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Nonprofit works to reduce odds of sexual violence

AHOSKIE – Statistics show that sexual violence and assault continues to be a problem in society. A new local nonprofit is working to change that.

The National Association Against Rape and Assault (NAARA) was started by Bob Melton in 1994 when he was living in Southern California. Since then, he has worked to continue developing a program to provide information to women about how to avoid sexual assault as well as ways to defend oneself if necessary.

Now that he’s in Ahoskie, he’s bringing that program to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

“Our program reduces your odds of ever becoming a victim. We’re proactive in our approach,” he said.

“It’s a three-hour seminar,” he explained, noting the program is open to all women but the focus is on young women who have the most risk of becoming a victim.

“Right now, I’m targeting kids that are graduating from high school, going to college. Other people can come, but that’s my primary focus,” Melton said, adding, “female college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely than women in the general population to experience sexual violence.”

The seminar incorporates informational education about factors that contribute to the risk of sexual violence, some self-defense training, and also some counseling for people who have already been victims.

Melton has 40 years of martial arts experience, but he said that form of combat isn’t the answer for every woman looking to protect herself.

“Martial arts is something you have to practice over and over, years after years, to become proficient at it,” he said, explaining most people don’t have the time to devote to that training.

The NAARA program’s self-defense training is more focused on taking things people do every day and turning them into a way to defend oneself from attackers. Melton said they are simply things people do without thinking, such as walking, reaching out to grab something, or hitting the brakes in a car.

Melton was inspired to start the NAARA program after the friend of one of his martial arts students became a victim. He realized his student would have been able to defend herself because of her years of training, but the situation for the friend was completely different.

“What about these people,” he asked himself, and that’s when he began developing the program.

Right now, Melton is working with his staff of local volunteers to host the program in local schools. He said he is currently looking for donors and sponsors to help cover costs so the seminars can be given free of charge to participants. He’s also in the process of developing a program for men as well.

“This is my passion,” Melton explained. “I’m just not comfortable not doing anything about this situation when I know I can. I can make a difference with this.”

For more information about NAARA, visit www.smore.com/3tzqf. The website also has a link to the program’s GoFundMe page.