One million women in the state of Oregon — over half of its female population — have experienced sexual or domestic violence, according to a 2018 report from the Women’s Foundation of Oregon.
Rachel Collins, co-founder of Warrior Sisters, is well aware of these alarming numbers. So she has dedicated the last five years to help prevent the numbers from rising.
Collins started Warrior Sisters to give women more than just free self-defense training. She also aimed to give women the tools of an empowerment-based education to prevent everyday disrespect and people violating their rights, no matter the space.
“One of the things that makes Warrior Sisters training different from your typical martial arts-based self-defense class is that we also incorporate knowledge of the fact that a lot of women have experienced trauma before,” Collins said. “We create the most effective, best training that we can.”
In 2018, Lane County received 6,186 calls of domestic violence to crisis lines, second among the 36 counties in Oregon, and 1,151 calls of sexual assault, according to a report from Oregon.gov.
“The prevalence against violence against women has been true for a long time. It’s now getting a little more attention in a well-deserved way, but it’s not new,” Collins said. “It’s nice to be able to be here and have this service in a community when its sought out. It’s good for it to be here.”
Every Sunday inside the confines of the Art of War MMA gym, Collins leads a group of about 15 to 25 women ranging in age from 12 to 70 years old. Collins, who has a background in the martial art of Krav Maga, teaches women how to use punches, elbows, knees and kicks as weapons in physical scenarios. She uses her background as a former worker in rape crisis centers to use empowerment self-defense training to help women use their verbal skills to set boundaries.
“The things that makes our training distinct is that we focus on physical skills but also on verbal skills,” Collins said. “We’re trying to give women the tools to leave a situation where they are unsafe or to be able to protect themselves and the people around them.”
Heather Taylor, a volunteer assistant trainer, has been able to add her own personal tools during her time at Warrior Sisters over the past four years. Taylor is a survivor of assault and attended her first Warrior Sisters training in early 2015, and she hasn't missed a Sunday since.
“I instantly gravitated toward it because in the first training I felt empowered, and I felt way more confident and then I started building on those skills and here I am today,” Taylor said.
Taylor now assists Collins in training the women who come through the doors of Warrior Sisters every Sunday, seeking education to help women feel prepared for everyday situations.
“I absolutely love making a difference, especially in our own community,” Taylor said, “and empowering women to feel more confident about their day-to-day life and being able to defend themselves either in a verbal situation or with people in a position of power, but also being able to have those tools in their tool belt to feel confident.”
Warrior Sisters has hosted seminars anywhere from the Florence library, a boxing gym in Portland, to middle and high schools throughout Oregon. Collins would like to see Warrior Sisters grow locally, moving from one training a week to two trainings a week and eventually, she aspires to become a full-time trainer.
“I think the more trainings that we are able to give, the more women are able to serve, the more we are able to grow our community, and we can only do that with the kind of support that we’ve been lucky to have in the past five years,” Collins said.