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Miss USA 2014 hopeful Valerie Gatto: Miss Penn. says she's a 'product' of rape

Valerie Gatto told the "Today" show that she was a product of rape and wanted to educate women about sexual assault.
Valerie Gatto told the "Today" show that she was a product of rape and wanted to educate women about sexual assault.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Valerie Gatto is beautiful. She's 24 and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She also happens to be Miss Pennsylvania 2014 and vying for the coveted Miss USA 2014 title that will be decided on Sunday night in Baton Rouge, La.

She's also the product of a violent rape...

Valerie Gatto told the "Today Show" June 5 that she wants to use her mother's rape as a lesson to all women about sexual assault.

“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." “Being a voice is life-changing, and I just want to keep going.”

Gatto told "Today" that her mother had been attacked on the streets of Pittsburgh when she was 19 years old. A man wielding a knife had dragged her into an alley a brutally raped her. He would have killed her but for a brief flash of light that prompted him run, leaving the young woman badly abused but alive.

Learning later that she was pregnant, Gatto's mother said she had originally intended to give her child up for adoption but had decided to keep the baby.

“Something bad happened to me," she told a much younger Valerie Gatto, the young woman confided on the show. "A very bad man hurt me, but God gave me you."

“Unfortunately, we have to be aware of these crimes,” Gatto told “Today.”

“I hope to show others how to be proactive, what to do, to be present, to be aware of your surroundings.”

Currently the young Miss USA hopeful is chasing acting opportunities. If she wins the Miss USA 2014 crown Sunday, she will only the second Miss Pennsylvania to ever win the coveted title. The last time the Keystone State saw their hopeful get the tiara was in 1971 when Michele McDonald took the crown.

Valerie Gatto will compete with 50 other contestants at the Miss USA Pageant in Baton Rouge on Sunday, June 8. The winner will be announced live at the end of the ceremony and Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady will pass on the crown and title of Miss America. The 63rd Miss USA pageant begins at 8 p.m. (EST) on NBC Television.