Self-Described 'Product of Rape' Competes in Miss USA This Sunday

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | June 6, 2014 | 3:02 PM EDT

Valerie Gatto, 24 year-old Miss Pennsylvania, is one of 51 candidates competing for the title of 2014 Miss USA this Sunday, and she is a self-described "product of rape." She wants her experience to show others that even from a bleak starting point, anything is possible.

Gatto uses her platform to educate women about sexual assault.

Gatto's mother was raped at knife-point at 19 years old behind some buildings when she was leaving work. She managed to escape her attacker, but soon after realized she was pregnant from the rape. She planned to give the baby up for adoption, but her family's support enabled her to keep the baby.

"I knew that God put me here for a reason and, although my circumstances weren't the same as a traditional family with the perfect white-picket fence, he gave me to my family and my mother for a reason," Gatto says.

"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," she told Today. "...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."

The 2014 Miss USA Competition will be on NBC this Sunday at 8 p.m. live from Baton Rouge, La., at 8:00 p.m. Sunday on NBC. Gatto is one of 51 candidates.

Gatto hopes her determination to win the Miss USA title will inspire 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."