April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month!
In 2009, my husband (Drew Serrano) and I were contacted by a woman named Tracy DiGiovancarlo, who wanted to run a women's self-defense class for a group of her friends. She wanted this to be a fundraiser for an organization named Jane Doe No More.
As owners of East Coast Training Systems, we had been teaching courses such as this for many years... but this one was different. In the beginning of the class, Tracy had the opportunity to share a few words of encouragement and thanks to the participants. She also told them her story!
You see, Tracy was abducted in broad daylight from a residential area while walking to school one morning when she was only 13 years old. She was then sexually assaulted. Her assailant had a knife to her back and a bag over her head...
Tracy lived to tell the story. She became a wife and mother of two, with a successful career and a volunteer for Jane Do No More.
Up until then, I had heard of the organization, but didn't really understand what they were all about. I learned so much that day. Jane Doe No More was founded by Donna Palomba, an incredible woman with quite a story, which was featured on Dateline NBC.
The class was such a success, that we received requests for many more, and decided to donate a portion of each class to Jane Doe No More. With each class, we heard new stories, many from participants who had never reported or spoke about it before.
A lot of times, sexual assault victims never report the crime. They are afraid they may not be believed, or sometimes are too traumatized to be able to put themselves through the examinations and questionings that follow reporting the crime. Therefore, many times, their assailants walk free. That happened in Donna's case. Her case wasn't solved until 10 years later and many, including the police, did not believe her during that time.
Jane Doe No More joined forces with East Coast Training Systems to offer the "Escape Alive" Women's Self-Defense Classes during the months of March and April in an effort to reach out to 1,000 women and teach the concepts and basic techniques that can prevent them from becoming victims or maybe even saving their lives.
We live in a world where we prepare for things: we purchase insurance, we take CPR Classes, we prepare if a storm is coming, etc... but we don't prepare to defend ourselves if need be.
Women are the highest targets for sexual assault and a lot of times the crime impact their entire lives...Many victims end up abusing alcohol or drugs, and the ripple effect affects us all.
I am not a victim of this awful crime... but I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a friend...and I ENCOURAGE ALL WOMEN to take a stand this April and take a self-defense class and spread the word.
Talking about it and educating others is the key to changing the odds... I thank the amazing group of people involved in holding these classes for the last two months. They have taken time from their families and their work to volunteer to this cause and make the program a huge success. We couldn't do it without you.
No more shame, No more blame, No more fear!