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Girl Scouts Learn to “Fight to Survive” at Sag Harbor Self-Defense Workshop

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Cecilia Blowe practices her palm-strikes as Sensei Michelle Del Giorno supervises at a self-defense workshop organized by Girl Scout Troop 1480 and co-hosted by The Retreat and Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor on February 25. Photo by Michael Heller.

Girl Scout Cecilia Blowe practices her palm-strikes as Sensei Michelle Del Giorno looks on at a self-defense workshop organized by Girl Scout Troop 1480 and co-hosted by The Retreat and Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor on February 25. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about one-fifth of high school girls report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average, according to the Department of Justice.

With those statistics in mind, Senior Girl Scout Troop 1480 of Sag Harbor organized a workshop to educate themselves on self-defense methods and raise awareness about the prevalence of violence against women. “There’s so many unexpected things that can happen and the rate is really high,” said Ariana Moustakas, a 15-year-old from Sag Harbor.

On Tuesday, 15 girls from East Hampton and Southampton attended a class at Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor, an event sponsored by the troop. Troop leader Diane Bucking asked Sensei Michelle Del Giorno to lead the workshop, and Ms. Del Giorno enlisted the aid of The Retreat, asking participants to give a suggested donation for the East Hampton center for victims of domestic violence. Telling the girls “silence breeds violence,” Helen Atkinson-Barnes of The Retreat was on hand Tuesday with information and resources.

The idea stemmed from “Girlstopia,” a book Girl Scouts use to envision community service projects and take “a leadership journey toward an ideal world for girls.” According to “Girlstopia,” violence causes more death and disability worldwide among women ages five to 44 than war, cancer, malaria or traffic accidents.

“I realized that I’ve got two high school girls who live in a very small town and they’re going to be going off to college and need to have a few skills to keep themselves safe,” said Ms. Bucking.

“You never know what to expect when you’re out of East Hampton and you’re at a new college, so knowing self-defense mechanisms is really helpful,” agreed Laura Field, a 17-year-old senior at East Hampton High School who attended the workshop.

“You could be walking down the street and you could get attacked,” added Ariana. “You think it’s not going to happen, but it could happen to you and you need to know what to do.”

Sensei Del Giorno started the workshop by telling the girls self-defense has many forms, such as putting your seatbelt on and eating healthy. “But right now,” she said, “we’re going to focus on physical self-defense, safety and awareness and really being out there and being focused in the world, paying attention.”

Telling the girls no one can protect yourself as well as you can, Sensei Del Giorno said you must be aware and suspicious at all times. She said to walk with confidence with your head up, looking others in the eye. “If you feel in danger, if you feel threatened, you use your voice and you put your hands up,” she said.

“I think it’s good for all these girls to be aware of their surroundings, the dangers that are out there, and be prepared to address them if they have to. They have to be confident,” said Linda Blowe, a troop leader whose 16-year-old daughter, Cecilia, attended the workshop.

When confidence and awareness fail to deter an attacker, however, the physical fight must kick in.

Sensei Del Giorno told girls to trust their gut instinct. “If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If the guy looks like a creep, he probably is,” she said. “If you think it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Get out.”

“None of this working?” Sensei Del Giorno asked the girls. “Good. Then you know what you have to do. You have to jam your fingernails through his eyeballs and kick him here and kick his ass—’cause that’s what you need to do to survive,” she said, with “here” referring to the groin area.

“You have the value in you, you’re worth it, you have to fight to survive,” she said.

Middle School Focuses On Those Three Little Words

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PS I Love You adjusted

By Claire Walla

The P.S. I Love You campaign was started last year by a high school student in West Islip, Brooke DiPalma, whose father committed suicide in 2010. His last words to his daughter were: I love you.

According to Pierson eighth grader and student council member Sheila Mackey, DiPalma’s school banded together after the event and wore purple to express their support for her in her difficult circumstance.

“She said she walked into a sea of purple,” explained Mackey who, along with other student council members, had heard DiPalma speak earlier this year at an anti-bullying conference they attended. “And that’s what we wanted to do here.”

“And we did!” Alex Kamper, the student council president, added.

In the vein of what DiPalma began at her school, the Pierson Middle School Student Council have successfully managed to create what they refer to as an atmosphere of support at Pierson. Last Friday, the middle school student body was unified with a sea of purple clothing and individual lockers were decorated with purple post-it notes bearing those three little words.

Purple is actually the national color for abuse prevention, said Helen Atkinson-Barnes of The Retreat, a domestic violence agency on the East End. Atkinson-Barnes was on-hand during the student-led activities last Friday, but she’d also been a presence on the Pierson campus the first two weeks in February, leading talks for seventh and tenth grade students on the elements of healthy relationships on behalf of The Retreat.

Student council members first learned about P.S. I Love You this past fall when they attended an anti-bullying conference put on by the Holocaust Center in Commack. In addition to presentations by DiPalma — who made a YouTube video about her struggle, and the good that eventually came of it — students watched a video made by a teen who had been bullied and became suicidal.

As part of their P.S. I Love You campaign, the Pierson students wanted to show these videos to their classmates.

“You could see jaws drop in the audience,” said Mackey.

She went on to explain that student council members also came up with a concept of their own, called “mix-it-up at lunch,” where students sat in groups according to their birth months, rather than their peer groups. The concept, Mackey continued, was to get students to mingle and learn about classmates they’ve never really talked to before.

Her fellow councilmember Ariana Moustakas said their goal was to raise awareness about these issues and encourage students to exercise more tolerance.

“We want to use this day to influence people,” she began. “Because when everyone’s nice to each other, it makes a big difference.”

“The kids seemed a lot nicer,” Mackey added. “I definitely want to bring it up to the high school.”