- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

LYNCHBURG, Va. | Jerry Mathis‘ fist cut through the air in front of him as he practiced strikes over and over again, getting them down so he can teach women how to defend themselves.

For Mr. Mathis, it’s personal. Two years ago, the retired state trooper’s stepdaughter was abducted, robbed and raped. He wants to empower women so they don’t become victims.

Mr. Mathis and 15 others, mostly law enforcement but some private citizens, are spending three days in a Liberty University gym learning the techniques needed to become instructors in a program to teach women simple but effective techniques to stay safe.

The class teaches awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance while giving women the basics of self-defense training. The training, called Rape Aggression Defense Systems, is taught nationwide.

Mr. Mathis, now a Liberty University police officer, thinks such training might have made a difference for his stepdaughter.

“They teach you plain and simple to escape and flee safely,” said Mr. Mathis, a retired North Carolina highway patrolman. “It gives women more confidence in what they can do. They are not helpless because they are being attacked.”

The Lynchburg session is being led by two out-of-town trainers - Peggy Campbell, from Harrisonburg, and Flo Combs, from Maryland. The certification takes 30 hours to complete.

Those attending the class are from the Lynchburg Police Department, the Lynchburg Sheriff’s Office, the Liberty University Police Department, Central Virginia Community College and the Roanoke Police Department.

Two martial artists also attended Lynchburg’s Sexual Aggression Response Program - one from North Carolina and one from Indiana, who intend to start programs in their communities.

“Every one person that I train in here to be an instructor will train at least 10 people,” Miss Combs said. “Exponentially, there’s 16 people in this room - the math is easy.”

Miss Combs said she and Miss Campbell had been teaching the program once every few months but recently have taught three in about a month. They attribute the increase to increased awareness.

“They have realized that there is a need, and we can fill that need in our communities,” Miss Campbell said.

The program helps women remove the opportunity of becoming a victim, since most attacks are crimes of opportunity.

“Rape has happened for centuries,” Miss Combs said. “It is nothing new, but we don’t have to remain silent about it.”

She also said roughly 90,000 rapes are reported annually in the United States, but 90 percent of all rapes are never reported.

Sgt. Kassi Allen, of the Liberty University Police Department, said the program will expand the instructor base in the area.

“I get calls almost on a daily basis, and e-mails from women that want to take the class,” she said.

Officers James Rook and Kevin Singleton, both with the Lynchburg Police Department, are among those learning to become trainers. Officer Singleton’s wife is the only instructor in the department’s program, and she encouraged the two men to take the class so the program can expand.

“It helps women to be aware of what they can do in a stressful situation,” Officer Rook said. “It gives them an option of ‘I can do something’ rather than ‘I’m a victim.’”

It’s about empowerment, Officer Singleton said.

“They are not reliant on the boyfriend, the husband or the dog,” he said. “They can take command of their own safety and defend themselves.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide