Nfld. & Labrador

Assault on Long's Hill could happen anywhere in St. John's, say women's groups

In the wake of an alleged attack on a woman in broad daylight, organizations are trying to raise awareness about such violence across the city.

Groups working to make entire city safer through several initatives

Angela Crockwell, the executive director for the community youth group Thrive, called the attack "terrifying" and "brazen." (CBC)

In the wake of an attempted assault on a woman on Long's Hill Monday afternoon, women's organizations are speaking out, attesting to the widespread nature of gender-based violence across St. John's.

27-year-old Mia Penney was walking home from work around 4 p.m. when a man grabbed her. Penney managed to wrest herself free and run away from the area known to be frequented by prostitutes.

​"When we see something in daylight like this, it certainly seems very brazen," said Angela Crockwell, the executive director of the community youth group Thrive.

"Unfortunately we hear about women are being harmed and attacked in every nook and cranny of this city. So I don't think it's specific to this area."

Self-defense instructor Renee Sharpe agrees, saying almost half of assaults against women happen in daylight, and that there are times when she has felt at risk walking anywhere in St. John's.

"We need to acknowledge that we all deserve to be safe," she said.

Monday's assault happened in this area, on Long's Hill near Livingstone Street. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Support for sex workers

Both Sharpe and Crockwell said the presence of prostitution shouldn't equate to an expectation of violence against women in the neighbourhood.

"This area has historically been known to have a lot of sex trade activity… it is often very violent, and there's often other social issues that come with that," said Crockwell.

Renee Sharpe teaches self-defense classes for women, and applauds Mia Penney for fighting back against her attacker. (CBC)

"But I'd be worried about people thinking that I'm safe if I'm not in a specific location, or just because there are women engaged in sex trade activities makes an area dangerous or violent."

"It's an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves that no matter if we choose to do sex work, no matter if we wear a short skirt, no matter if we're walking in the middle of the night — if we're being harassed it is not our fault," said Sharpe.

Free self defense classes

Sharpe said Penney's actions against her attacker on Monday helped prevent the incident from escalating.

"I'm so proud of her for defending herself. She did the right thing," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"Once you have that feeling in your gut, that something is wrong, that you're unsafe, you act. And that's what she did," she said, adding the fact that Penney screamed, fought back and then ran are all good tips.

Put your shoulders back, put your head up, and remind yourself you're strong.- Renee Sharpe

In the wake of the close call, Sharpe and Nova Yoga Studio on Long's Hill are organizing two free self defense classes for women, featuring techniques to fight back against larger, stronger attackers.

The classes will have a $10 donation towards Marguerite's Place, which provides housing for women in crisis.

Even for those who don't attend the classes, Sharpe has some simple self-defense advice.

"I would encourage women to walk with a sense of purpose. Put your shoulders back, put your head up, and remind yourself that you're strong."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show