South Portland Police Dept. class emphasizes self-defense for women

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Women living in cities experience fear on an almost daily basis. 

But that fear is a gift, police Officer Linda Barker told her self-defense class on June 27, because a woman’s intuition can save her life.

The South Portland Police Department recently began holding free, monthly self-defense classes specifically for women in a program called Women Against Victimization and Exploitation, or WAVE.

The four-hour sessions provide the small groups of participants, typically no more than 10 people, with a basic knowledge of lawful self-defense, the importance of self-awareness, as well as some simple techniques to repel an attacker. 

Men, aside from instructors, are specifically not invited. Instructors also discourage women from “practicing” the techniques on their male friends or partners. 

“This is for you,” Officer Alfred Giusto told to the nine participants last week. 

Barker and Giusto, both volunteer instructors for the program, said participants are often women living in Portland and South Portland who simply want to feel safer walking around at night or alone.

Some participants have been victims of assault or sexual violence, and hope to learn defense techniques not only to better protect themselves, but also to heal. 

Although they caution their program is not foolproof, Barker and Giusto said they believe self-defense classes like theirs can help women achieve those goals.

Because women are typically not as strong as men, and are disproportionately victims of sexual assault, Giusto said, “many women have the preconceived notion that they can’t defend themselves, or fight as well.”

“You have an absolute right to defend yourself,” Barker added. 

Giusto also affirmed his belief that those who resist their attackers are much less likely to be victims of sexual assault. 

Barker emphasized to the class the importance of being aware of surroundings and making responsible decisions about alcohol and drugs. She said both can impair one’s defense capabilities in a potentially dangerous situation.

The officers said they hope to continue providing lessons for women with a narrower scope, such as techniques specifically for high school seniors going off to college in the city, or for the elderly. They also are seeking business sponsors for the sessions. 

One participant, Hannah Grover, said she recently moved to Portland after graduating from Scarborough High School, and often walks or bikes her three-mile trek to work through the city.

“It’s not a guarantee, but it’s good to walk home and know I could defend myself,” she said of the techniques she learned Friday. “It makes me feel better.”

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.

Sidebar Elements

Eileen Koontz, of Portland, delivers a strike to Breagh MacAulay, a student at Southern Maine Community College, as South Portland police Officers Alfred Giusto, left, and Linda Barker instruct a free class on self-defense for women at the South Police Department on Friday, June 27.