Miss Pennslvania Valerie Gatto is competing against 50 other beauties for the title of Miss USA on Sunday night, but she may have already made a significant difference by revealing that she was conceived when her mother was raped at knifepoint.
Gatto made the surprising revelation, and described herself as a “product of rape,” Thursday in an interview with TODAY.com.
“I haven’t just been preparing for Miss USA for five months. It’s been my entire life,” Gatto said. “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, a marketing consultant, said she spoke out about her personal life to show that it’s possible to overcome any circumstance.
“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.”
As a child, Gatto started to ask questions about her father. She said her mother began to give her more information when she was in third grade, “Something bad happened to me. A very bad man hurt me but God gave me you,” her mother said.
The 24-year-old currently spends her time educating women about protecting themselves from sexual assault.
The 2014 Miss USA Competition airs live from Baton Rouge, La., at 8:00 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
Gatto is one of 51 candidates, representing each state and the District of Columbia, who will be evaluated in swimsuit, evening wear and interview categories.