Leap of Faith

Sabrina Kowaleski will jump out of a plane on April 28 to promote awareness of sexual assault.
Sabrina Kowaleski will jump out of a plane on April 28 to promote awareness of sexual assault.

A New Paltz student and survivor of rape is taking a leap to raise money and awareness for the topic.

Sabrina Kowaleski, a fourth-year English major, was raped twice in the past year, once by her boyfriend of two years and the other by an acquaintance.

“When it happened, I was in shock. I didn’t know how to react, and at first I wasn’t able to label what had happened,” Kowaleski said. “Through talking with my friends about what had happened I was able to process it somewhat and put a name to what he had done: rape.”

Aside from getting her story out there and informing the masses, Kowaleski is participating in the event “Operation Freefall: The Two-Mile High Stand Against Sexual Assault 2012” by doing the tandem skydiving jump as a part of the healing process.

The event was started in 2001 by the founder of Speaking Out Against Racism (SOAR), Kellie Greene, as a means of raising money and drawing attention to the problem of rape. Operation Freefall occurs the last Saturday in April of every year. SOAR uses the funds to educate lawmakers, police officers, students, the media and the public about sexual violence.

While there are several rape defense classes across the country that teach women how to be cautious, Kowaleski said there are not enough programs to inform men and how to prevent attacks from occurring. She hopes to help raise awareness for this cause and educate others.

“Girls shouldn’t have to try to not get raped; rather people should just not be rapists,” Kowaleski said. “Society tends to hold the belief that rape is when a stranger attacks a girl in a dark alley with a weapon. However, though statistics vary, 80 to 90 percent of rape victims knew their attackers.”

She said the current local outlets are under-educated when it comes to sexual assault and rape and she wants to make sure this doesn’t continue. After her ordeal, Kowaleski sought help from the Campus Counseling Center and said they placed the blame on her.

“At a time when I needed support and comfort, I was made to feel worse about an already terrible situation,” Kowaleski said. “Which is why I am now striving to help others in the hopes that they will not be treated the way that I was.”

To join the jump, each participant must raise a minimum of $850 prior to April 9. All proceeds go to helping victims of rape. They said they use the money to increase local support for survivors, risk reduction and prosecution information to communities, better programs and educate lawmakers, police officers, students, the media and public about sexual violence.

Last year, 77 people participated and total pledges raised were $76,252.40. She is currently at $240 out of her $850 minimum and said her personal fundraising site is firstgiving.com/fundraiser/sabrinakowaleski/operationfreefall2012.