Full house at Kerrisdale Women’s Safety Workshop

Three weeks and no charges have been laid in the case of Julie Paskall, the hockey mom who was beaten to death at a community centre in Surrey. The soon five-year-old murder of Wendy Ladner-Beaudry in Pacific Spirit Park as well as the mysterious sexual assault series at the UBC campus are equally unsolved.

Not a good idea: focussing on your smart phone in a back alley. Photo: Katja De Bock

Not a good idea: focussing on your smart phone in a back alley. Photo: Katja De Bock

Even though crimes nationwide are generally decreasing, sexual assaults and other violence against women tend to stay steady. According to VPD statistics, sexual offenses in the city increased by 15.5% between November 2012 (458 reported offenses) to November 2013 (529).

No wonder the VPD Women’s Safety Workshop at Point Grey Secondary School in Kerrisdale on January 16 was a success.

“The VPD Women’s Safety Workshop went off without a hitch,” said Jeremy Sally, communications director of the Kerrisdale Oakridge Marpole Community Policing Centre (KOMCPC), who organized the evening together with the VPD. “Always nice to see hard work and planning pay off, especially when 40 people leave the event instilled with confidence.”

Gaining confidence in your own abilities, raising awareness of your surroundings and always looking for opportunities to fight back and escape were the main lessons the 40 participants learned from VPD instructors Sergeant Colleen Yee and Detective Constable Julie Birtch.

With a remarkable mixture of coolness and sincere empathy, the instructors emphasized the importance of situational awareness and of the right mindset.

“How dare you?” is the thought that should be on top of one’s mind when threatened, rather than “please don’t,” according to the instructors. Thinking of your loved ones, whether that means your spouse, your children or your pets, can also be helpful to increase your will to survive in case of an assault.

Whereas women cannot control an offender’s desire and his choice of target, they can try to avoid presenting themselves as an opportunity.

Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings, said the instructors. Avoid being engrossed in your cell phones – don’t walk along dark alleys if you mustn’t – change your route to home or work frequently.

Trust your gut feeling – if you feel followed, cross the street, make eye contact or confront the offender in a harsh voice. Most predators are looking for weak, distracted targets and will back off, certainly in public.

According to the Criminal Code 34.1, one is allowed to use self-defence techniques, some of which were taught to the attendees in a personal demonstration.

Mysha Dewar-McClelland (left) and Emma Hamilton demonstrate self-defence techniques at Elements Academy of Martial Arts on Dunbar St.

Mysha Dewar-McClelland (left) and Emma Hamilton demonstrate self-defence techniques at Elements Academy of Martial Arts on Dunbar St. Photo courtesy of Elements Academy

For safety reasons, the techniques are not disclosed here, but let it be said the exercise – self-defence techniques practiced under the supervision of VPD officers –  is fun, efficient, and suited for women of all shapes and sizes.

Emma Hamilton, owner of Elements Academy of Martial Arts on Dunbar, said her main reason for attending the Women’s Safety Workshop was to check the consistency of the workshop’s messaging with what she offers in her own Women’s Self-Defence programming. She was happy to learn that many of the messages and physical techniques overlapped.

Elements Academy on 4465 Dunbar Street, Vancouver

Elements Academy of Martial Arts on 4465 Dunbar Street, Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Elements Academy

“Our weekly women’s self-defence classes compliment workshops like this by offering women regular access and technical training to help build confidence,” said Hamilton. “We work to empower women so they are prepared to defend themselves and escape at all costs.”

Needless to say, the VPD does not recommend carrying a weapon, for the simple reason this might easily be taken and used against you by the criminal.

And never hesitate to call 911, even if you have only a hunch you might be followed.

Quoting Phil Messina, former NYPD officer and author of Warrior 101: A Handbook for the Modern Warrior, Yee concluded: “Being a predator isn’t always comfortable, but being a prey is not acceptable.”

Reported by Katja De Bock 

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