“No!” was the repeated chant that rang from the United Studios of Self Defense on Saturday. Women of all ages gathered together not only to learn the techniques of self-defense, but to learn more about taking a stand against domestic violence in our community. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers and friends punched and kicked their way to empowerment. Sheri Benvenuti, Director of the Vanguard Center for Women’s Studies which sponsored the event, said “this is an amazing sight. The information these women have received and the skills they are learning to protect themselves, represents an empowering experience.”

With over 75 women and 10 self-defense instructors all shouting in unison, you couldn’t help but look around and realize that these are techniques that every woman should know. Jonny Brookman, instructor at the United Studios of Self Defense, “this training gives every single one of these women the confidence they need to take control of any potentially violent situation they may come across and need to escape.”

After the initial rousing session on techniques of self-defense, the later part of the event turned somber. Everyone’s attention turned to the hard realities that women potentially face: Domestic Violence. The documentary SIN BY SILENCE was presented to the audience and the previous raucous chanting turned to a deafening silence. Olivia Klaus, the director of SIN BY SILENCE, reminded the audience, “domestic violence can’t be sugar coated and it’s not going away easily. But, your presence here today gives hope that will empower the countless women who are being horribly assaulted every single day.”

Footage from the film was shown and the audience got a first hand glimpse of the group of inmates at the California Institution for Women, who are the subjects of the film and some of domestic violence’s worse-case scenarios. The audience gained a first hand look at the life of a prisoner through the story of Sandra Redmond, one of the inmates documented in SIN BY SILENCE and recently released from prison.

Redmond reflected, “It's times like today when I really miss the ones I left behind. But, I know that today I would be making them proud. We have to get the word out that domestic violence does happen and there are ways to stop it.” Sandra spent 23 years in prison. During that time she regained the identity that was lost in the horrific relationship that ended tragically with her taking the life of her abusive boyfriend. “I would be nothing without the women I met in prison. They taught me self worth, healing and love; something that I hadn’t experienced in years. I am grateful for my time in prison, but also thankful that I have the freedom to share with you what I went through. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s one that must be told.” Olivia Klaus had met Sandra over 6 years ago when she started her work on SIN BY SILENCE, “We must learn from the experiences of the women in SIN BY SILENCE so that we can stop others from following the same path that they were on. Everyone here today can leave with a better understanding on how to empower that one person you may know who needs help.”

Every participant at the STOP THE VIOLENCE event was deeply impacted. It was an inspiring afternoon for women to build a community and to learn about the evils of our world. But, most importantly, they learned about ways to help make a difference and were given the opportunity to help give towards the finishing costs of the upcoming SIN BY SILENCE. The message of the afternoon really impacted Jessica, a 13 year-old from Irvine, “We were told that 1 in 3 women experience abuse. I looked around the room and told myself that I was not going to be part of that statistic.”

Check out the article on the front page of the Daily Pilot - http://dailypilot.com/articles/2007/09/04/education/dpt-vanguard04.txt