NORTON SHORES, Mich. — 50 chairs are set up next to a sparring mat as women take their seats. At the front of the room, a screen is ready to present a PowerPoint presentation detailing statistics about domestic violence, sexual violence and violence against women.
Some of the stats are alarming. More than a third of women in the United States will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime. One in four women will face violence from an intimate partner.
For taekwondo instructor Roger Willard, he's tired of people taking a "not in my backyard" approach to these attacks.
"These monsters are attacking women on a regular basis," he says, flipping through his presentation. To combat the thought of violence against women being a rare occurrence, he uses examples that hit close to home.
"We talk about Jessica Heeringa," he says. "They know this person."
Willard and Len Lawrence, his co-instructor, teach self defense in five steps: Awareness, avoidance, breaking away/escaping, fighting and reporting offenders/supporting survivors.
Those first three are taught through physical demonstration, hitting dummies and punching bags or working with instructors. Fighting in its full form isn't taught in the single session, and the final step is taught in partnership with the Muskegon non-profit Every Woman's Place.
"It's important for us to have mechanisms for our clients to practice empowerment," says Kim Dimmett, the organizations director, "either after victimization or to avoid victimization."
Dimmett has taken the class herself, and says it's incredibly effective at showing the women who attend they aren't facing violence, or the fear of potential violence, alone. She says taking a class like this allows women to bring things into their own control.
“Too often if someone is attacked they go unreported because they don’t have the support," Willard says. "Every Woman's Place provides that support."
“Last time we did this," he continued, "Every Woman's Place was able to give services to one of the women who attended, and she’s thriving as a result of it.”
The class is offered free of charge. Willard says it allows them to reach a wider audience, and bring in a population he says may be more likely to experience violence, saying safety shouldn't only be available to those who can afford it.
For immediate resources around sexual and domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline by clicking here, call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788.
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