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Rising against abuse

The Spokane Shock Dance Team perform Thursday at the Spokane Rise Up event in River Park Square to protest violence against woman. (Colin Mulvany)
The Spokane Shock Dance Team perform Thursday at the Spokane Rise Up event in River Park Square to protest violence against woman. (Colin Mulvany)

In Spokane, and worldwide, women focus on the scourge of sexual assault

One in three women will be abused in her lifetime.

Sarah Foley said that statistic shocks a lot of people.

“I think people tend to think it’s not really an issue,” she said.

As the community education and outreach advocate for the YWCA’s alternative to domestic violence program, Foley knows the reality.

“There’s a lot of survivors in the room, whether we know they’re survivors or not,” she said.

On Thursday, just days after the Violence Against Women Act passed the U.S. Senate, Foley joined a few hundred other people – a few million, counting those at other coordinated events held across the globe – to raise awareness that violence against women affects everyone.

The flash mob-like dance party at River Park Square was one of the estimated thousands of similar events held in the name of international organization One Billion Rising. The name stems from a finding by the United Nations Development Fund for Women that worldwide one in three women will be raped, beaten, sexually coerced, trafficked or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Since there are 7 billion people in the world, that’s at least 1 billion victims. The organization’s website ran live feeds of dance events held in corners of the world like Chicago, Brazil, India and Israel.

The Spokane Shock Dance Team led the way locally with a choreographed dance on the ground floor of the mall.

After the dance, they silently lifted one arm into the air, and so did the sea of women and their male supporters. After a moment of silence, they resumed.

Daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers danced together, some to the choreography and the rest to whatever beat moved them.

Foley said the YWCA brought a group of sexual assault survivors to the event to show them they aren’t alone. Staff members even practiced the dance on their lunch breaks.

“We were ready,” she said.

Sue Holly was less confident about her dancing skills.

“There were some really bad dancers,” she said. “Me included.”

It didn’t matter.

Holly, the volunteer coordinator for Lutheran Community Services Northwest, which helped put on the dance, said the event was a way for women and men to be role models.

“We have to start by teaching our young children to know what boundaries are,” Holly said.

Mark Kloehn, education specialist for the Lutheran Community organization, said the goal of the day was not only to raise awareness but to provide information about resources in the area for men and women who are victims of violence, as well as those who support them.

“I think it’s hugely empowering for those who aren’t survivors to show up for those who are,” Kloehn said.

The event, which he described as a “flash mob with a cause,” drew more than 200 people to the mall, which agreed to the event. Various victim advocate groups passed out educational pamphlets about available services.

While the Violence Against Women Act has divided Congress, where objections over certain portions have stalled its progress in the U.S. House, those at Thursday’s event said the issue is not about politics but people.

“There needs to be a movement by the community to take responsibility,” Holly said. “For our citizens to stand up and say, ‘Violence is not OK.’ ”

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Freeman students march in unity to honor memory of slain classmate Sam Strahan

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Drenched in sunshine and a sharp spring wind, more than 70 students marched Friday out of Freeman High School behind a “Freeman Strong” banner to the same football field where they sheltered in fear last September following the shooting that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan and injured three girls.