Someone’s Gotta Say It:

Sexual Abuse & Disabilities: Myths & Realities

Marina Headshot

By Marina Sampanes Peed, Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

March is Disabilities Awareness Month, so it is a good time to dispel some myths and talk about how sexual abuse harms many of our most vulnerable kids, friends and neighbors. Disabilities affect a wide range of people with varying degrees of severity. Disabilities include impairments of the body structure/function, or mental function, that limit activities, restrict participation and ability to interact with the world. Not all disabilities are visible to the average observer.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual harms can take many forms including unwanted touching, groping, sexual harassment, sexual coercion, sexual assault, and rape. Other “non-contact” forms include taking explicit images, showing pornography, exposing one’s genitals or asking them to expose themselves.

Invisible Victims & Hidden Harms

In 2022, approximately 15% of the clients we served at Mosaic Georgia had one or more disabilities. Our advocates provide support to the primary victim and non-offending caregivers or loved ones. Working beside survivors, families, law enforcement, and care providers, we see the surprise, fear, and bewilderment after a disclosure. Here are the most common misconceptions we hear, and the untold realities regarding them.

Myth #1: People with disabilities are not at risk for sexual abuse because they are not sexual beings nor sexually active.

Reality: People with disabilities have the same sexual desires and needs as non-disabled people.  Because this myth is prevalent, few children and youth with disabilities are taught about their own sexual development and health of their bodies. This information vacuum makes them more vulnerable to people who befriend (groom) them for abusive purposes.

Myth #2: Sexual abuse of people with disabilities is rare.

Reality: Most women with disabilities (83%) will be sexually assaulted in their lives. Half of girls who are deaf have been sexually assaulted compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 10% of boys who are hearing.

Myth #3: Any sex activity with a disabled person is rape because people with disabilities are not capable of giving consent.

Reality: Consent is a complex issue that depends on many factors, including the individual’s cognitive and communication abilities, understanding of the situation, and level of comfort and safety. While some may have difficulty with communication or decision-making, this does not mean that they are unable to consent to sexual activity. Just like everyone else, it is important to ensure that all parties involved in sexual activity are able to give informed and enthusiastic consent.

Myth #4: People with developmental disabilities are unreliable; they cannot communicate about sexual abuse or understand what is happening to them.

Reality:   Most can communicate about sexual abuse – either directly or indirectly. Some may communicate in nonverbal ways, such as through gestures, facial expressions, sign language or assistive technology. It is important for caregivers and advocates to be aware of these communication methods and to take them seriously. It is also important to recognize that people with intellectual or developmental disabilities may understand what is happening to them, even if they have difficulty communicating it.

Myth #5: People with disabilities are not attractive to sexual predators.

Reality: Sexual predators target vulnerable people. Because people with disabilities are often perceived as lacking agency and independence, they can be seen as easy targets for abuse. Issues such as social isolation, dependence on caregivers, lack of sexual health education, and limited resources/support make them more vulnerable to abuse.

Bonus Myth #6: People with disabilities cannot be sexual predators. 

Reality: People with disabilities can be both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. It is important to recognize that sexual abuse is a complex issue and can occur in any type of relationship, including between people with disabilities. The Justice Department found that people with intellectual disabilities are even more likely to be raped by someone they know. For women without disabilities, the rapist is a stranger 24 percent of the time, but for a woman with an intellectual disability it is less than 14 percent of the time. Furthermore, often it’s another person with a disability — at a group home, or a day program, or work — who commits the assault. Compiled data from 500 cases of suspected abuse in 2016 showed that 42 percent of the suspected offenders were themselves people with intellectual disabilities. Staff made up 14 percent of the suspects; relatives were 12 percent; and friends, 11 percent. (Shapiro, 2018) 

While so many people with disabilities experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime, only 3% of sexual abuses are ever reported.  This makes a case for increasing awareness of the vulnerabilities, how, when, and where abuses occur, and also develop prevention strategies.

Let us work to create a society that ensures everyone is able to live free from abuse and harm.


For more information:


Shapiro, Joseph (2018)
NPR, The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About

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Reclaiming Safety Through Counseling

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz

In November 2022, Mosaic Georgia relaunched on-site counseling services for individuals and families who have experienced sexual violence. We are grateful to offer this service to continue the healing journey for those who seek care at Mosaic. Our unique, talented, and passionate staff provide individual, family, and group therapy.

Our team is ready to patiently and compassionately walk alongside individuals and families after the trauma of sexual violence. We truly understand the challenges this type of trauma brings and how it impacts lives daily.

Using trauma-focused interventions, we assist you in reclaiming safety, rebuilding health, and experiencing justice through healing.

One Size Does Not Fit All
Our staff utilizes models that we believe would be the best fit for each client. We do not have a “one size fits all” approach to therapy. Each of our therapists bring slightly different backgrounds and training which allows us the flexibility to match their skills with the client’s needs. All of our approaches are grounded in an understanding of how trauma impacts the whole person and the system to which they belong (family, friends, work, school, community, etc.). The therapeutic interventions seek not only to relieve the distressing symptoms a client experiences after trauma, but also to help them process the trauma so they can live free from the chains of trauma. Our philosophy is to meet each individual where they are in their healing journey and work closely with them to provide the necessary tools to reach their therapeutic goals.

