NEW CANAAN — In the #MeToo era, there are still many challenges that victims of sexual assault and abuse face. But we’re moving forward in the right direction, panelists said.

“Every 98 seconds someone in this country is sexually assaulted and most will never report because of the stigma associated with this crime,” Donna Palomba, a victim of a sexual assault in 1993 and President of Jane Doe No More, an organization that helps educate and bring awareness about sexual assault, said.

Palomba, who successfully advocated for the passage of a Connecticut bill that removed the statute of limitations on sexual assault crimes that include DNA evidence, shared her experience as a victim and ultimately as a survivor.

“I was learning more about the crimes of sexual violence,” Palomba recounted.

Panelists included Dylan Farrow, adoptive daughter of director Woody Allen, Mayor of Waterbury Neil O’Leary, who investigated Palomba’s case, and co-director of the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven Hadar Lubin. Rod Khattabi, director of Safety and Justice Initiative Advisor, moderated the discussion.

Palomba’s and Farrow’s retelling of their stories drew audible gasps and sighs from the crowd.

But it was that conversation, as painful as it can be, what encourages others to come forward and share their own experiences, Palomba said.

“Every victim should be treated with dignity and respect,” Palomba said.

Farrow, who detailed sexual abuse by Allen in an interview with CBS in January, described how women face countless obstacles when telling their stories, if they’re even able to in the first place.

“When I was sexually assaulted at the age of seven in 1992, I faced a coordinated campaign by my attacker, my father, Woody Allen, to discredit me,” Farrow said.

While the #MeToo movement has encouraged women and men to tell their own experiences, it’s still a taboo subject but one that can only be addressed by talking about it.

“There are brave men and women who shared their stories with me. I hate talking about my sexual assault, we all do. But I’ll do it as long as it sends the message that you can and should come forward,” Farrow said.

Due to the sensitive nature of the issue, the audience was not allowed to ask questions following the event, a Grace Farms representative announced at the beginning of the event.

Though the event went over by almost 30 minutes after scheduled to conclude, attendees gave the panelists a standing ovation following the discussion.

“It’s about time we have a conversation like this. This can happen to anyone,” Sue Griggs, an event attendee, said.

Other attendees took time to chat with Palomba and Farrow to express their gratitude and commend them on their work.

“I thought this was wonderful because it’s about getting women to speak out,” Barbara Rosenberg said

humberto.juarez@hearstmediact.com