UB offers free self-defense class for women

Students learn the importance of situational awareness in self-defense class


After a van slowed down as it drove alongside her, Yu-Xi Liu ran the rest of the way to her building in Harlem, New York. She then watched the van speed away from the safety of her building.

Now hyperaware of her surroundings, Liu was one 14 women who attended a self-defense class hosted by student-run club UB Women in Management. UB police officers Johnny Sindoni and Sergio Disanto explained the importance of self-defense and taught women self-defense tactics for different situations in the free lesson. The one-and-a-half-hour class coincided with October’s Domestic Violence Awareness month and was open to all female UB undergrad and graduate students on Wednesday evening.

“You’re not going to be a ninja when you leave here, but we’re doing our best to make sure you get down these basic self-defense skills,” Disanto said.

Liu, a senior finance major, now holds her keys in between her fingers when she walks outdoors and is always prepared to defend herself from potential attackers.

“My neighborhood has a lot of rapes,” she said. “I turned on the news once, and I heard that this woman was raped on exactly my street.”

One in four college women have reported surviving rape or attempted rape at some point during their lives.

Disanto said certain safety precautions that work in Buffalo may not be as useful in other cities. Liu said many women fall into dangerous situations because they ignore their instincts.

“Obviously if you live in somewhere like New York City, you can’t turn around every time someone is walking behind you,” Disanto said. “But usually when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your body is telling you something is wrong.”

Meredith Kaplan, a junior accounting major and Executive Vice President of Women in Management experienced a potential stalker situation during her freshman year at UB.

A man from her pre-calculus class would show up from time to time at the dining center at which she worked. She didn’t view him as a threat at first until he followed her near the Student Union.

“I heard footsteps behind me, and I noticed that the same guy was following me so I turned around and told him to leave me alone,” she said. “He asked, ‘I can’t say ‘Hi’ to you?’ and I responded ‘No!’ as I ran to the bus stop.”

After this incident, he continued to frequent Kaplan’s place of work. When she returned to her pre-calculus class a few days later, he gazed at her in an unsettling manner, she said.

“We had class on his birthday, and he asked why I was being so mean to him,” she said. “I responded by telling him that I was not being mean to him, and he responded by calling me a bitch.”

Kaplan informed the man that she would call University Police and obtain a restraining order against him if his behavior continued. He left her alone after being threatened with police intervention, but Kaplan knows the situation could’ve “turned ugly very quickly.”

Sindoni and Disanto are Rape Aggression Defense Systems (R.A.D.) instructors. Lawrence N. Nadeau founded R.A.D. in 1989 when he worked at the Old Dominion University Police Department in Norfolk, Virginia and saw a need for women to fight back against violence. Since then, R.A.D has trained more than 900,000 women across the United States in self-defense.

Although Sindoni and Disanto usually teach self-defense as a semester-long one- credit course, on this evening, they offered it as a basic presentation.

“When they first told us they wanted us to teach, we were kind of reluctant,” Disanto said. “You can’t really teach someone self-defense skills in half an hour, but what’s really important with any type of self-defense is to raise awareness, increase reduction, gain recognition and promote avoidance.”

During the presentation, Disanto and Sindoni taught attendees self-defense tactics that students can use at school, at home and in the parking lot. Disanto asked the attendees to consider how they would handle and prevent attacker-prone situations.

“Do you have dark drapes or clear drapes? Can potential attackers see inside your house? Are your bushes close to your door? Are they really high, can somebody hide in them? Are your windows closed on the first floor of your home? Are they locked? How many people do you know that put a spare key under a rug or a potted plant?”

Disanto also advised attendees to leave keys with trusted neighbors instead of under commonly known places such as rugs.

Instead of simply opening the door without speaking when someone knocks, Disanto encouraged women who are home alone to use phrases like “I’ll get it” before answering the door. That may make attackers believe the woman is not alone.

“Attackers usually want easy prey, not anything that they’ll have to fight with,” he said.

Disanto said many women believe pepper spray will always protect them from attackers, but he recognizes a drawback to carrying it. If the pepper spray is buried at the bottom of a woman’s purse, “the perpetrator is definitely not going to wait for you to find” it, he said.

Sindoni added that shoes, fists, fingers, elbows, heads, knees and feet are often more powerful vessels than pepper spray. Women can also use their voice as a weapon when they scream.

“Everyone thinks self-defense is just punching and kicking … it’s not, 90 percent of self-defense is situational awareness,” Disanto said.

Women should place their fists by their chest instead of by their face to prevent the attacker from making them punch themselves in the face, according to Sindoni.

Toward the end of their presentation, Sindoni allowed the attendees to practice a few self-defense moves on him.

Liu attended the WIM presentation because she believes in the power of self-defense.

“I believe that as a woman you have to know how to defend yourself, even if that never happens to you, having that knowledge on you could save your life,” she said. “I believe that in those situations we revert to training and whatever we know.”

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