Why Us?
We aren’t just here to help with symptom relief. We recognize that true healing requires a holistic approach. In addition to more traditional, clinical forms of therapy we work closely with our Wholeness Collective program to ensure clients have the opportunity to pursue nontraditional models of healing including trauma-informed yoga, restorative yoga, dance classes, and Finding Hope Support Groups.

Meet our Team
Kendall Wolz, LPC moved to Georgia and joined our staff in October 2022. Prior to joining Mosaic, she worked as the Center Director of a nonprofit organization in New Orleans that served individuals experiencing homelessness, struggling with addiction, and recovering from trafficking. She has her Masters of Arts in Counseling with a specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is currently working on her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Kendall comes to Mosaic with first hand experience of what it is like to be a client at a Child Advocacy Center. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, Kendall is trained in both Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). Kendall loves all things coffee and reading a good book.

Hagikah Birden is a licensed master social worker and therapist working towards clinical licensure. She joined Mosaic in October 2022 after moving to Georgia from the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She has a Masters in Special Education and a Masters of Social Welfare (MSW). Prior to becoming a therapist, she was a special education teacher working with teens and adolescents with cognitive, developmental and behavioral disabilities. Hagikah has worked as a social worker, advocate and educator in schools, criminal legal settings, and with survivors/victims of sexual assault in the Bay Area. Her experiences have significantly shaped her passion for and understanding of how exposure to violence and abuse can impact the individual, family, and community. She is excited to continue this work in the South.

Emily Felton is a Therapist/Counselor for Mosaic Georgia. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker in Georgia and is currently working on her LCSW. Prior to joining the team, Emily gained experience as a hospice/medical social worker and as a mental health therapist in the prison system. She is excited to continue her social work journey with us by providing therapy to children, families, groups, and individuals that have experienced trauma. Her areas of focus include: trauma, crisis intervention, addiction, life adjustment difficulties, parenting issues, anxiety, depression, and death and dying, grief and loss, and self-harm. Emily loves family time and traveling.

Who We Serve
We currently accept clients ages 8 years and older who have been impacted by sexual trauma. We offer individual, family, and group therapy. Appointments are scheduled Monday-Friday between 9 am and 5 pm with some evening availability until 8 pm.

To receive more information about our counseling services, please visit our counseling webpage.

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month: How Can Adults Help?

Co-authored by Marina Sampanes Peed and Amanda Makrogianis Mickelsen

One in three teens experiences verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from a dating partner.

That’s a lot of young people.

Our society’s cultural norms foster these harms in a way that goes unnoticed, largely because these models are woven into the fabric of our collective mindset. Becoming aware of problematic norms and talking openly about their implications can help to change the conversation and lead to a shift towards healthy relationships.

What Exactly Is Teen Dating Violence?
Most people think of violence in the most visible form – physical harms. In fact, relationship violence includes many forms of violations of interpersonal trust and care. Dating violence (any relationship actually) may include verbal assaults and degradation, sexual coercion, assault, and abuse, psychological abuse, stalking, financial, and cyber-bullying.

The Norms We Know
The teen years are full of cognitive and physiological changes, hormonal evolutions and the navigation of social and structural expectations. Add to the mix that technology provides young people 24/7 access to pornography and constant sexual messages in marketing, social media, and entertainment…and quite the recipe emerges.

Pervasive cultural beliefs around sexuality and gender roles perpetuate unhealthy relationships and contribute to the normalization of dating violence among teens.

“Boys will be boys” and “She loves me” and “It’s not that bad”.

Society perpetuates beliefs that coercion is part of a mating dance. Girls learn very early to expect sexual aggression and violence while simultaneously being expected to prevent it.  When attachment occurs, it is tempting to excuse a partner’s harmful behavior.

The Cycle of Relationship Violence
The Teen Power and Control Wheel shows how the cycle perpetuates itself without intervention.

People who abuse may believe:

  • they possess their partner
  • strength equals physical aggressiveness
  • they have the right to control their partner in any way, including demanding intimacy
  • being a “nice guy” can cause young males to lose social capital

Their partners may believe:

  • their partner’s jealousy and possessiveness is romantic
  • they are “lucky” to have a cute, popular or powerful person “into them”
  • they are the ones responsible for solving problems in the relationship
  • abuse is normal because friends or other peers may also experience it

Our Impact
It is promising to know that this unhealthy mindset can merely be a developmental phase, leaving much opportunity for growth and change.

Young minds are like sponges absorbing information through societal observation – at home, within the family, and what is seen and read on TV, movies and in books. Their sense of self-worth is garnered from parents, family, friends and peer groups. Yet sex and consent are not topics that are talked about openly and can be seen as taboo in many households and societal institutions like church or school.

How Can Adults Provide Guidance?

