April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one local senator is making sure that the public can protect themselves from attacks.
On April 25, state Senator James Sanders Jr. hosted his fourth annual Sexual Assault Defense Training at the Richmond Hill Block Association. The event aimed to educate members of the community on how to protect themselves from becoming the victim of a sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is a serious crime that affects the physical and emotional well-being of survivors long after the attack is over,” Sanders said. “We are here to raise awareness of this type of violence and do our part to educate as many people as we can in an effort to prevent future incidents from occurring, and to encourage those who have been victimized to seek help.”
The event offered information and resources for survivors including support services, counseling, and legal rights. The main highlight from the event was offered by Michael Botier of the Red Dawn Combat Club, who hosted a live demonstration of self defense skills and safety procedures.
Botier and four of his students demonstrated how to fight off an attacker, and how to break free from being choked, pinned to the ground or trapped in a small space such as a car or apartment. The key points that Botier told attendees of defense are grip, position and escape. Attendees had the opportunity to practice the moves they learned with Botier.
“Thank you for this important information you provided,” said attendee Lisa Holder Crawford. “I brought my 14-year-old daughter tonight and she took away a lot and wishes that she brought her friends. My daughter is still practicing the moves.”
Attendees also heard from Sergeant Christopher Winiarz of the 102nd Precinct, who discussed the legality of a sexual assault. According to Winiarz, two of the biggest factors are consent and incapacitation; he explained that once a person clearly communicates that they do not want a sexual act to be initiated or continue it must stop, or it becomes illegal. Additionally, someone is incapacitated to the point where they are not able to convey non-consent of a sexual activity either verbally or physically and it still occurs, that is also illegal.
Another speaker at the event was Doctor Coralanne Griffith-Hunte, who discussed the psychological effects of sexual assault. According to Griffith-Hunte, almost 18 million women have been raped in America since 1998 and that 13 percent of female rape survivors will attempt suicide. Griffith-Hunte also noted that one in six American women has survived an attempt, or completed rape, in their lifetime.
Those who attended the workshop also heard from Connie Pacheco, president of Recoveries R US, who shared her story of sexual assault.
As a child, Pacheco was sexually assaulted by family members, and many years later she would be sexually assaulted by strangers. Pacheco couldn’t shake the feeling of shame and blamed herself for being victimized, eventually turning to drugs in order to cope.
Pacheco eventually sought treatment and began self defense classes while continuing her formal schooling, which ultimately boosted her self confidence. The major turning point for her was when Pacheco’s now ex-husband physically attacked her, grabbing her by the neck and attempting to choke her. Pacheco fought back, elbowing him to the face and breaking his nose.
“I decided right then and there – I am nobody’s punching bag,” she said. “I am not anyone’s possession. I am a human being. I am a woman. I have a lot to offer, and I matter.”