Dr. Lavinia Masters x DX Podcast: Rebuilding Life After Violence

Dr. Lavina Masters and host Sarah Zubiate-Bennett
Dr. Lavina Masters and host Sarah Zubiate-Bennett | Image by The Dallas Express Podcast

In the recent episode of The Dallas Express Podcast, founder and host Sarah Zubiate-Bennett shared a candid conversation with one of the most well-known advocates for sexual assault survivors in Texas.

In episode #21 — “Empowering Resilience: Rebuilding Life After Violence and Safeguarding Your Loved Ones” — Dr. Lavina Masters bravely shared her inspiring journey of transforming from a victim of sexual assault to a survivor and, ultimately, a thriver.

In 1985, at the age of 13, Dr. Masters was raped at knifepoint in Dallas County. The two Dallas Police Department officers assigned to her case were not adequately trained in addressing sexual assault victims, Masters explained, so their handling of it felt dismissive and dehumanizing. Further, her rape kit remained unprocessed on the DPD’s shelf for over 20 years, which exceeded two statutes of limitations.

Masters discussed her deep passion for advocacy with Zubiate-Bennett, which ultimately led to the creation of the Lavinia Masters Act. Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in September 2019, the bipartisan act focuses on improving the criminal statute of limitations for specific sex offenses and enhancing the collection, analysis, and preservation of evidence related to sexual assault and other sex offenses, as previously reported by DX.

The Lavinia Masters Act was a critical step towards helping victims of sexual assault; however, as Masters will be the first to tell you, there is still work to be done.

Masters explained that the way law enforcement handled her case inspired her to become the voice that she wished she had during her traumatic experience to prevent re-traumatization, known as secondary trauma, by the justice system. As the survivors’ advocate shared her story, Zubiate-Bennett and the live audience were moved to tears.

In addressing the infliction of secondary trauma caused by the lack of trauma-informed officers, attorneys, and judges, Masters said, “We’re thinking that you’re here protecting us and serving us. You’re smiling in our faces … but you’re raping us all over again when you do things like this.”

“I have to empower others to use their voice,” she told Zubiate-Bennett. “I have to empower you to know that you are stronger than those things that happened to you. I have to empower you to know that you are a thriver, just not a survivor.”

“I go into the darkness to rescue others,” she added.

Zubiate-Bennett shared that she, too, knows about being in the darkness. At the end of 2022, she disclosed, she went to the Meadows, a treatment and recovery center, for 40 days.

“All of us there had some horrific trauma in our past,” Zubiate-Bennett said of the center.

Leveling with each other on a position of vulnerable commonality, both Zubiate-Bennett and Masters agreed that survivors build up protective “masks,” but it is hard to put on a face that says everything is okay when you are “walking dead,” Dr. Masters explained.

Still, “You became a warrior,” Zubiate-Bennett told Dr. Masters, adding, “You chose not to live in victimhood.”

And yet, victims of sexual assault abound despite the tenacity of many who choose not to live in victimhood. Zubiate-Bennett noted that in 2023, there were 6,404 reported aggravated assault cases in Dallas County. Not to mention that “only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means more than 2 out of 3 go unreported,” according to RAINN.

Zubiate-Bennett provided a listing of resources on the podcast for sexual assault victims, some free of charge.

She also spoke of another resource that teaches self-defense and safety education by enacting real-life scenarios: WOFT, which stands for Where Our Families Train. The training focuses on custom real-life safety scenarios, utilizing the non-lethal WOFT flashlight for protection. Training also includes threat awareness, safety, personal defense, mindset, and firearms training.

The WOFT 1,200-lumens flashlight is a self-defense tool that anyone can use as it is small, inconspicuous, and “made for self-defense with quick access strobe and interchangeable smooth, scalloped & aggressive bezel” accessories, the podcast noted.

WOFT Founder and CEO Philip Toppino traveled to East Texas from his training facility in Florida to offer an exclusive training event for a group of women, including Masters and Zubiate-Bennett.

Through intensive repetition exercises, Toppino trained the participants to be “unconsciously competent” and to “think under stress.”

Part two of the podcast will present the bulk of the informative WOFT training experience. Zubiate-Bennett will team up with Toppino to provide relatable safety concepts that can help startle and intimidate predators and will offer actionable tips to implement in daily life.

Don’t miss the next installment of this informative and empowering episode of The Dallas Express Podcast, airing on April 28.

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