  • Model healthy, nonviolent communication and self-respect
  • Be good listeners
  • Point out healthy relationships
  • Talk about the established cultural norms – and don’t be afraid to challenge them
  • Affirm individual worth and importance
  • Encourage young people to express their feelings
  • Provide tools to navigate various social settings
  • Offer a safe space for teens to talk among themselves

Challenging the Norms
Although parents may feel further away from their children during the teen years, it’s important to remember that their perceptions around established norms can shift as difficult conversations about dating violence are kept front and center. In the paraphrased words of Martin Luther King Jr. ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.

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The Healing Souls of Black Folk

By: Ashia Gallo

My interest in wellness and healing really exploded during my time living in Mozambique, an African nation along the southeast border of the continent. I was a Health Outreach Peace Corps volunteer in my mid-20s; my main work objective was planning public health projects for the local hospital in my rural farming community.

Understanding the role of traditional healers, or curanderos, and their contributions to how health and healing was approached in Mozambican culture was essential to my role. While encouraging locals to visit the hospital for drugs that would save their lives after HIV and malaria diagnoses, I quickly learned of the distrust and inaccessibility to Western medicines many Mozambicans faced. Thus, exploring how to integrate natural healing with public health education became an essential part of my work.

Black folk around the world have experienced unique threats to their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health for generations. The diverse ways in which cultures have survived and thrived despite these realities across the Black Diaspora spans multiple continents and generations elicits awe. The lasting traditions carried forward by descendants of various cultures from mainland Africa can be seen in the food, dance, rituals, innovations, and folklore of Black people around the world.

In terms of food, Black cultures across the Americas created everything from life-saving medicines to world-renowned cuisines, all from the natural herbs and products of their lands. The comfort and resourcefulness of soul food evolved from Southern slaves’ determination to make magic out of scraps, and to use delicious flavors to bring families together in nourishment and celebration. Farmers, cowboys, and creole cooks also add to the mosaic of cuisines.

Music and dance have also always been tools for expression, spirituality, and unity in Black communities. Gospel music sustained sacred space for oppressed communities. Soul and hip hop emboldened Black self-love and revolution. Dance is another healing modality that has been used as an expression of joy, sorrow, pain, and freedom through Black bodies. From ballroom to break dancing, there is no space where Black stories haven’t been told though the art of movement. Black culture has always been embedded in popular culture worldwide.
Spirituality and religion are forms of healing at the crux of many Black cultures. Traditional and ancestral belief systems integrate with larger organized religion throughout the world. Fixed creeds like Christianity and Islam have strong footholds across the Black Diaspora. The abundance of ways that traditional African spirituality has conceived ancestors, deities, gods, and spirit beings also runs through.

The trendiness of “wellness” is something I look forward to challenging as the coordinator for Mosaic Georgia’s Wholeness Collective programming. The facets of Black culture that have been commodified and repackaged for a mainstream audience have frequently undermined the purpose and purity of these modalities’ origins. It is my hope that Black dance teachers, cooks, artists, and other healing practitioners continue to offer their gifts to our clients from a gentle and informed space that makes trauma survivors feel safe, seen, and soulful.

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Faces of Mosaic Georgia

Rachel Pearson
Advocacy Specialist & Volunteer Coordinator

Fun Fact: Rachel wrote an essay for a writing contest at her university and won! Her essay is published in her university’s literary magazine. 
Rachel received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Human Services Delivery and Administration from the University of North Georgia. Before joining the team at Mosaic Georgia, Rachel was an advocate at a domestic violence shelter which enabled her to gain valuable insight on the work of non-profits catered towards ensuring the safety and justice of victims of family violence. Rachel started last July as an Advocacy Specialist and has recently taken on the role of Volunteer Coordinator as well. She is incredibly proud and grateful to work for an organization whose mission is focused on believing and empowering all victims of sexual assault, providing them with lasting resources, and working alongside law enforcement and other agencies to ensure justice.

Laura Mathew
Counseling Intern

Fun fact: Ratatouille is my absolute favorite childhood movie. I listen to the soundtrack when I study and cook. The movie’s ambience makes me feel really comfy. I still watch it 1x/year!

Laura Mathew is pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Georgia and previously has earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of West Georgia. She joined Mosaic in January 2024 as a counseling intern. Her previous experience included interning at a non-profit that served women survivors of sex trafficking and individuals who aged out of foster care. The organization provided support in overcoming their many challenges and aided in advancing their academic success. Her clinical interests revolve around helping children and adults who have had adverse childhood experiences. Laura is also interested in human trafficking prevention and education. Once she graduates in May 2024, Laura hopes to be more involved in assisting those who have been trafficked, utilizing rehabilitation and/or policy work that advocates for survivor rights and assistance.

Vernon Scott
Advocacy Specialist

Fun Fact: Apple juice is my comfort drink.

Dr. Vernon T. Scott is from the state of Georgia. He is in the process of earning a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy with a Systemic Sex Therapy specialization. As a therapist, Vernon specializes in treating adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and Black men’s mental health. He is an advocate for trans rights and fighting against rape culture and its systemic impact within society. Vernon is a podcaster who uses his platform to provide healthy conversations related to the nuances of sexual expression and amplify the voices of those often forgotten by society.

Vernon has been a member of the Mosaic GA family since July of 2023. He is currently an Advocacy Specialist. Vernon strives to help families find a way to start their healing process and grow together.

