Knowledge Is Power in Self-Defense Class

Article excerpt

Byline: Carla Labunski Daily Herald Staff Writer

Before she heard the stories of other women in her class, Lee Sullivan had almost forgotten about it.

She lived in downtown Chicago for five years before she married and moved to Naperville to raise a family.

Around 7 p.m. one night, she was walking through the Loop by herself when a man began following her. In a low voice, he began talking to her, telling her in frightening detail what he planned to do to her.

He kept asking her, "Will you come with me?"

Somehow she stayed calm, saying "No" over and over again. Finally, she saw two respectable-looking businessmen, and walked up to them to ask for help. When she did, she burst into tears.

"I was so casual about it then, but it scares me now," she said.

Like Sullivan, most of the other women who sign up for the self-defense classes at Yongin Martial Arts in Naperville have had a close call with sexual assault or know someone who has. And most of them know perfectly well that living in a pleasant suburb doesn't magically protect them from harm.

Just last Christmas, a man tried to force his way into Tori Hoffman's car one day when she was in Aurora. "I was panicking," she said. "And you never think anything will happen during the daytime."

Sullivan and Hoffman, who also lives in Naperville, learned about the self-defense class because both of their sons are learning tae kwon do from Yongin's owner, Anne Sullivan.

Anne Sullivan, who's not related to Lee, began offering the classes shortly after she opened the martial arts school in 1995 because so many women asked for them.

But while she knew the physical techniques of self-defense, she realized she didn't know anything about the psychology of sexual assault. So she decided to learn, and pass the knowledge on to her students. Now she's a certified rape crisis counselor and instructor for SHARP (Sexual Harassment Assault Rape Prevention).

She offers safety tips on local television and radio shows, and teaches on-site self-defense seminars at corporate offices. She recently flew around the country to teach self-defense classes for a college sorority.

In fact, she says, many of the teenage girls who take her Naperville class are taking the class with their moms - moms who are worried about date rape and the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses. Some students, like Hoffman, take the class with a friend. No matter who they walk through the door with, they're always a little nervous at first, she says.

"At first, they're thinking 'What have I gotten myself into?' But at the end, they're cheering each other on," said Anne Sullivan.

What most of the women really want from the class, she said, is the confidence to defend themselves if the worst happens.

So her classes start with the psychological aspects of assault, including a look at the usual motives of a potential attacker. …