The fifth annual ’DEIS Impact featured an event called “emPOWER: Self-Defense against Sexual Assault” on Sunday. The discussion about sexual violence and ensuing defense-training workshop created an event that was, in event coordinator Allison Goforth’s words, “an attempt to fill the gap at Brandeis between prevention and response by educating students on practical ways to recognize violence in the moment and defend themselves against it.” While press were not allowed access to the event due to the sensitive nature of the topic, the Justice compiled interviews from participants for this report.

The ’DEIS Impact booklet of events for the festival declared the inspiration behind emPOWER to be rooted in harrowing statistics on sexual violence, such as how “half of American women and one out of five American men have experienced sexual violence. Half of bisexual men and women have been raped. Women and LGBT individuals are the most at risk for sexual violence.”

The need for this event hits close to home; Goforth — who is also the service leadership development graduate assistant with the Department of Community Service — recalled, in an email to the Justice, the results of the University’s 2015 Sexual Misconduct Survey: “22 percent of female and five percent of male students, and 35 percent of trans* students have experienced sexual assault here on campus.” She also acknowledged the dual importance of the event, saying, “Brandeis students [not only] have the opportunity to learn practical self defense strategies but also … have a responsibility to address the violence that is happening right here on our campus.”

For the 90-minute long workshop, emPOWER employed Public Safety Officer and self-defense trainer Patrick O’Hara to coach participants in physical and psychological techniques to ward off attackers.

One participant, Jaspreet Mahal, a Fulbright scholar from India, described the experience in an email to the Justice as “sensitive but empowering training which made me feel that although we have resources around at Brandeis campus, we have to be at our guard. To be alert is the way to avoid mishaps!”

The event paid particular attention to the “issues facing LGBT communities and people of color specifically” within the context of sexual assault at Brandeis and on a national scale, according to Goforth.

“Although this event introduced self-defense techniques to participants, much more is still needed here at Brandeis. This type of training is infinitely more effective when offered with special sensitivity to issues of sexual assault on a regular basis. Unfortunately, at this point Brandeis simply does not offer that resource to students,” she concluded.”

Goforth also stated that she is hoping to take this event further, and develop a Rape Aggression Defense program at the University.

She is currently seeking feedback from undergraduate and graduate students in the form of expressed interest, need or advice.

emPOWER was sponsored by Heller Gender Working Group, Heller LGBT Working Group and the Brandeis Rape Crisis Center.