Adina Becerra
Bilingual Advocacy Specialist

Fun Fact: Adina comes from Transilvania, the place where vampires are said to come from.

Adina grew up in Romania and earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Bucharest. Her thesis “Stalking on College Campuses” was published in the National Journal of Criminology, Forensics and Penology. She has a proclivity for foreign languages, being fluent in four (Italian, English, Spanish and Romanian). Her first summer job was as an Italian interpreter in High School for private Italian tourists visiting Romania. After interning in probation and conducting research in the Romanian prisons, Adina came to Atlanta and became a National Credential Advocate to better serve her community. Before coming to Mosaic, she volunteered for Dekalb CASA for 10 years, IRC and Day League before joining the Dekalb Solicitor General’s Office as a Victim Advocate in 2022.

Mairah Teli
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth (CSEC) Advocate and MDT Coordinator

Fun fact: Mairah’s average typing speed is 72 words per minute

Mairah Teli serves as the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth (CSEC) Advocate and MDT Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia. Mairah received her bachelor’s in English Education from the University of Georgia. After teaching in the Gwinnett County Public School system as a high school Language Arts teacher, she shifted her focus to social work and earned her Master’s of Social Work. Mairah worked within the nonprofit sector and has served in a variety of roles with a focus on victim services, trauma informed care, crisis intervention, and strengthening families. She is currently an LMSW and works with children and adolescents who have experienced human trafficking by providing crisis intervention, case management, and advocacy. Mairah is also an active member of the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. Outside of work, Mairah is passionate about community service and youth development. She leads a youth group program for adolescent girls, facilitates support groups, and leads a range of trainings on child abuse prevention and mental health in her local community.  

Brian Darden
IT & Data Administrator

Fun Fact: Brian is running his first marathon later this year!

Brian was born and raised in and around Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2013 with a BA in Sociology and recently completed a Master of Public Administration at the University of North Georgia. Brian previously worked for FOCUS, a non-profit in Atlanta that serves families who have children with developmental disabilities and who are medically fragile. He now works as Mosaic Georgia’s IT and Data Administrator where he handles all things technical and database-related.

Velma Wright
Paralegal & Legal Advocate

Fun fact: Velma is related to Viola Davis by way of her mother!

Velma works as a paralegal and legal advocate within Mosaic Georgia’s legal department, providing direct advocacy services to clients impacted by sexual assault, child sexual abuse or sex trafficking. She assists the managing attorney with civil legal matters in and out of court and criminal justice system advocacy services. Prior to that Velma gained experience working in the legal field for a number of organizations including Childers Schlueter & Smith, LLC and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, and has also worked in the Gwinnett County Public Schools system as an educator. Velma has her BS from South Carolina State University and her Master of Arts in Human Services-Marriage and Family Therapy, in addition to her Paralegal Certification. Velma is passionate about being an advocate and serving others, especially children, through volunteer work. She is a graduate of the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, Inspire Atlanta Class of 2020.

Sara Longwell
Bilingual Legal Advocate/Navigator

Fun Fact: Sara loves horror movies, crafting, and building Legos with her family.

Sara Longwell is a Bilingual Legal Advocate/Navigator at Mosaic Georgia who works with victims of sexual assault to understand criminal and civil legal procedures, apply for Crime Victims’ Compensation, and find the resources they need. Sara believes that empowering survivors of sexual violence to make their own legal decisions on their own terms through education, the right resources, and compassion helps them build courage and confidence and to have authority over their lives.
Sara is Spanish/English bilingual, a certified paralegal, victim advocate, and crisis counselor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Agnes Scott College and a master’s degree in Music Therapy and Music Education from the University of Georgia.

Esther Ko
Bilingual Victim Assistance Attorney

Fun Fact: Esther has a bunny named Bomi and a dog named Silver (they do not like each other).

Esther is a first-generation college and first-generation law school graduate. Esther attended the University of Georgia and Atlanta’s John Marshall School of Law. She has a passion to serve the public interest and fights for equal access to justice. In her free time, Esther enjoys volunteering at her local Korean community center to help with translation and other related services for those in need.
Esther started at Mosaic Georgia in August of 2023 and is excited to continue to serve in her role as Bilingual Victim Assistance Attorney.

Susan Nerenbaum
Marketing & Communications Specialist

Fun Fact: Susan is a devoted animal enthusiast.Dogs are her favorite, with cats running at a very close second!

Susan is a proud alumna of Georgia Gwinnett College, where she earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing in May 2022. Her journey into the world of nonprofit marketing took its first steps when she became a Marketing and Outreach Intern at Mosaic Georgia. Driven by her unwavering commitment to effecting positive change, she smoothly transitioned into the role of Marketing and Communications Specialist at Mosaic after successfully completing her degree. Susan’s dedication is rooted in her aspiration to create a safer world for everyone. Beyond her professional pursuits, Susan’s heart beats for the great outdoors and having an active lifestyle. You’ll often find her hiking through nature trails, embracing the tranquility of the natural world, or eagerly venturing into new experiences.

Amanda Makrogianis Mickelsen
Marketing Strategist & Project Manager

Fun Fact: Amanda got a job working at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics after graduating from the University of Massachusetts – then after 15 years living in Southern CA – ended up right back in Atlanta in 2013 due to a documentary film her husband was making. The ATL always comes a callin!

