Arkansas rape survivor finds passion in protecting other innocent victims

Special Reports

CAVE SPRINGS, Ark. – Sometimes the worst tragedy can inspire someone to be or do more than they ever thought they could. That is certainly the case for an Arkansas woman who turned the horror of being raped at the age of 14 into a passion to protect the innocent in court.

Josie Graves finds hope in her poetry and living her dream as an attorney.

“I’ve always said, people go to law school for one or two reasons – either to make money or to make a difference,” Josie said, “and I never really cared about the money part of it.”

A long time ago inside a courtroom, another attorney protected Josie, inspiring her to want to be a lawyer.

“I remember the exact date. April 22nd, 2009,” she said. “I was sitting in closing arguments for my own trial against a man who had raped me when I was 14.”

As a teenage rape survivor, Josie thought she didn’t have anyone fighting for her, not even her mother.

But prosecutor Joni Sartain did.

“Joni was basically talking about how this man was supposed to be taking care of me and chose to hurt me instead, and that If the jury didn’t hold him accountable then who was going to ever hold him accountable,” Josie recalled.

Sartain won the case and Josie’s admiration. She also set the then teen on a new path. Josie was going into law.

“That was the moment for me,” she remembered.

Sartain is proud of the woman Josie has become and said cases like hers are what fuels her passion for defending those who cannot stand up for themselves in court.

“It’s that sense of accomplishment,” Sartain said. “When you prosecute cases like that, and you deal with cases like that, all you can hope for is you can make a difference.”

Becoming an attorney wasn’t easy for Josie. Trauma from the past interfered, delaying her progress.

“I’ve been in mental hospitals multiple times,” she said. “I had to drop out of school my junior year in undergrad because I was involuntarily hospitalized.”

Still, with a great deal of self-determination and help from loved ones around her, Josie made it through.

She also noted the help she had from the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, a group she now speaks in support of as they continue to help abused children.

It is an act that she says helps her heal, as was forgiving her mother.

“She’s not the woman who sat on the stand and called me a liar,” Josie explained. “She’s is the best mom anyone could ever have. My mom is my best friend.”

Josie also turns to her poetry, finding strength in her spoken words, as well as her desire to help other rape survivors. She feels those words of strength come together into a message of hope.

“Don’t you ever let that make you feel ashamed. You can choose to make yourself a survivor.”

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