Self-defense workshop in Rahway empowers women

Photo by Jennifer Rubino
Local women participate in a self-defense workshop at a martial arts studio in Rahway.

RAHWAY, NJ — On Friday, April 21, as many as 40 women met at a martial arts studio in Rahway to participate in a self-defense workshop. The theme of the night was empowerment, and attendees learned how defend themselves in dangerous situations, as well as ways to improve their self-esteem.

According to, 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence, 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape, and a woman is beaten every nine seconds. When made aware of these statistics, many of the women were shocked. However, just as the statistics suggest, many of the women at the event had been victims of violent crimes and verbal abuse.

“I came to the workshop because I’m interested in learning self-defense,” Ashley Garner of Linden told LocalSource in an interview at the event. “I was a victim of a crime. I’m surprised to hear the statistics, and I think it’s horrible. You can’t always trust everyone, no matter where you are.”

Christine Hardy Hutchinson Vega of Damsel in Defense introduced her line of simple yet effective products for self-defense at the event. The products are designed by women to keep women and families safe.

“We offer this workshop every three to four months,” studio owner Jana DiCervo told LocalSource at the event. “We promote self-defense for women and anti-bullying. We also teach empowerment by using ‘I am’ statements and make women feel worthy. We teach them to stand up for themselves.”

Women were taught how to properly kick someone in the groin, effective in self-defense against both men and women. They were told to point their toes and hit with the top of the foot.

“I think this is awesome,” Deborah Yanuta of Rahway told LocalSource at the event. “I was jumped on Bridge Street and I kicked him, but I didn’t know all of this. They showed us some neat products, too. It was very informative and the statistics blew me away.”

“Confidence is also important when it comes to self-defense,” DiCervo said. “Women that appear confident are less likely to be attacked in the first place. If anyone attacks you, they expect to have total control over you.”

The importance of being aware of one’s surroundings was also stressed. In today’s day and age of technology, many women are distracted by their cell phones.

“I think this was really informative,” Cinthia Garcia of Rahway told LocalSource in an interview at the event. “It helped me realize to be more aware of my surroundings because I’m on my phone a lot.”

Last, Danielle LaBrabera of New York Life, who helped organize the event, shared her inspirational story with the group. She told them how she survived a verbally abusive marriage.

“You have to tell your story,” LaBrabera said. “It helps you heal. You never know who it will affect and help. People are shocked I was in a verbally abusive marriage. Everything was my fault. It got to the point when I would just go to bed the second I heard his keys in the door so I wouldn’t have to talk to him. I did everything perfectly, but it was never good enough. Then I thought of my daughter and the message I was sending to her if I stayed.”

After leaving the marriage, LaBrabera had no self-esteem and had started to believe all the negative things she’d heard about herself. She told the group how she was able to regain her self-worth and become empowered.

“I learned to love myself and think I’m beautiful,” LaBrabera said. “Nobody, no matter what they look like, has a perfect life. The power of ‘I am’ is how I gained my confidence. Any statement that follows ‘I am’ is powerful.

“I made a list of all the things I thought about myself that people tell me about myself. I read it and started to cry. I didn’t believe it or embody it. Every day, I read that list. I started to believe it. I also read three other phrases to myself: I’m worth it. I deserve it. I’m enough.”