All posts by isabellaszabolcs2014

Graduate Student, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

La Mujer Guerrera: One woman’s struggle to overcome sexual assault

By Isabella Szabolcs

She spent the night before praying she would have the strength to tell her story and that God would never leave her side. She even wrote on her Facebook wall asking her friends for support and love. Despite her anxiety, she sits determined and ready to be interviewed under her alias Alicia Rodriguez. I can do this, she tells herself. It’s worth it. Despite her polished look with dyed blonde hair, silver eye liner, blush and lip gloss, the makeup can’t conceal the deep lines of pain etched into her face. Only in her fifties, her face bears the heavy weight of suffering.

Her daughter had asked her, “mama, why do you want to relive the horror of your past?” Despite the painful memories of sexual assault, Rodriguez says she’s willing to give the answer. Although her story is sadly not unique, Rodriguez is the exception. Most victims of sexual assault rarely speak out.

One out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim of sexual assault but 68% of these assaults are not reported to police, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Sexual Assault Program Director at Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Mujeres) Maritza Reyes says this is the problem. “These stories [of sexual assault] are not extraordinary. They happen everyday,” Reyes said. “We really need to look at ourselves as a culture, and a society that we allow this sort of violence to take place.” Victim blaming, she says is a common response. For many of the women she helps, coming out to family members can be more hurtful than the assault itself because of their reaction. It’s not uncommon for society to accuse the victims of lying and provoking the assault, to ask for details and to even tell the victims to forget the attack ever happened. In fear of criticism, these women end up staying quiet and living with the continued effects of sexual abuse, says Celia Guerra Granados, one of Mujeres’ Sexual Assault Program counselors. This is what Rodriguez wants to change. By sharing her story Rodriguez hopes to inspire victims to speak out and for society to listen. It’s a horrific journey to understand how she gathered this strength. It all goes back to where it started in the small town of Nayarit, Mexico. “I’ve had a very ugly life, but a very pretty one too,” Rodriguez said. Continue reading

VIDEO: Reshaping lives through dance

By Isabella Szabolcs

Girls from Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods now have a refuge thanks to the dance program Recycled Barre. Having faced similar struggles in low-income communities, Benito Juarez public school teachers Dianne Martinez and Barbara San-Roman started the dance program so that their students could take affordable and accessible dance classes.

Most dance classes in Chicago are located in the city or in the northern suburbs and classes are usually too expensive for these families. To keep costs low, Martinez and San-Roman are transforming under-utilized spaces in closed-down public schools and in the community into dance studios. They are also partnering with the Dance Center at Columbia College, enlisting dance students there to help teach the classes.

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VIDEO: Mending lives by mending furniture

By Isabella Szabolcs

Young women from Chicago’s South Side can find a safe space through a non-profit called Teena’s Legacy. Jamika Smith founded the organization to teach women how to repair their lives by repairing furniture. The summer re-upholstery program helps Englewood women, ages 17-21, through a path of self-discovery and economic self-sufficiency.

Like torn, worn out and broken-down chairs in need of re-upholstery, these young women want to mend the pieces of their lives back together. Most of the participants come from challenging backgrounds and rough neighborhoods like Englewood. Many have been mentally, physically and verbally abused since childhood. They are products of inter-city communities and victims of poverty, poor education and violence, Smith says.

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VIDEO: Undocumented college students push for state aid

By Isabella Szabolcs

Undocumented college students from Chicago public universities want an amendment to legislation that would make them eligible for state financial aid. The students rallied in downtown Chicago in the Federal Plaza where they shared how the bill, if passed, would impact their lives. If House Bill 3528 is approved, Illinois will join five other states in granting financial aid to undocumented students.

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VIDEO: Demonstrators push for the decriminalization of marijuana

By Isabella Szabolcs

Chicago demonstrators gathered to protest what they call a discrepancy in Illinois marijuana laws at Saturday’s Global Cannabis March.

Medical marijuana is now legal for dozens of conditions in Illinois. On May 4, the Illinois Medical Cannabis Board recommended the use of medical marijuana to treat 11 new medical ailments. Cook County state attorney Anita Alvarez  announced that she will be changing how low-level drug offenses — including marijuana — will be prosecuted. Rather than issuing arrests and tickets, she will now be dismissing misdemeanor marijuana cases. In addition, House Bill 218, which would decriminalize the possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis, passed the House and is awaiting a reading in the Senate.

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VIDEO: Coming Out of the Shadows

By Isabella Szabolcs

UIC’S undocumented students say President Obama’s executive actions on deportation relief for DACA and DAPA recipients are not enough. They come out of the shadows to reveal their stories and the barriers to their education.

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