One Billion Rising hopes to "Break the Chain" of sexual assault and violence against women


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A personal experience inspired third-year medical student Emily Burnham to raise awareness and fight violence against women.

“My mom’s best friend, who died last summer, was abused as a child,” said Burnham. “Knowing someone affected by this is common. You may not realize it affects someone you know until you start talking about it, like we did at this moment.”

Burnham is involved in Medical Students for Choice, an international organization seeking to keep abortion a safe and accessible option for women facing unwanted pregnancies. The group is among many who are taking advantage of the spirit of Valentine’s Day to shed light on an alarming statistic: One in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

Medical Students for Choice will perform The Vagina Monologues, compiled by Eve Ensler, at the Medical Education & Research Facility at 5 p.m. Feb. 17. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Emma Goldman Clinic, 227 N. Dubuque St.

Julie Pedrick, a local Zumba fitness instructor at Body Moves Fitness and Wellness Center, 1801 Second St. Suite 250, Coralville, is also passionate about victims of violence and sexual assault.

“I do know of violence personally,” she said. “I know of violence through people I have known who took their lives because of it, so this movement has personal meaning.”

The movement is the One Billion Rising “revolution” — a global organization Ensler started for women and men to raise awareness of violence against women and young girls. The event, which always takes place on Valentine’s Day, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.

At 5 p.m. today, the north end of the Old Capitol Town Center will fill with music, dancing, and guest speakers. Admission is free.

“You look at those videos from the One Billion Rising website, and we may not experience that every day, but I have so much empathy and compassion for those people,” Pedrick said. “I want to make that difference for women and children suffering on a global level.”

Pedrick will join fellow Zumba and Nia instructor Beth Pelton to lead a choreography workshop to the movement’s anthem, “Break the Chain.” Participants can take part in the emotionally driven dance at 7 p.m. today at Body Moves Fitness and Health.

“The movements we teach are very empowering,” Pelton said. “Dance is an extremely powerful form of expression using nonviolent ways, compared with other events.”

She said she hopes the dance will inspire change.

“There is this theory called diffusion of innovation,” Pelton said. “It takes a period of time to begin. And if certain people pay attention to this trend, a gradual shift will begin to form. It is a slow start, but if there is a critical mass of interests, it just explodes, like this campaign to end violence.”

Ensler, the driving force behind The Vagina Monologues and One Billion Rising, traveled around the country to interview women about their vaginas and the female experience. She gave a voice to those who typically don’t have one. With a vision to create global awareness and change, she formed the campaigns upon the shoulders of local volunteers and college students to produce the annual benefit.

“Every action we take has some reaction,” said Lynn Ahlers, a schoolteacher at Hoover Elementary, 2200 E. Court St., and a One Billion Rising event coordinator. “This is an awakening. By shining light on what is really going on, I feel like we can intervene to respond and uplift. I truly believe in this cause.”

Lorraine Whittington, a sixth-grade schoolteacher at Hoover, helped jump-start the movement in Iowa City after Ensler inspired her during a dinner they had in New York.

“Eve is a remarkable force of nature,” Whittington said. “Her fierceness about the need to end violence toward women is inspiring. What I learned from her is that a sane world would find any acceptance of sexual violence intolerable.”

A grass-roots movement began

“I want to make everyone in the world aware of a possibility. And to believe that something could happen to create a difference,” Whittington said.

Local organizations such as the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, the Women’s Resource and Action Center, and the Domestic Violence Intervention Program have come together to support the cause.

“People don’t want to be scared anymore; they want to stand up and say this is happening,” said Jacob Oppenheimer, the graduate coordinator of the Men’s Antiviolence Council at the WRAC. “Seeing that passion to promote awareness has been really inspiring.”

This global force has spread like wildfire to more than 200 countries, reaching as far as Afghanistan and the Congo.

“People are coming together for a unified cause; it doesn’t matter who they are,” said Shy Nishikawa, a Domestic Violence Intervention Program volunteer coordinator.

Ahlers said her students have coincidentally been learning about revolutions these past few weeks.
“In our discussions, we have come to the conclusion that change starts small, but it has to start somewhere,” she said.

“We have to reach out and connect somehow. It’s the power of love, through connections. It is an awakening, to take something so horrible and wrong and turn it into a movement for peace.”

What: One Billion Rising: DANCE and Rise Up, Iowa City
When: 4:30 p.m. today
Where: Old Capitol Town Center, North End

What: Zumba and Nia Instructors teach “Break the Chain”
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Body Moves Fitness and Wellness Center
1801 Second St. Suite 250, Coralville

What: The Vagina Monologues
When: 1 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Medical Education & Research Facility

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