Jaycee Dugard spent 18 years locked up in the backyard of a pedophile, but that’s not what she wants to be known for, she said Friday night at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Amid the splashy surroundings of the DVF Awards—pink spotlights, scattered sofas, women clad in sequin dresses—Dugard silenced the room when she said, “My hope is to be remembered for what I do, and not what happened to me.”
Dugard, who was accepting the People’s Voice Award at the annual event, hosted by Diane von Furstenberg and Tina Brown in honor of courageous women, took the stage amid a standing ovation, joking that she was “a little short” for the tall microphone. Then she said simply, “Hi. My name is Jaycee Dugard. I want to say that. For a long time, I wasn’t able to say my name, and it feels good.” She was referring to her time in captivity, when, as a traumatized girl snatched off the street by kidnappers, she stopped saying her own name. “I am truly honored to be here tonight with these amazing woman who have done and been through so much, who have been through so much more than me,” she said.
Dugard was abducted at age 11 while walking to a schoolbus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., in 1991, by a man named Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. Dugard spent 18 years in captivity in an outdoor shed, giving birth to two girls fathered by Garrido, before she was rescued in 2009, thanks to a pair of observant women who alerted the authorities when they noticed Garrido and Dugard on an outing and thought something seemed off kilter. The Garridos are now in jail.
Dugard wrote a memoir called A Stolen Life about her experience last year and recently launched a group called the JAYC Foundation, which aims to help families recover from abduction and other trauma. At the event Friday, she thanked her family for helping her get through her own ordeal, singling out her mother, who “never gave up hope that she’d see me again,” she said. “I have to say, I felt that hope through many, many years. It gave me the strength to go on and live. And I did live. I had two beautiful daughters who I love with all my heart.”
Dugard accepted the award from another honoree of the evening, Oprah Winfrey.
In presenting the award, Winfrey said, “Jaycee has endured more than most of us have the capacity to imagine. She says in her book on page 45, ‘No one could have foreseen what happened to me. The fact is, it happened. But it’s over now. I do not live my life constantly wishing that I could change the past.’ What a lesson for us all, to be able to move forward and not let our past define our now.”
Winfrey said she had long wanted to meet Dugard. “When I saw her interview with Diane Sawyer—first of all, I wanted that interview, but Diane is also my friend, and I don’t know anybody who could have done a better job than Diane Sawyer—when I saw Jaycee’s soul there, broadcast before us, I wanted to have the opportunity to meet her and tell her how much her story and her life meant to me.”
Before introducing Dugard, Winfrey accepted a Lifetime Leadership Award for her philanthropy, including the academy for girls she launched in South Africa.
Von Furstenberg presented the award, saying, “Oprah decided to take her life in her hands and say no to everybody who tried to try to stop her growth.” Describing Winfrey as “the most successful, influential, formidable woman in the world,” she said, “Oprah, you always fight mediocrity. You have fought discrimination.”
As Winfrey accepted the award, an audience member shouted, “Australia loves you!”
Winfrey replied, “Wow, that’s beautiful. Isn’t it great to be alive and hear people say that about you? It beats a funeral, I tell you.”
She went on to say that the “feminine energy” in the room “fills me up. I’m so full.” She added, “When I first figured out that I could be used on television and not just let television use me, that was the shift. There is a calling on all of our lives to be used for something greater than your personality, to serve the greater energy of your soul.”
Another honoree traveled from the South Kivu region of the Democratic of the Congo. Chouchou Namegabe, the founder of a group called the Association of Women Journalists, uses radio broadcasts to to tell stories of injustice and violence against women. “By honoring me tonight, you are continuing to empower and give voice to more than 10 million women in the eastern part of Congo,” she said, accepting the award from CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. “Our women have suffered for many years. Rape and sexual violence have been used as a weapon of oppression and war.”
Three months ago in the region, which has long suffered from ethnic conflicts, a pregnant woman “had her stomach split open,” she said, “and both baby and mother were publicly slaughtered.” She continued, “There are many cases of atrocities done on women. After the rape, they kill the children and force the [mothers] to eat the flesh of their children. Our country is at war. It is a shame for humanity.”
She said her own weapon is the microphone.
Another award recipient was Brazilian graffiti artist Panmela Castro, who paints urban murals in Rio to raise awareness about legislation against domestic violence. Through her group Rede Nami, she also trains other women to use graffiti art to spur social change. “Graffiti is my world, my lifestyle,” she said. “It sends a message to everybody. Everybody can see it, whether poor or rich. I use this graffiti to talk about domestic violence, but domestic violence is not the problem itself—it’s machismo. It’s a big problem, a cultural problem that takes time to change. We work every day to make this change real.”
She accepted the award from actress Jessica Alba, who called Castro a “renegade.”
The final winner of the evening was Layli Miller-Muro, the founder of the Tahirih Justice Center, which has protected some 13,000 immigrant women and girls in the U.S. from human-rights abuses, according to the award’s presenter, actress Debra Winger.
Said Miller-Muro of the women she helps protect, “By the time they come to our doors they are already heroes. They have left their communities, their faiths, their society, and their children. They have said no to the violence they’ve suffered.”
Each of the award recipients received $50,000 in support of their organizations.