How a black-belt Lakota woman is using crowdfunding to fight rape
Until now, Patty Stein has been using her nine years of Taekwondo training and her black belt in Hapkido – a Korean martial art – in the service of embattled Egyptians. The 21-year-old is a volunteer with Tahrir Bodyguard, a group that seeks to protect women from the threat of sexual assault on the streets of Cairo.
But Stein was in the middle of a recent self-defense training class – “literally mid joint-lock,” she writes – when she realized she should bring her work home. As a Lakota woman born in the U.S. and a survivor of sexual assault, Stein knew as well as anyone that First Nations women make up a disproportionate number of sexual assault victims.
Stein started a crowdfunded campaign called Arming Sisters, a project she hopes will raise enough money to send her back to North America and set up a series of self-defense and empowerment workshops at reservations across the continent.
Her Indiegogo site has raised nearly one-fifth of its $25,000 goal, an amount Stein says will enable her to travel to 20 reserves in Canada and the U.S. this summer.
Twenty reservations is the ideal, but “regardless of the money raised, I’ll be going,” she says.
Stein followed one of her martial arts coaches to Egypt in 2008 and “just kind of fell in love with the country,” she says. In recent months she linked up with Tahrir Bodyguard, an organization seeking to combat the far-too-prevalent incidence of sexual harassment in Cairo. She used her training to offer self-defense courses to women.
But “when that started, I realized I should be doing the same thing back in the U.S. and Canada,” says Stein. She was all too familiar with the statistics that show disturbing rates of sexual violence against First Nations women.
In a special report released last month, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the rate of sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women was twice as high in 2005-2010 as it was against white women (though the report cautions that sample sizes were small). Canadian studies have shown that the rate of sexual victimization in the North, where there are many more Native women, is far higher than it is among the general population: in 2002, it was 96.1 per 10,000 people in Nunavut compared to 7.8 per 10,000 in the rest of Canada.
Stein says her classes will teach women to physically fight off an attacker – but also, just as importantly, give them the mental training that is their best tool in a dangerous situation.
To take one example, Stein says that no matter where she goes in the world she always notices women hunch over as they walk by a group of men.
“They don’t walk with power, and that’s half the battle right there,” she says. Likewise, Stein says that she has safely escaped three dangerous situations on the streets of Cairo by forcing herself to stay calm – a difficult thing to do.
But another goal of Arming Sisters is to allow women to tell their stories of sexual assault, in the hopes it will empower more women who have been victims. On the Arming Sisters website, Stein shares her own horrifying story of an assault that occurred when she was 12.
“There’s this misconception that anger can’t do anything,” Stein says. “But if anger is directed correctly, it can be very effective.”
Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.