Conceived in rape, former Miss Pennsylvania shares why every human life is worthy of protection
Valerie Gatto, the raven-haired beauty, a former Miss Pennsylvania, was in the third grade when she found out that she had been conceived when her mother, then aged just 19, was raped at knifepoint in a terrifying and life-changing ordeal. Her rapist had the intention of killing Valerie’s teenage mother as well, however his plans were foiled when a mysterious bright light from an unknown source appeared. This enigmatic light allowed Gatto to escape before the man had the chance to harm her further. Gatto said of the miraculous evasion, “I like to think of that light as my mother’s and (my) guardian angel.” Her mother always told Valerie growing up that “I was her light.”
Not long after the attack, Valerie’s mother found out she was pregnant. Being told the age-appropriate version of her story when she was nine, her mother told her, “Something bad happened to me. A very bad man hurt me but God gave me you.” Gatto told the media in an interview with CBS Pittsburgh that her mother never considered abortion as an option. To her, life was a miraculous gift, regardless of the circumstances of its conception.
However, she did initially have plans to put her daughter up for adoption, believing that perhaps she could be given a more stable life elsewhere. But after Valerie was born, her grandmother convinced her daughter that she could raise her child herself. God does not give us more than we can handle, she reminded her expectantly apprehensive granddaughter. We are always given the grace to sustain us. Gatto’s grandmother inspired her daughter to raise her little girl herself instead of giving her up for adoption as planned.
At 20 years of age, Gatto’s mother put off law school in order to bring up Valerie, who grew up with her mother and maternal grandparents in a stable and loving family home. Valerie says that she never for a second felt as though her mother regretted her decision to keep her. A young Gatto was raised going to Church every Sunday and as a result, her faith became a pivotal centre point in her life. According to Gatto’s website, her mother was put in charge of the food pantry at their church, making and bringing food baskets to those in need in the community. She would bring Valerie along with her and this life of service to others motivated Valerie to volunteer in various other capacities as well.
Gatto said her mother and her own experiences taught her to live her life “looking at how to turn a negative into a positive.” Valerie became involved in various projects, such as clothing drives, giving gifts to sick children in hospital care and a project called Operation Dear Abby, which sends cards to U.S. military members stationed far away from their families overseas. Gatto then went on to pursue higher education, earning honours from the University of Pittsburgh. Since her graduation, she has continued serving in various other roles within her community, such as helping out at a local food bank and donating clothes to an organization that uses the donations to help empower other women.
Valerie’s mother’s heart-rending story of rape and survival has instilled within her daughter a deep desire to help other women learn how to protect themselves from sexual assault and the ravages it leaves behind. “Unfortunately, we have to be aware of these crimes,” Gatto says. “I hope to show others how to be proactive, what to do, to be present, to be aware of your surroundings, little things like that…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.”
Gatto is evidently full of an uninhibited conviction, real compassion and a palpable desire to reach out to other women, saying, “I hope to make a difference and shed a light on sexual assault and rape for young women.”
In a society where sadly even a sizeable amount of those who identify themselves as ‘pro-life’ accept abortion in the rare circumstance of rape, Valerie is a shining beacon who humanises and illuminates the counter-argument: life from conception without exception. She gives a face, a name and a voice to the countless silent people who have been conceived in rape. It is known that the majority of rape victims who become pregnant choose to keep their babies, and advocates for abortion in cases of sexual assault are often unaware of how hurtful and insensitive their argument is to both rape victims and their children.
Valerie, now 27, is upfront, honest and completely open in her approach. She is a child of a rape victim as much as she is the child of a rapist, but has also openly described herself as a “product of rape.” She hopes that her experience growing up as well as her mother’s attack can show that anything is possible from a bleak and seemingly hopeless starting point. “I truly am doing this to change the world and make a difference,” Valerie told the media.
She used her platform as Miss Pennsylvania back in 2014, then aged 24, to teach others about her right to life which she believes should be enjoyed by all children conceived in rape.
“I haven’t just been preparing for Miss USA for five months. It’s been my entire life,” Gatto, who works as a marketing consultant, told TODAY.com in 2014. “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.
“I grew up with my mom and my grandparents. They never looked at it as something negative. I have a loving, supportive family who told me I could be the president of the United States.”
Gatto showed a keen interest in pageants from an early age. When she was just 4 years old, an advertisement for a beauty pageant arrived in the post featuring her idol of the time, “Saved by the Bell” actress Tiffani Amber Thiessen. When Gatto’s mother binned the flyer almost automatically without thinking, Gatto retrieved it and dialled the number herself, begging her reluctant mother to let her take part in the contest. Her determination paid off, and her mother allowed her to participate. It is that same passion and perseverance that Valerie employed in her 2014 campaign competing for Miss USA and which she uses to this day in her pursuit to help others.
“I believe God put me here for a reason: to inspire people, to encourage them, to give them hope that everything is possible and you can’t let your circumstances define your life,” she told the press during her 2014 Miss USA campaign. “Being a voice is life-changing, and I just want to keep going,” a joy-filled Gatto concluded.
Valerie Gatto has a truly beautiful trust in God’s providence, and firmly believes that God has put her on this earth for a truly special and unique reason. The young woman carries with her constantly a firm faith in God and His divine intervention, as she anticipates using her platform to continue inspiring many with her life of witness and her powerful story.
“I knew God put me here for a purpose, and he’s the reason my mother and I were saved, “Valerie told Life Site News. “I want to do him proud and my family proud. If I did just sit there and think, ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Does my father know I exist?’ and be scared and let the fear of the unknown stop me, I wouldn’t be living my life. He put me here to do great things, and I’m not going to let that stop me.”