Amanda feels lucky to have landed as a consultant at Mosaic Georgia where she works copywriting and project managing marketing initiatives and strategy. After gathering many years of account management experience in the corporate sector, Amanda put a focus towards her personal passion of health and wellness as a Wellness Consultant, and later a Chopra Certified Instructor, teaching meditation and the benefits of holistic health and yoga at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in CA. She currently teaches at Southwest Atlanta Yoga studio. Amanda feels passionate about serving the collective and contributing to a more just and humane world. She has served as Board President at the Doc B Cares, Inc. program and volunteers with various Atlanta organizations such as the King Center.

Amanda enjoys traveling, reading, meditation, the quiet of nature, cooking (when the mood strikes!) with her young son, swimming, and exploring new ideas. Oh, and she will soon-to-be enjoying RVing with her family!

Vanessa Zavaleta-Beltran
Client Experience Specialist

Fun Fact: Vanessa is the first one to graduate from her mom’s side of the family!

Vanessa graduated from Georgia State University with a bachelor’s in criminal justice with a concentration in criminology and a minor in psychology in 2022. She spent time interning at Forever Family which is a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping at-risk youth. She began her journey at Mosaic Georgia in June 2022.

Danny Fernandez
Schedule and Intake Coordinator

Fun fact: Danny worked with capuchins and orangutans; the primary focus of his psychology degree was primate behavior. He also plays guitar in a band. 

Danny started with Mosaic Georgia during the summer of 2020 as a Client Experience Specialist. He has subsequently been promoted to Schedule and Intake Coordinator. Prior to joining Mosaic, he was working as a bar manager and beverage director in Atlanta. The pandemic encouraged him to change his life’s trajectory to become more aligned with community engagement. He had previously worked at The Ronald E. McNair Program from 2012-2014, an organization that assists first-generation college students matriculate to their PHD’s. Danny received his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Georgia State University in 2012.

Maryam Jordan
Professional Education & Training Services

Fun Fact: Maryam has been to five continents so far, but still wants to see and experience more of our world! 

Maryam Jordan manages Mosaic Georgia’s Professional Education and Training Services and has been with the organization since September 2019. She provides educational programs for medical professionals, law enforcement, educators, and other community members who may interact with victims of sexual assault. Maryam also manages outreach and community engagement efforts, where she draws from her experience working with people from various cultures. She is energized when she is able to go out into the community and educate about sexual assault awareness and prevention, especially to young people. Maryam earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. Prior to joining the team, she worked in the international affairs arena where she lived, worked and traveled abroad and conducted training and educational programs for volunteers and members of an international non-profit organization. Maryam is a native Atlantan and moved to Gwinnett County over 10 years ago with her husband and three children. In her free time, she enjoys “getting outdoors” and hiking in the North Georgia mountains with family and friends.

Marilucia Munoz
Bilingual Advocacy Specialist

Fun Fact: Mari loves to read true crime books. 
Mari Munoz is a first generation American with family origins in Mexico and Honduras. She graduated from the University of North Georgia with a Bachelors in Human Services Delivery and Administration in 2022. While getting her Associate’s degree, she discovered a strong interest in helping people of all sorts and in various ways. Her years of studying included multiple internships; the last one was with the DA’s office. In her time there it became clear that she wanted to become an advocate and help survivors during their process in the legal system. Mari started at Mosaic Georgia as a Bilingual Advocate in July of 2022.

Liliana Jimenez
Bilingual Advocacy Specialist and Campus Outreach Coordinator

Fun Fact: Liliana won the College of Health Sciences Outstanding Student award at her graduation.

Liliana graduated from Georgia College & State University with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health in 2022. When she first started interning at Stepping Stone CAC she fell in love with this work and wanted to continue doing it after graduation. Liliana started as a full-time Bilingual Advocacy Specialist at Mosaic Georgia in May. Since then, she has also started as a Campus Outreach Specialist and works with surrounding campuses to spread awareness and implement on-campus education. Liliana is very excited to continue supporting victims of sexual assault.

Helen Cha-Choe
Director, Advocacy & Forensic Interviews

Helen is the Forensic Interview Manager at Mosaic Georgia.  Prior to joining our team in July 2018, Helen worked with the Asian American and immigrant communities and provided immigration legal and educational services, as well as legal advocacy to victims of domestic violence at non-profits in the Metro Atlanta Area and has also counseled high school students at a non-profit in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has always had a strong commitment to public service, previously working as a federal government attorney for over twelve years in New York and Washington, D.C.  Helen received her Bachelor of Science degree from Georgetown University, her J.D. from the University of Hawaii School of Law, and her Master’s in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies.  Raised in Hawai’i, she brings the “aloha spirit” to Georgia and has made Fulton County her home with her family.

Fun fact: Helen played tennis in high school and recently rediscovered her love for the sport.

