- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - When 12-year-old Reisha Foertsch went into a store alone last week she noticed something unusual.

A nervousness she’d barely noticed before was missing.

If someone cornered her and tried to hurt her she had some idea of what she could do to get away, she said.

Reisha is one of the 18 girls who took basic self-defense lessons recently with Detective Greg Adams of the Jackson Police Department through Girls Actively Participating.

“After the class I felt more comfortable going into places by myself,” she said. “Like to go buy something or to ask a question.”

Adams, who teaches self-defense to the public as well as to his fellow officers, spent four days teaching sixth- and seventh-grade girls to be aware of where they are and what is going on around them and to reclaim space that a potential attacker is trying to take from them.

“I feel the girls learned about being aware of their surroundings, and hopefully they learned that if they ever find themselves or a friend in an unsafe position they know to get away, and use their voices,” said Jess Yeomans, executive director of Girls Actively Participating. “This class allowed the girls to learn a little bit about their bodies’ ability to kick, punch, push and yell.”

The organization Yeomans works for is an empowerment group for middle school girls, intended to help them feel confident enough to be part of their community, she said.

When members of the group asked for the chance to learn to defend themselves, Yeomans asked officers she knew from a tour of the Teton County Jail for a recommendation, and she connected with Adams.

On Jan. 28, the final day of the lessons, the seventh-grade girls “attacked” Adams, his wife, Jennifer, and Gym 22 employees holding pads.

The girls did their best to drive them across the room and win themselves the space to run for an exit.

“Get back!” they yelled, with kicks, shoves and punches thudding off their instructors’ protective pads. “If you’re on the wall you have to create space,” Adams said. “Give yourself an out, find a way to get out of that situation.”

The girls grew louder as the lesson went on, growing more comfortable with the idea of shouting.

“I had trouble being loud like that at first,” 12-year-old Kailie Burnside said. “But I have a feeling if I were in a real situation I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable with it.”

As the shouts by and large grew louder, the blows to the pads grew harder as girls of all different sizes figured out how to put more and more strength into their newly learned defense techniques.

Hammer punches and shoves helped them get an “attacker” out of their face and gave them room to use more powerful push kicks and groin kicks.

“Come on, shout!” Adams urged. “We’re not going to be your victims. Tell them!”

Some of the girls play sports, and almost all had seen action movies and knew what kicking was supposed to look like.

Most, however, said they felt safer and more confident knowing how to use their bodies correctly just in case something bad happened.

“Everyone knows how to kick,” 12-year-old River Gayton said. “It’s nice to know how to do it right. It’s nice to know how to use it if you need to. I definitely feel safer than before I did.”

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Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com


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