Kleenex Designer Goes Public as Survivor of Sexual Assault

PHOTO: Christine Mau was sexually abused by her father and, later, a boyfriend. Now as an executive, she helped design a logo for the advocacy group No More.
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In 2010, Christine Mau, a brand design director for Kimberly-Clark, was named one of Advertising Age's "Women to Watch." She created the oval-shaped Kleenex box and added rainbow colors to tampon wrappers and feminine pads.

But at the height of her creative success, none of her corporate colleagues knew Mau's back-story: She was a child of poverty who suffered sexual abuse and assault, first at the hands of her father and later a boyfriend.

The fortuitous intervention of bystanders -- a high school teacher and, later, college friends -- saved her from a life of violence.

"People don't want to talk about it because of the associated stigma," said Mau, now 48 and the public face of a campaign called NO MORE to prevent sexual assault and to drive new awareness to stimulate bystander action.

"Every sound bite gets out there and breaks the silences and brings more power to survivors," said Mau, whose personal story inspired NO MORE. Kimberly-Clark, in turn, gave her full support.

Today, as the controversial Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial begins, a coalition of advocacy groups has united under a new universal message and logo Mau helped design. It is the first national prevention initiative that has been backed by every major organization that fights domestic violence and sexual assault.

See the full story about the Steubenville rape case on ABC's "20/20" Friday, March 22, at 10 p.m.

"The smallest things can have a huge impact," said Mau, who hopes that the new logo -- a blue circle with a hole in the middle -- will do for sexual assault what the pink ribbon has done for breast cancer and the red ribbon for AIDS.

The Steubenville rape case shocked the nation as two football players, Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were charged with the rape of a drunken 16-year-old girl last August. Both have pleaded not guilty. The case sparked a debate, in part, because three other students took photos and video of the attack and did nothing to help the alleged victim.

Steubenville Scandal in Photos

A study released today before a Congressional hearing reveals that half of all young Americans surveyed (51 percent) know a victim of sexual assault or dating violence. Of the 700 women aged 15 to 22 surveyed, 53 percent said they would find it difficult to help; 40 percent said they wouldn't know what to do if they witnessed such a crime.

One in three young women and nearly one in two young men say they would not even know how to recognize the signs of sexual assault.

The national, randomized study was conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and funded by the Avon Foundation for Women in conjunction with Seventeen magazine.

The new symbol has been embraced by celebrities including "Twilight" Actress Ashley Greene and Mariska Hargitay of television's "Law and Order SVU," who is president and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Others include CBS sportscaster James Brown and singer Jasmine Villegas.

Mau was among the "best and brightest" in the branding and marketing industry who worked behind the scenes to develop the logo and a website that gives young people the tools to take action.

The logo, gender-neutral and "the color of safety and the color of the sky," represents zero tolerance and a circle of support around a victim, according to Mau. It will be used on signs and posters and attached to the bottom of emails from all the advocacy groups.

Marjorie Gilberg, executive director of Break the Cycle, a Washington-based national dating abuse and prevention organization and one of the supporters of the project, said the study shows young people want to respond, but don't know how.

"There are lots of things you can do -- even simply saying to a friend, if you see the interaction between a girlfriend and a boyfriend, 'I saw that -- is that how things usually go?'" said Gilberg. "Is that joking or is it serious?"

"The fear of losing social capital is very real as a teen," she said. "You want to help a friend, but you don't want to lose friends. But you can have a conversation and let them know where there are resources for help."

Mau struggled with growing up in a dysfunctional Wisconsin family filled with emotional, sexual and physical abuse.

"I was trying to be as small and invisible as possible," she said. "Because I was afraid of males, I would prefer to spend lunch inside my locker. To me, this was normal behavior. When I was home, I would find places to go and hide so as not to be discovered."

As a child, she moved around, living in trailer parks, summer camp grounds and even a farmhouse without heat. Mau's father, who bought and sold used furniture, lived in another state with a girlfriend not much older than Mau. But she says he would return periodically to abuse his daughter.

She kept silent about her father's advances. "You never talk about it in school and you don't talk family business outside," she said. "I didn't even have the capacity to have friends. I kept very isolated … and you don't learn how other people live by comparison."

A perceptive teacher reached out to Mau. She invited the girl to go to her art room and work on project, building Mau's confidence and eventually making sure she applied for college scholarships.

Unhappy at home, Mau fell in love at 16. The minute she graduated from high school, she moved in with her boyfriend, who was also violent. "I picked someone who was going to repeat what I knew," she said of the abuse.

But she was "hell-bent" on going to college and it was there she found the support to eventually leave her abusive boyfriend.

One day, with only five minutes to go before finishing a project in the photo dark room, Mau told her fellow students she had to go home and prepare dinner for her boyfriend.

When they questioned her, she responded, "You don't understand, if I don't do this, I'll get hit…To me that was a normal expectation. He would allow me to go to school if I had Hamburger Helper on the table."

Those bystanders, her friends, empowered Mau to see things differently. "And that's where I got the courage and strength and understanding that I didn't have to live like that," said Mau. "It gave me the power to leave."

Later, when she sought professional help, a therapist shocked Mau by telling her, "Your parents didn't love you."

"It was the hardest thing for me and I thought this was a really cruel thing to say," she said. "But I realized, they had to teach me that was not love. I accepted that if someone loves you, they would not allow this to happen."

Today, Mau is happily married to "the most wonderful man on the planet" and has two children, aged 14 and 17. When she thinks about her rocky path to adulthood, she is grateful.

"I am living my dream," she said. "People think I am making this up, but one of the few branded things that came into my house was Kleenex and I thought these were little pieces of art and saved them. My dream was to design boxes.

"I didn't even get to go to the grocery store when I was little," she said. "Believe me, I do not take anything for granted. Every day I am surrounded by generous, kind people. When asked to donate one day of my time on how to brainstorm brand messaging and a name to help stop domestic violence and remove stigma -- I am 100 percent there."

Mau said working to create NO MORE was her first step forward.

"I am here, because no one stepped up for me," she said. "And my mom wasn't strong enough to stand up for herself. So I stand here for others."

To help or learn more, go to NO MORE.

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