Edith Garcia
Bilingual Advocate & Forensic Interviewer

Edith started with Mosaic during the pandemic in summer of 2020 as our Bilingual Advocate & Forensic Interviewer. She received her Bachelor’s of Human Services from the University of North Georgia and is currently working on her master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Bellevue University. Edith is a first generation college graduate and the first in her family to continue her education to obtain her master’s degree. Before working at Mosaic Georgia Edith interned at Partnership Against Domestic Violence assisting survivors obtain temporary protective orders.

Fun fact: Edith has watched the show New Girl over five times (and will continue to watch New Girl in her spare time).

Jessica McGinnis
Advocacy Specialist, Forensic Interviewer, & SART Coordinator

Jessica currently works as an Advocacy Specialist, Forensic Interviewer and SART Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia. She devotes her time to serving victims of all ages. She completed the ChildFirst Forensic Interview Training in March 2022. Her graduate studies were completed at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in May 2018. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, GA in December 2015 where she received a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice with a Forensics Concentration. Jessica completed the Gwinnett Young Professionals Journey Program in April 2023. She also is a recipient of the 1PowerHouse Unsung Hero Award.

Fun Fact: Jessica was the creative inspiration and driving force behind the beautiful painted “mosaic” design currently covering a picnic table at Ironshield Brewing’s Biergarten in Lawrenceville.

Jaime Albright
Part-Time Forensic Interviewer & Advocate

Jaime serves as a part-time Forensic Interviewer and Advocate. Jaime’s interest in serving children was sparked through volunteerism. She began her work at Mosaic Georgia in February 2014 as a volunteer Victim Advocate and moved into the role of SART Coordinator in 2015. Jaime earned her Bachelor of Sociology from Kennesaw State University in 2013 and earned her Master of Social Work from Valdosta State University in May 2018. Jaime was born and raised in California. She resides in Alpharetta with her husband and children. She enjoys writing and producing podcasts, yoga, serving on mission trips, and spending time with her family.

Fun fact: Jamie has a fear of heights and overcame it by going cliff jumping and parasailing.

Maria Herrera
Bilingual Forensic Interviewer and Advocate

Fun Fact: If you catch Maria watching TV it will most likely be The Office, and in her free time you might see her shooting some hoops.

From Atlanta, GA, Maria is of Mexican descent and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Maria received her bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Georgia State University and is currently working on her Master’s in Public Administration at Kennesaw State University. Before Joining the Mosaic team, she worked at the Douglas County Task Force for almost three years as a Legal Services Coordinator, then as a Bilingual Forensic Interviewer. She joined Mosaic Georgia in March of 2022. Maria is passionate about serving her community and giving survivors a place to feel heard.

Charmaine Hayes
Part-Time Bilingual Forensic Interviewer & Advocate

Charmaine is of Cuban and Mexican descent and originally hails from New Orleans, Lousiana. In 2004, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Georgia State University and is currently perusing a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Liberty University. Charmaine spent many years working with Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlanta as a Program Director then transitioned to Emdeon as a Bilingual Healthcare Representative. Over the last 10 years she has operated her own business in the real estate market. Charmaine joined Mosaic in March 2023 and is passionate about supporting victims of sexual assault.

Fun fact: Charmaine lived a year in Miami, Fl. with a Brazilian group who only spoke Portuguese so by default had to learn the Portuguese language!

Rebeca Ruelas
Part-Time Forensic Interviewer

Rebeca Ruelas is part time Forensic Interviewer for Mosaic Georgia. Additionally, she is involved with a start-up app company focused on teenagers mental health. With over 10 years of experience in the field of social services, she has dedicated her career to working with victims, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and advocating for children’s rights. Throughout her journey, she has worked at various centers specifically focused on addressing these issues, providing crucial support and resources to those in need. In addition to her professional work, she is an active volunteer for a local Hispanic non-profit in Georgia working tirelessly to raise awareness and support these communities. In 2017, she graduated from the University of North Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration.

Fun Fact: Rebeca loves dancing to music, going to museums and finds joy in hearing and sharing jokes.

Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager

Fun fact: Kendall once got stuck on a train in Italy and missed her destination. Thankfully, any destination in Italy is desirable.

Kendall Wolz, LPC moved to Georgia and joined our staff in October 2022. Prior to joining Mosaic, she worked as the Center Director of a nonprofit organization in New Orleans that served individuals experiencing homelessness, struggling with addiction, and recovering from trafficking. She has her Masters of Arts in Counseling with a specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is currently working on her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Kendall comes to Mosaic with first hand experience of what it is like to be a client at a Child Advocacy Center. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, Kendall is trained in both Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). Kendall loves all things coffee and reading a good book.

Hagikah Birden

Fun fact: Hagikah was a part of a Brazilian Street Drumming troupe in California. She played the Agogo, a type of bell.

Hagikah Birden is a licensed master social worker and therapist working towards clinical licensure. She joined Mosaic in October 2022 after moving to Georgia from the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She has a Masters in Special Education and a Masters of Social Welfare (MSW). Prior to becoming a therapist, she was a special education teacher working with teens and adolescents with cognitive, developmental and behavioral disabilities. Hagikah has worked as a social worker, advocate and educator in schools, criminal legal settings, and with survivors/victims of sexual assault in the Bay Area. Her experiences have significantly shaped her passion for and understanding of how exposure to violence and abuse can impact the individual, family, and community. She is excited to continue this work in the South.

