Fighting Back: Women Teaching Women Self-Defense to Combat Sexual Assaults

Colchester, Vt. - A group of women, known as "The Safety Team," is showing other women how to protect themselves with techniques developed from martial arts.

You may see these women at the gym after work, but this workout is not one you'd use every day.
 
"We all have professional careers that expose us to violence against women. We draw from all of that professional experience and bring that to our workshops," Christine DiBlasio said.

DiBlasio is a psychologist by day, but at night she's one of the seven members of "The Safety Team." The non-profit formed about 4 years ago.

DiBlasio works along with community outreach specialist Eileen Mann and teacher Nancy Keller, teaching self-defense to other women.

"I wanted to do something proactive, something to prevent some of these assaults," DiBlasio said.

Showing women how to protect themselves with easy techniques that anyone could use.
 
"And to learn how to use their bodies in a strong way is just something that gets them very excited," Mann said.

They all met at a martial arts studio about 10 years ago, and have been teaching all women classes every since, impacting hundreds of Vermonters.
 
"We are all coming there because women are concerned for their safety," Nancy Keller said.

 "It's for women by women, who are not only teaching them what to do, but we also walk the walk," DiBlasio added.

Drawing in ladies from all different backgrounds and experiences, some of who are survivors of sexual assault or rape.

"When we offer these workshops, we are well aware that probably a third of the women taking it are already survivors of sexual assault," DiBlasio said.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 5 women have been raped in their lifetime. However, some say many of these figures are arguably conservative. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice says about 67 percent of rapes or sexual assaults go unreported to police. 80 percent of cases involving college students aren't reported.

"What we see is really the tip of the iceberg," Doug Babcock, the Director of Public Safety at St. Michael's College, said.

Babcock has been heading the department at St. Mike's in Colchester, Vermont, for two years. He was also a police officer in Essex for over a decade.
 
"There's a lot around the concerns we see around the criminal justice system and the public process, that potentially victimizes or re-victimizes a person that's gone through a sexual assault," Babcock said.

According to the annual security report, in 2015, 3 rapes and 2 other sex offenses were reported at St. Mike's. 8 offenses in total happened the year before.

"It's always something growing up that I heard on the news. It's never really been close to me, so when I experienced this first had with my friend, I was first in shock," said student Samantha Delaney.

"I know the majority of the men on this campus and to picture them taking advantage of one of my friends, is just terrible," student Taylor LaVallie added.
 
Sophomores Samantha Delaney and Taylor LaVallie are on the women's basketball team. While they feel safe on their campus, the young women say some of their friends have been sexually assaulted.

Delaney and LaVallie took part in a workshop with "The Safety Team" last October with other members of their team.

"We know that these are women at risk," DiBlasio said.

While the course tackles a serious topic, the players say they also made sure to have a little fun.

LaVallie was surprised by the strength of the team, laughing and smiling with her teammate while talking about the course.

"She's just so small," LaVallie said, commenting on Christine DiBlasio's height. "You wouldn't imagine this tough woman would come out of her."

"She scared me and I'm 6'2''," Delaney chuckled.

The women laugh together.

"We joke around and it puts other people at ease, even though it's a really serious topic," Keller said.

Fight together, to make sure they don't become another statistic.
 
"I think among all those screaming and shouting, 'I don't know you - get away,' I think the most important one was 'No.' It is always a right as a woman to safe no," Delaney said.
 
Consent - yes or no - something emphasized by "The Safety Team."

"We first recognize that as women, from young girls on up that we been trained to be nice. And I like being nice, but that doesn't mean that that gives anybody a right to cross a boundary," Keller said.

Using words before getting physical.

"We're not making moves and throwing punches and kicking to attack, we're making it enough to get away in case we ever need to," Delany said.

"We never have to use those moves unless they use them first," LaVallie added.

Women teaching women to hold their heads high, that they're not alone.
 
"We want to be that part of the story, where somebody comes out through something on the other side and it wasn't as bad as it could have been," Doug Babcock, from St. Mike's Public Safety Department, said.

"This is something that we shouldn't have to do, but we do right now. No matter what happens, an assault is never your fault," DiBlasio said.

"There's no reason to live your life scared," Delaney said. "There's no reason to live your life in fear of being sexually assaulted. That's no way to live."


Resources on sexual assault and sexual violence:

- H.O.P.E. Works (Burlington, Vt)
- Steps to End Domestic Violence (Burlington, Vt)
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- "Not Alone," First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault (April 2014) 


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