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City-Sponsored Self Defense Class Helps Women Fight Back

By DNAinfo Staff on April 25, 2012 1:54pm

By Jesse Lent

Special to DNAinfo

UPPER EAST SIDE — New York women responded to the spate of recent sexual attacks across the city by punching and kicking their way through a self-defense class organized by the City Council Tuesday.

The training courses, which started last October after a series of sex assaults in Brooklyn, are aimed at arming women with the skills they need to defend themselves against possible attackers.

The Council and Speaker Christine Quinn decided to host their first Manhattan training Tuesday at Hunter College and East 68th Street after a series of gropings by a “well-dressed” man on the Upper East Side and Downtown.

“Most recently we did have the groper who was well-dressed and well-groomed but still assaulting women, and that’s what really spawned this,” said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side and has handed out fliers with Councilwoman Margaret Chin Downtown to warn women about the spree.

Some 37 participants, including teens and senior citizens, mainly affiliated with Hunter College, learned basic martial arts at the hour-long class, which was focused on subduing attackers and exploiting their weaknesses.

“None of this self-defense is about anything other than protecting ourselves,” instructor Catherine Hodes, of the Center for Anti-Violence Education, told the group. “It’s not about aggression or being the aggressor, or even being offensive. It’s about creating a situation where we’re safe enough and we protected ourselves enough to be able to get to safety.”

Hodes led the students through punches and kicks, but also lectured about how a sternly yelled “No” can also be effective.

“I want them to see that there are options,” the instructor explained. “There are tools they can use to protect themselves, their bodies and their integrity.”

Hunter College senior Michele Boli attended the class with the hope of finding a way to cope with her fear of walking home at night.

“Most of the time I get off late from school,” she said. “I live in Brooklyn and I’m scared. I walk by myself, so I need some technique before cops or whoever could come and help me.”

NYPD Det. Thomas Verni, of Community Affairs, encouraged women who have been victimized to come forward, no matter how minor they may feel the incident is.

“These groping incidents, a lot of them are not reported because a lot of people think it’s not a big deal,” he said. “It is a big deal. The only time someone should be putting their hands on you is when you want them to put their hands on you.”

Boli said the class has given her newfound confidence.

“I feel confident because I know [the attacker’s] weakness,” she said. “I know where to attack — the eyes, the throat. It was good.”