HAWTHRONE, CA- Resolve to Rise held its first annual symposium entitled “Stand Your Ground –Fighting Sexual Assault Together,” at the Hawthorne Memorial Center, this past Saturday. With the month of April being observed as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (#SAAPM), Yolanda Dunn (founding Director of the non-profit) birthed an event that spoke to the subject through raising awareness, education, empowerment and prevention.
As a survivor of sexual assault, Dunn is passionate about taking the necessary steps to inform the community of the widespread issue. She explains the importance of the event saying, “It’s important to me to try to prevent sex crimes from happening to other families and prevent them from enduring the same emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual trauma that my…daughter and I have endured.”
According to RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every eight minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.”” Dunn, 37, asserts her goal is to continue to raise awareness in the community and bring them together to stand and be able to be a voice to those that don’t have a voice…report crime and also be more vigilant of their own surroundings.
Officer, Christina Chiarello, Special Victim’s Detective at Hawthorne High School opened the event with a presentation about the subject matter. During her presentation, she expressed that sexual assault amongst high school students is common and many times the victims aren’t aware they’ve been victimized.
Panelist, Dr. Sonya Smith, Director of Pupil Personnel Services for the Hawthorne School District, argued amongst the panel the importance of listening to the victim. Dr. Smith further exclaimed that she, too is a survivor of sexual assault. Like Dr. Smith, panelist Tika Thornton is also a survivor. She briefly shared her story about being a victim of sexual abuse starting at age six. She further disclosed that she was also a victim of sex trafficking from 12 – 18 years of age. Currently, she is the Crisis Response Case Manager for a non-profit organization called Journey Out. She says, “I use my pain as power.”
During the panel discussion, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, Craig Rouviere and Dr. Vanessa Hurwitz (Psychologist at Harbor UCLA) provided their take on how to communicate and understand someone who has been sexually abused. Attorney Rouviere provided the best way to approach someone who has been sexually assaulted is to build a rapport and identify with them. Dr. Hurwitz debated that sexual assaulted victims sometime suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Dr. Hurwitz explains “People with PTSD are at greater risk of being assaulted, again…it’s difficult for [them] to [identify] a threat.”
City officials Mayor Pro-Tem, Haidar Awad, Councilwoman Angie Reyes English, Councilwoman Olivia Valentine, Councilman Milo Michelin and Hawthorne Police Chief, Robert Fager were all in attendance to support the cause. Toward the close of the event, pro MMA fighter, boxer, kick-boxer and owner of Systems Training Center (a Krav Maga self-defense training studio), Marcus Kowal, took the stage to demonstrate defense strategies for certain attacks. He also spoke about the death of his 15-month-old son, Liam, who was killed by a drunk driver in Sept. 2016. Since the tragedy, Kowal and his wife started Liam’s Life (www.liamslife.org); a non-profit whose mission is to change the social culture toward drinking and driving; “I will die fighting for my son,” he declared.
Following Kowal’s presentation, Mayor Pro-Tem, Haidar Awad, presented Kowal with a donation to Liam’s Life Foundation. Closing remarks were provided by Resolve to Rise’s founding Director, Yolanda Dunn. She gave thanks to all sponsors, supporters, vendors and event committee (Hawthorne Police Department, Mayor Pro-Tem, Haidar Awad, Systems Training Center, Target, Costco, Resolve to Rise, New Star Family Justice Center, Ooh ahh Productions, LW Special Events Management, Underground PR, HCTV 22, Stella Grafx, Trader Joe’s, NorthGate Market, Food 4 Less, Ralphs and the YWCA).
About Resolve to Rise – Resolve to Rise is dedicated to ensuring the welfare, wellness and well-being of children, adolescents and adults by raising awareness against sexual assault. We exist to empower children, families, schools, communities and survivors to rise above the stigma and aim to live fulfilled lives. To learn more about the organization, or to make a donation, visit www.resolvetorise.org
If you, or someone you know is eing sexually abused, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673 (24/7).