Fifty-nine-year-old Wanda Bright says she sometimes feels vulnerable, especially when she is alone. The Blythewood resident enjoys taking her dogs to field trial competitions and often travels to shows by herself.
“I’d like to learn how to better defend myself,” said Bright, standing outside the Polo Recreation Center gym Saturday morning, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. “I took a class in my 20s ... but I thought I needed to take it again now that I’m older.”
Bright was among about 40 women, representing a range of ages and body types, who showed up to take advantage of the free self-defense class for women being offered by the Northeast Columbia Women’s Club.
The class, which is actually taught by deputies from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, is popular among women such as Bright who want to feel a little more secure, a little more confident in their surroundings.
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“Women have different strengths than men, so it’s important to learn how to defend yourself against an attack,” said Lt. Heidi Scott, who teaches the class for the department.
Among the techniques participants learned were such moves as how to “create space” for yourself, particularly handy when someone is following too close or moving in too fast. The women were divided into four lines and practiced shouting, “Stop! You’re bothering me!” before adding an upward-motion nose jab to the command.
Scott said she and the other deputies involved with the program conduct, on average, about three classes a month, usually on Saturday mornings. And while she said recent high-profile attacks in the Midlands, such as Columbia purse-snatchings, seemed to be on the minds of many women, she couldn’t say for sure that any one trend is driving the interest.
“Women have always wanted to know how to defend themselves,” she said. “Prevention is 99 percent of protecting yourself against an attack, but there’s always that small chance or small probability. And in that situation, you want to know how to defend yourself.”
Those groups who are particularly vulnerable, Scott said, include young women heading off to college, women who work in professions where they are often alone and women who travel frequently.
“But it’s not always strangers,” she said. “When we were young, our parents taught us to be careful of people we didn’t know, but it’s not always strangers that commit offenses. It can be someone you know.”
That was something Kim Raines, who attended Saturday’s class, was concerned about. Raines, who signed up along with her two daughters, said, like any parent, she worries about her children. Raines’ youngest daughter Rebekah, 17, is getting ready to go off to college, while Megan, 20, is a waitress at a local bar and restaurant.
“I thought it’d be a good thing for them to know and learn how to do,” she said. “It’s really scary when I think about my oldest daughter leaving work at night.”
She said she was hoping the class would not only help her learn how to defend herself, but give her some peace of mind.
“A friend of mine who took it said she feels better now when she walks to her car. She said you’re always thinking about the techniques and what you would do.”