Laurence Fischer of France is a three-time world karate champion.
Fischer has fought against strong opponents. But today she is fighting a different battle. This opponent cannot be seen and is hard to defeat. It is the trauma -- the emotional harm -- that comes from sexual violence.
Just outside Paris, Fischer teaches karate at La Maison des Femmes, or The Women’s Home. It is a special center for women who have lived through sexual violence. The center offers medical treatment and training for the mind — but also therapeutic classes, like karate.
Fischer hopes she can help her students heal through the sport.
"Karate is a way to reconnect ourself to ourself. Because of the trauma, there's a kind of disassociation ... because of the suffering, they are not connected."
Fischer began teaching karate to women after she retired from competition more than 10 years ago.
Her work in the DRC
Since 2014, she has traveled every year to the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, sexual violence is so common that it is sometimes called the rape capital of the world.
Two years ago, Fischer set up a non-governmental organization called Fight for Dignity. She says karate not only helps women to heal, but to regain the ability to believe in one’s self.
“It's incredible how it can impact, also, their relations with their children, with their boyfriend, with the way to find job after, the relations with the others. It's more than just practicing because we are not only brain, we are also body. And when the both are connected, it's very powerful."
A year ago, Fischer met M’bamoussa Soumare at The Women's Home. At the age of 12, Soumare was raped by a relative in her native Mali. Her family forced her to marry the man. She had four children, while he continued to beat her. Finally, last year, she was able to escape to France with help from a sister living there.
Ghada Hatem is a gynecologist and the founder of The Women’s Home.
"Some of them are victims of …violence, others of incest. All kinds of violence in fact. We try to help them," she says.
Hatem believes Fischer’s work with the women is important.
"I think that karate is a very good sport for these women…and it's very important for our patients to work on their own body through these trauma[s]."
Drinking tea after karate class
Fischer and her students gather together and drink tea after every class. It is a time to make friends.
Thirty-year-old Aissata Djiakite has been going to The Women's Home for more than a year. She says that when a woman is sexually assaulted, she feels weak. She says Fischer helps the women leave behind their pain and gives them back reasons to live.
"When you're sexually attacked, you feel weak… but with Karate you really want to live... Laurence gave us back our smiles," she says.
Fischer plans to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo. She wants to help some of her female students there to start karate classes in their villages — so they can help other women fight against sexual assault.
I’m Susan Shand.
Lisa Bryant reported this story for VOANews.com. Susan Shand adapted her story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
karate – n. a form of fighting that was developed in Japan in which your feet and hands are used to kick and hit an opponent
trauma – n. a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time
assault – n. a violent physical attack
therapeutic – adj. producing good effects on your body or mind
dignity – n. the quality of being worthy of honor or respect
confidence – n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
gynecologist – n. medicine that deals with the diseases and routine physical care of the reproductive system of women
incest – n. sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related