LIKE most mums, I worry about my children’s safety. My daughter, Julia, has just completed her first term at university in the city of York and when she arrived home for the Christmas holidays I breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s not that I don’t trust her to look after herself, it’s just that I don’t trust anyone else.
The stranger danger we taught her about when she was five still seems to apply.
And yet my fears may be exaggerated.
Julie Tweedale, who runs a non profit-making social enterprise, Freedom Personal Safety, teaching women and children how to protect themselves, says assaults on young women are thankfully quite rare. In fact, it is young men who are the most vulnerable. According to Home Office statistics around one third of reported street crime relates to men between the ages of 18 and 25.
So I should, in fact, be worrying about my son.
But it’s understandable that parents feel their daughters, usually smaller and weaker, are somehow more vulnerable when out on the streets in the dark and possibly alone. And, of course, if Julia was to be one of the unfortunate few who meet an assailant I know it would have far-reaching implications for both her and our entire family.
And so I took her along to one of Julie’s mother and daughter 90-minute taster workshops held in Huddersfield.
Julie founded Freedom Personal Safety with a friend, Elaine Howard, because in her teens she herself was the victim of a sexual assault. Two decades later and she decided to do something to stop others experiencing the same.
The women travelled to Alabama in the US to take an instructor’s course with the American organisation Rape Aggression Defence Systems.
They have been putting what they learned into practice for the past couple of years and go into schools, workplaces and community centres.
“Anywhere where there are women or girls,” says Julie. The partners have just received funding from Community Spirit in Slaithwaite, where Julie lives, to run children’s workshops for Brownies, Rainbows and other uniformed groups. They will also have a session for toddlers on fire safety and how to react in an emergency.
In our mothers and daughters’ workshop Julie focuses on a number of simple techniques to escape from threatening situations. We are taught to strike a defensive stance – one fist at the waist, the other hand raised, one leg back ready to kick – which Julia recognises from her years practising karate. From this stance we then learn how to punch the nose of an assailant, or kick to the groin. At each stage we shout “NO” because assertiveness alone may be enough to deter an attacker.
Julie tells us it is entirely possible to defend ourselves against someone bigger and stronger.
“I was hurt very badly when I was 18 by a man who was bigger than me and in a position of authority,” she says. “When it happened I just froze and I thought there wasn’t anything I could do, so I didn’t fight back. But there are so many things I could have done.”
In fact, more than 80% of assaults on women are by someone they know, usually a man – 50% by a partner or an ex-partner.
But there is always the chance of a random attack in the street or in a bar. Julie prepares us for such eventualities by showing us the ‘radial nerve strike’ on a forearm, which releases even the firmest of grips; and the ‘Statue of Liberty’ move that can stop someone grabbing you round the throat from behind. We also practice blocking and parrying strikes.
“When a man is hitting a woman it’s more likely to be a slap or a mild punch because he wants us to remain conscious so that we are aware he is in control,” says Julie. “So you can deflect the punches and it will take him by surprise.”
At the end of our session we feel that we have learned some easy-to-practice but effective moves.
Fellow mum, Lynn Bradley, from Slaithwaite, who brought along her daughter Joanne 13, and Eleanor, 15, says she felt more prepared for a would-be attacker.
“But my main reason for coming was I thought it would be useful for my daughters now that they are at an age when they are going to start going out on their own,” she explained.
Janet McKenzie-Jones, from Halifax, said she’d been interested in the workshop because her 19-year-old daughter Iona was planning to do a lot of travelling.
“I did a similar thing (travelling) when I was younger and I thought it would be useful for her so she knows how to protect herself. It was only luck that got me through quite a lot,” she explained.
For details of Julie’s courses check out www.freedompersonalsafety.co.uk or call her on 07768 341326
What to do if facing an attacker
BODY language is important. Adopt the defensive stance and shout "NO" if someone attempts to attack you. Make eye contact with them.
"Don’t shout for help or scream because that gives them (the attacker) more power over you," says Julie. "An attacker will not be expecting you to resist and will be taken by surprise."
Don’t scratch or bite as this may cause an attacker to increase the severity of their assault. Aim to punch them under the nose or kick their groin area.
If you are wearing high heels then a foot stamp may be effective. "Adrenalin makes you stronger," says Julie.
The radial nerve on the top of the forearm is sensitive to a forceful strike and is one way to escape from someone who is holding on to you.
To escape from someone who is strangling you from behind, raise one arm and then turn in the direction of that arm - it’s surprisingly effective.
If facing a bag snatcher and you still have possession of the bag then the advice from the police officers who trained Julie is to throw the bag behind the attacker and then run in the opposite direction. If you feel that there is a threat of violence do not attempt to hang on to the bag.
"Carry important stuff like your wallet, phone and car keys in your pockets," says Julie.
How to avoid attack.
When out walking on your own be aware of everything around you. Don’t talk on a mobile phone as this attracts attention to the fact you have something of value and is also a distraction from being aware of your surroundings.
If you get the feeling that someone is following you then act on that feeling, says Julie. "Our instincts have been honed over thousands of years, don’t ignore them." If you feel at risk, walk to the nearest house with a light on and knock on the door. Attempt to remove yourself from a vulnerable situation."