lifetimes — and someone known to and trusted by the child or the child’s family accounts for 91% of child sexual abuse.
Trusa is also aware that as a society, we have become numb to the idea of sexual violence. It is a term that fades into our background and becomes a crime that is all too commonplace. She wants to take that white noise and transform it back into sirens. “We need to change social norms, particularly in the Latino community, where children have been expected to sit on people’s laps and kiss every adult,” says Trusa. “It is viewed as a lack of respect if a child doesn’t hug and kiss every family member and guest at a gathering. My hope is that parents will take a course on how to protect their children from sexual abuse.”
If there is anything Trusa wants the general public to understand, it’s this: Showing up effects change. Whether you’re showing support for loved ones bearing their traumas, attending marches, or becoming more involved with your community, the act of being present can create one of the most powerful catalysts of transformation. And for Trusa, her crusade is not her own but belongs instead to those they’ve yet to help. “Yo Digo No Más is not mine,” she says. “It belongs to all of the children whose voices have been taken away from them.”