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Self-defense options available for students

December 9, 2008 By Heather Gjerde

In the wake of the murder of University of Wisconsin–Madison student Brittany Zimmermann and a string of recent campus area robberies, crime and safety issues have been of the utmost importance to students this semester.

In addition to steps like walking with friends, utilizing SAFE Nighttime Services and staying up to date on the latest safety information from UW–Madison, students can also learn ways to protect themselves should they ever end up in a situation in which they feel threatened.

Programs at UW–Madison offer a new twist to self-defense, with one class that emphasizes psychological methods and another that teaches physical defense.

One of the programs, Chimera, is a national self-defense program designed for the needs of women, which emphasizes avoidance and teaches psychological and physical protection skills. Courses, offered through Madison’s Rape Crisis Center and held at Gordon Commons, teach verbal skills and physical techniques to reduce the risk of harassment and assault.

“Since 85-90 percent of rape victims are assaulted by someone they know, we keep trying to make women aware of all of their options for protecting themselves,” says RCC director Kelly Anderson.

Anderson and Chimera strongly stress recognizing and getting out of the dangerous situations reacting to potential danger. Most sexual assaults are by someone you know, rather then a stranger and the most common place for an assault to happen is in the home of the victim or perpetrator, she adds.

Additionally, there is a self-defense and assault prevention course offered through the Department of Kinesiology that students can take for academic credit. Taught by School of Education lecturer Robert Yu, the class focuses on the physical aspects of protecting yourself.

“The concept is actually hurting the person — (if the situation) is assault, rape or beating. There’s no talking in response,” Yu says. “It’s better to hurt someone’s feelings rather than to be sorry. Follow your gut instinct.”

The class covers three methods of defense: punching, strikes and kicks; wrestling, grappling; and escaping from holds and grabs. Students are taught techniques and then instructed and observed in their performance. For part of the class, students put on padding and test the self-defense methods one-on-one.

Yu and Anderson walked through a variety of potential situations and gave their best advice on threats in the following situations:

  • You are walking alone, late at night on campus, and feel like you are being followed.
  • You are out late with friends and find yourself stranded at a bar. A stranger is trying to convince you they can walk you home. How do you get home safely?
  • You are being attacked and they have a weapon. They are asking for money and valuables. How would you handle the different types of weapons? Do you give them the money?

To a majority of the situations, Anderson says, “The number one technique is awareness — the recognition that by the time it gets to the person grabbing you, there may have been signs along the way that you could have reacted to sooner. Recognize this doesn’t feel right and respect that sense — don’t bury and disregard it. Avoiding the fight is always safest.  If that fails, then Chimera offers a ‘tool box’ of possible physical responses.”

Both said students should not be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Doing so can allow a situation to get out of hand when there could have been an easier solution. Instead, if you feel uncomfortable in a situation react right away, make noise, look the offender in the face and even talk to them to show that you are not intimidated.

Yu recommended throwing a cell phone, or object they are trying to steal off to the side as a distraction. Anderson also suggested using a cell phone to loudly describe the location and description of the possible attacker as a deterrent. 

“If he knows someone on the other end can call the police and identify him, he may look for an easier target,” she says.

Both proposed escaping a situation, rather than fighting an attacker that has a weapon.  “If someone has a knife or physical weapon, don’t move closer to them to hand over your purse or money.  Throw it and run in the other direction,” Anderson says. “If it’s a gun, run a bit more erratically rather then running straight ahead.”

Yu recommends attempting to escape a situation where there’s a weapon, by any means necessary. “His vision is more narrow than yours. You need to look more broadly for an escape,” he adds. “Even if you get hurt in this action, it could avoid a worse situation.”

A combination of these courses, as well as other training options are encouraged by both instructors to optimize self-defense and threat awareness.