Late at night a student finishes typing her paper in the computer lab and treks to her car at the far end of the commuter parking lot. Lost in thoughts of the paper, school, and what her plans are for the night, she is suddenly thrown to the ground from behind. Heart pounding, she raises her eyes and in the dim, orange glow of the street light she can barely make out the form of her assailant towering above her.

This situation occurs across college campuses, but there are measures that can be taken to protect oneself in the event of a violent encounter.

Recently the USM Women’s Resource Center sponsored introductory self-defense classes instructed by Jim Daniels, manager of sexual assault programs of USM Police and Safety. Daniels is a certified instructor affiliated with RAD (Rape Aggression Defense System), a program aimed at developing and enhancing women’s self defense options.

There was not a large turnout for the event.

Katrina Paradis, a senior sociology major, expressed enthusiasm for the idea of women’s self-defense courses.

“I would definitely be interested in taking a self-defense class … I think it’s a great idea.”

The classes were part of a 12-hour course that deals specifically with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, as well as basic self-defense techniques.

“[We] talk a lot about balance, about anticipating a threat, recognizing a potential threat, whether it’s with an acquaintance, or someone you know in a social situation, or just walking down the street,” Daniels said. “The course teaches easy to learn, easy to apply, easy to remember self-defense skills that people will hopefully resort to in times of high stress.”

The course does not attempt to turn women into fighting machines, but instead prepares them to face potential assaults with a clear head and techniques to escape dangerous situations. Much of self-defense is prevention and heightened awareness.

Daniels said assailants tend to seek out people who appear weak or anxious, who have their arms full, and who appear as though they don’t know where they’re going.

“The more purposeful your stride, the more aware of your surroundings and where you’re going … the more likely you are to be left alone,” Daniels said.

If someone walking towards you makes you feel uncomfortable, “instead of tensing up and fearing and hoping nothing happens as you walk by … have a strategy in your own mind: ‘What would I do if this person did something?’ Fear tends to diminish when you take overt action for your safety.”

Daniels said that if you are going to carry pepper spray as a means of defense, make sure it’s a reliable product and if you’re concerned about your safety then carry the dispenser in your hand rather than in a purse or pocket.

In the situation painted earlier, the young woman accosted in the parking lot, having taken a self-defense course, could effectively incapacitate her assailant using the pepper spray that was already in her hand, before running to Police and Safety.

Daniels said the next course will take place at the beginning of the spring semester. Self-defense courses are offered each year, each 12 hours in length, with the average class lasting two to three hours.

The classes are open to students, faculty, and the community. For more information about self defense courses contact the Women’s Resource Center at 780-4996.

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