Even a woman who is weaker, shorter and lighter than a potential attacker can protect herself, according to local women’s self-defense advocates.

Women who learn self-defense not only fend off assaults, but prevent assaults from happening in the first place. Even athletes find that the classes make them more confident in every area of their lives.

Two women who train at McKenzie Martial Arts prevented recent attacks without any violence. Adam Roberts, their teacher, instructs his students to be aware at all times and to hold keys like a weapon. One woman was walking to her car when she saw a guy who “seemed off.” She locked her door just before the man tried to open it. She felt so empowered knowing that she was prepared.

The other woman returned home to intruders. She grabbed an object as a weapon and yelled at the men, who then ran out. She said her heart was racing, but she felt confident rather than panicked.

Assertiveness is essential, because upwards of 80 percent of attackers are acquaintances.

“Those situations don’t start with someone jumping on you,” said Jocelyn Hollander, a sociology professor at University of Oregon who researches women’s self-defense. “They start with conversation and with the assailant trying to see if you’re vulnerable.”

Ryan Kelly, who teaches a women’s self-defense class at UO, agreed. “The fighting techniques are just one small part of the overall strategy of a good women’s self-defense program.”

Hollander’s research shows that women who learn self-defense feel more confident in every aspect of their lives.

“Not just in situations that might be scary or dangerous, but with friends, teachers and families,” Hollander said. “They feel like a much more valuable person. They’re more able to cope.”

Roberts, who also teaches martial arts at UO, says Gracie Jiu-jitsu is the best method for women. It’s based on bringing a bigger and stronger opponent to the ground by using close combat methods like eye-gouging and groin kicks.

His women’s class is a simple set of 15 techniques designed to repel common assault methods. No strength or experience is required.

Research shows that resisting the attack does not increase risk of injury — women are usually injured before they fight back, not after. Hollander said resisting is almost always the best strategy, though she would never suggest that survivors should have done something differently.

Samantha Krop helps run a non-profit called Warrior Sisters Society, which teaches free women’s self-defense classes around Lane County. Part of their approach is to give educational workshops, because “when the community knows that women are able to defend themselves, it will make it less likely for perpetrators to try to attack someone.”

In addition to distributing whistles and pepper spray, they teach adapted Israeli martial arts that focus on pressure points, eye gouging, crotch shots, pulling the ear and the sternum handle.

Some people believe that prevention strategies should only focus on perpetrators, rather than teaching women to defend themselves. “But what are we supposed to do while we wait for that to happen?” Hollander said.

“A lot of us have come from a background where if we only knew this stuff it would have been really helpful,” Krop said.

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