Emily Felton

Fun fact: Emily enjoys letting her creative juices flow with painting and other crafts.

Emily Felton is a Therapist/Counselor for Mosaic Georgia. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker in Georgia and is currently working on her LCSW. Prior to joining the team, Emily gained experience as a hospice/medical social worker and as a mental health therapist in the prison system. She is excited to continue her social work journey with us by providing therapy to children, families, groups, and individuals that have experienced trauma. Her areas of focus include: trauma, crisis intervention, addiction, life adjustment difficulties, parenting issues, anxiety, depression, and death and dying, grief and loss, and self-harm. Emily loves family time and traveling.

Melissa Drinkard
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)

Fun fact: I love to mountain bike in my free time. 
Melissa earned her nursing degree from Georgia Perimeter College in 2015 and began her career as an Emergency Room Nurse. From there, she discovered her passion for helping individuals that have been victims of sexual violence. Melissa became a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at the beginning of 2022 and began her journey as an on-call SANE at LiveSafe Resources in Marietta. Melissa Joined the Mosaic Georgia team in July 2022 as a full-time SANE where she gets to pour all of her dedication into the care of her patients.

Teresa Bullard
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)

Fun Fact: Teresa met her husband on the school bus freshman year and they won cutest couple for senior superlatives. (Not sure it gets any sweeter than that.)

Teresa earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of South Florida in Tampa and worked in Mother Baby at NSH for 17 years. She first worked with Mosaic Georgia as an on call SANE and is now a full-time member of the staff. Teresa feels passionate about getting age-appropriate, sex positive inclusive sex education into our schools. She is very involved in her church’s outreach and advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals and participates with the Atlanta area Lutheran church to support the Atlanta Pride Parade and Festival.

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Wholeness Collective – A Wellness Program Launch


By: Ashia Gallo, MPA

At Mosaic Georgia, we play a very sensitive role in the lives of the clients we support. From the first moment we meet them, the stakes are high. We are likely making introductions with a crime victim on the worst day of their lives. It’s a sacred responsibility that our team doesn’t take lightly.

At Mosaic Georgia, we specialize in crisis response for victims of sexual assault, child abuse, and more. A survivor may come to us after experiencing a sexual violation, calling the 24-hour crisis line mere hours or days after an incident. Next steps include an advocate helping the victim to ground, informing them of our services, and possibly making a same-day appointment at our confidential office location.

Once the victim arrives in person, we work to establish safety and trust among trained advocates, provide medical and law enforcement support, and determine the best plan for next steps – navigating difficult healing, and possibly legal, journeys.

The need to further develop these long-term responses became an issue that Mosaic Georgia leadership was desperate to solve. Our legal team helps victims through rigorous and otherwise expensive court proceedings to receive justice against an abuser. Our counseling team provides the one-on-one processing space that so many trauma survivors must undergo in order to move through their pain and not let the impacts of sexual or child abuse dominate their futures.

What isn’t often considered, though, is the isolation felt by these victims as they move through the healing process. The spiritual warfare, the identity crisis, the loss of self and safety at a soul level. The Wholeness Collective was born from these realities. When I signed on as program coordinator in Summer 2022, I was determined to combine my experiences as a victims’ advocate, activist, and international service worker to nurture the creation of this vision.

The goal of the Wholeness Collective was simple – design a trauma-informed healing and wellness program enhancing Mosaic Georgia’s mission by extending care to abuse survivors beyond our established crisis response period. To encourage and support long-term healing and wellness for those on the road back from trauma.

I spent the first several weeks creating a network of people who knew how to do just that. Reflecting its namesake, I aimed to build a “collective” healing community and knew that it couldn’t happen independently. I cold called and emailed countless community-serving nonprofits in Gwinnett County to spread the word about what we were creating. I also ensembled an Advisory Committee from those I talked to with diverse backgrounds, in terms of both identity and area of expertise. Committee members include local business owners, artists, mental health professionals, higher education administrators, and esteemed Mosaic Georgia staff members.

After months of building community interest, partner support, and referral processes at Mosaic Georgia and beyond, the Wholeness Collective launched in October 2022. The results were more than I could’ve ever imagined!

We held a total of 24 FREE Wholeness events and classes in the program’s first quarter, a variety of offerings: support groups for adult, female sexual assault survivors, music classes for children, sound healing and yoga classes, and a workshop for youth-serving professionals and parents about the ways we can protect our kids from abuse.

Nearly 70 participants registered for Wholeness events. Seven healing modality facilitators shared their gifts and led classes. Our program evaluation process (44% response rate) reflected success, revealing an increase in participants’ sense of agency, well-being, empowerment, and positive feelings about their healing journeys over an 8-week period.

We also received notable feedback we are excited to implement in 2023: creating more connection among participants and facilitators, offering culturally specific programming, and taking our events out of the office and into the community!

The sky is the limit for the future of the Wholeness Collective, and I am honored to lead the charge in Mosaic Georgia’s unique, holistic approach to victim services. Amongst our class facilitators, community stakeholders, victims, their families, and the Mosaic Georgia team, the message will remain the same: You are not alone.

