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Human Interest

Georgia Waitress, 21, Who Body-Slammed Man After He Groped Her in Pizzeria Speaks Out

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Emelia Holden, 21, didn’t hesitate to take matters into her own hands when a man groped her during her shift at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in Savannah, Georgia on June 30.

In surveillance footage of the incident, 31-year-old Ryan Cherwinski is shown grabbing Holden’s backside as he walks behind her. Holden immediately turns around and grabs him by his collar and slams him into a counter.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘You don’t touch me, motherf—–!’ ” Holden tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t even think, I just reacted. I don’t know how I reacted the way I did. I’ve never done that before.”

Holden says she had just finished taking an order when the man assaulted her. At first, she says, she couldn’t fathom that a stranger would grab her in such a way.

“When I felt that happen, my first thought was that it was one of my friends … it was a really intimate touch,” she says. “His hand went further than it should have so I was thinking, ‘There’s no way a stranger just did that.’ ”

After defending herself, Holden instructed a coworker to call the police. Cherwinski, of Palm Bay, Florida, was arrested and charged with sexual battery, a Savannah Police Department spokeswoman tells PEOPLE.

“The guy claimed that he was just trying to push me out of the way and, ‘Oh, I barely touched you.’ Once the police saw the video, they immediately arrested him. There was no doubt that he did it,” Holden says, adding that customers nearby gave her high-fives.

She says that she was pleased when police arrested her attacker.

“It actually made me really happy,” she tells PEOPLE. “I knew something like that would happen eventually. I’m just happy that it was handled.”

Since footage of the incident was posted on Monday, it has amassed more than 80,000 views on YouTube. Holden says she never expected her act to garner so much attention, but she’s glad that the situation could inspire women and girls everywhere.

“I’m not glad that it happened, but I’m glad that it’s had such a positive outcome,” she tells PEOPLE, revealing that she’s received dozens of Facebook messages with praise from women everywhere. “I’m glad that other women can see this and know that you can stand up for yourself. You also have the right to wear whatever you want without having to worry about being groped.”

She adds: “It’s nice to know that I have empowered other women.”

In the wake of the incident, Holden has been using the spotlight to benefit a local animal shelter through a GoFundMe page.

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