The University of Richmond's North Court reception room was filled with laughter last Tuesday as the women's lacrosse team practiced self-defense moves; but what they were preparing for was not funny.
"If someone attacks you, one of three things is going to happen," said Sgt. Alfred Johnson Jr. of the University of Richmond Police Department. "They're either going to rape you, beat you up or kill you. So you never give up. You fight 'til your last breath."
Johnson started teaching self-defense classes to women on campus several years ago at the request of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and the class' popularity has risen steadily each year, he said.
Stephy Samaras, head coach of the women's lacrosse team, said she had wanted the team to attend a self-defense class since she became head coach last year.
Learning self-defense is more relevant now than ever, she said, with the rash of on-campus assaults that had shaken the campus community.
"When I took a self-defense class 14 years ago [at another college], being attacked on campus wasn't even a thought on anyone's mind," Samaras said. "Now it's a constant thought in people's minds, especially females when they're walking on campus at night."
Sarah Vinall, a junior on the lacrosse team, said she generally felt safe walking around campus because she never traveled alone, but she was more concerned recently because of the break-ins reported this semester.
Johnson normally teaches the classes with Officer Paul Witten and Officer Aubrey Blizzard, a defensive tactics instructor who was not present at the lacrosse team's class.
"We took what we know from teaching police officers defensive tactics and modified it to be basic enough and helpful enough for the women on campus," Witten said.
The moves that the women learned were simple, yet effective.
The officers taught them how to maneuver out of chokeholds, wrist grabs, bear hugs, headlocks and what they called the bedroom choke - when a man straddles himself over a woman in bed.
"You don't have to be 6-foot-five and 250 pounds to defend yourself," Johnson told the team. "Even the smallest lady here can get out of these grabs."
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The techniques were designed to leverage a woman's strength to create the most pain for an attacker to allow her to get away.
"A lot of females don't recognize the power they have," Blizzard said. "It's interesting to empower females to do what they already know how to do."
The officers also taught the women ways to make themselves less likely to become a victim when walking at night.
"Walk like you mean business," Johnson told them.
When women walk with their heads down or fiddle with their cell phones, he said, it made them less aware of their surroundings and can make them look like easy prey.
He also advised the team members to not walk with their hands full, so that they would be more prepared to face an attacker. Witten suggested walking with keys sticking out of their fists to use as weapons, just in case.
"I think that knowing those techniques not only builds their confidence," Samaras said, "but gives them an inner strength that I definitely want our players to have."
In regards to dating, the officers reminded the team that 90 percent of sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim. They advised the women to trust their instincts, not to be afraid to be rude and to always carry cash in case they need to take a taxi home.
The women's basketball team also took the class this semester.
"One of our players asked if we could do it, and we thought it would be a really good idea," head coach Michael Shafer said. "You never can be too careful."
Shafer said the class had been a hit with his team, but he wasn't allowed to be there -- the class is strictly for females.
"We've had a strict policy that we've gone by that it's for women only," Witten said. "It's a women's basic self-defense class. Showing the techniques to men is kind of giving your secrets away."
The class is geared toward women because they are preyed on more than men, he said.
"Women are nine times out of 10, if not 99.9 percent of the time, the victims of sexual assault," he said. "This class is geared toward women getting carried off or getting attacked in their bedrooms."
Johnson said that men on campus had seemed to be less concerned about personal safety. In the four or five years that he had been teaching the class, he could recall only two requests from men asking to take it.
He advised men to go to the YMCA or a martial arts studio if they want to learn how to defend themselves.
Both Shafer and Samaras said they planned to have their teams take the class regularly from now on.
"Hopefully they won't have to use it," Shafer said, "but if something presented itself, I think it's really good to be prepared."
Johnson said women who were interested in taking a self-defense class should call the URPD at (804) 289-8715 or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Collegian reporter Ali Eaves at email@example.com
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