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Marina’s Interview with CFNEG


Check out a Q & A with Mosaic Georgia Executive Director, Marina Peed. Marina talks about the services that Mosaic Georgia offers, the future of Mosaic Georgia and how we serve the community. The original article is linked HERE.


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Mosaic Georgia on the Radio


Mosaic Georgia leaders sat down with Business Radio X to talk through the services that we offer to the community and who it is that we serve. Check out the audio below and see the original post at THIS LINK.


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Why Awareness Matters


“I’ve learned throughout the years that no one wants to talk about what I do for a living. Getting folks energized about sexual violence prevention is not easy.”

By: Sara Cherry, Advocacy Manager

In my time as an Advocate for the past 5 years, Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been vastly different every year. I have experienced Aprils chock-full of every kind of event regarding sexual violence, and I have experienced Aprils where a few digital informational flyers and a Zoom presentation were the best I could hope for in terms of spreading awareness.

I began my career in the wake of the #MeToo Movement. People were tuned into the conversation. They were listening, learning. They were hearing what survivors and Advocates have always been saying: that sexual assault is a public health crisis. College campuses were eager to work with their local Sexual Assault Centers to implement sexual assault prevention & education programming, utilize Advocacy services for survivors, and draw from the knowledge of the experts in the field in order to make their communities safer.

As time passed, conversations pivoted away from sexual violence and the spotlight shifted. The global pandemic we’ve all been living through for the past two years is no small player here; our attention was held captive by another pressing health crisis. While #MeToo isn’t making nearly as many headlines as it was a few years ago, the impact it has made is worth noting. First of all, the conversation was finally being had. That’s no small feat when considering the topic!

I’ve learned throughout the years that no one wants to talk about what I do for a living. Getting folks energized about sexual violence prevention is not easy.

Additionally, measures were put in place in classrooms, workplaces, and maybe even in some unwritten cultural rulebooks about standing up to and preventing this type of violence. As a society, I believe we tolerate sexual assault a little less, we know our rights a little more, and those that experience this type of violence know that they are not alone. There will always be places like Mosaic Georgia that exist to help survivors through their experiences, and so long as we do we will do our part during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to educate and hopefully prevent future violence.

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People Helping People: A Daily Dose of Courage


Courage: the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the unavoidable presence of fear.

What’s a kid to do? We tell children to speak up for themselves and we want them to be quiet and respectful. Each family has its own norms and unspoken expectations. Regardless, it takes courage for a child to speak out when someone abuses her and threatens harm if she tells anyone. How should the community respond?

Courage meets compassion

The Gwinnett community has a multi-disciplinary team that operates with the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) model. Designed to be welcoming and convenient, all the steps after reporting take place in one private location, Mosaic Georgia: forensic interview, forensic medical assessment, and supportive services. Law enforcement and other necessary agencies go to Mosaic Georgia to collaborate on the investigation and issues resulting from the abuse/assault.

There are no fees, no co-pays, and no hospital waits. Our goal is to reduce trauma and stress through the reporting and investigative process and offer advocacy support during and after.

Building courage

People often ask, How can people get away with this? Coercion and silence are the primary tools used by people who physically and sexually abuse. Abusers know what is important to their victims and use that information to garner compliance. Abusers often diminish their victim in the eyes of others with comments about them being sneaky, lying, promiscuous, or attention-seeking to discredit her or him in the event the code of silence is broken. Many victims finally find their voice to protect others. “When I saw him with my little sister, I couldn’t stay silent…”

A family matter

Child abusers are opportunistic, choosing victims they can easily access and manipulate. The harm is compounded when the abuser is a family member, close friend, fellow student, or trusted teen or adult. The relationships are complex and intertwined. Feelings of genuine love or respect are conflicted with the confusion, pain, and shame the abusive behavior conjures. The weight of silence can lead to many forms of self-destructive behavior.

“I don’t want him to go to jail. I just want him to stop…”

You may assume that family members will form a protective shield around the person who gives voice to the abuse. Yet a common response is frustration, even anger toward the victim. Competing interests cause more damage to everyone. He may be the family breadwinner or have some social standing at work, church, school, or the ball field.

Private and public courage

What is not spoken is not acknowledged (don’t ask, don’t tell) and is allowed to continue. That lack of courage hurts everyone involved. It also explains why so many victims who report abuse later recant. The pressure to maintain the family’s status quo is too great for courage to sustain.

Ask any student in middle or high school and they can tell you about a video or snapchat that went viral. And find out how the victim was trolled and threatened as a result. The discourse focuses on the recipient of the assault, not on the behavior and decisions of the perpetrator. While some abusers feel shame after an assault, many do not believe they did anything wrong. “It just happened. She didn’t scream or anything.”

Our collective courage is challenged everyday. “I don’t want to get involved” for fear of backlash. That’s another way silence oppresses.

Courage + Support = Survivor

At Mosaic Georgia, we see courage every day in the people we serve. We help them put the pieces of their lives back together so their futures are brighter than yesterday. If this resonates, know that you are not alone.

We applaud your daily courage for living your life whether you have spoken your truth aloud. As Christopher Robin told Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” We are here for you, too.

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