GRAFTON — As a 24-year-old woman and an avid watcher of “Dateline,” I know what most news junkies know — that danger is lurking around every corner, and the man walking across the street is really plotting to abduct you.
So when I heard that the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office was holding a women’s self-defense class, sponsored by the Grafton-Midview Public Library, I jumped at the opportunity. My dad has always pushed me to stick up for myself, and I knew a self-defense class would give me peace of mind in a job that can sometimes put me into questionable circumstances.
The class, headed by Lorain County sheriff’s Cpl. Jim Martin, was held Monday night at the North Park Community Room.
Jennifer Lang, adult services programming coordinator at the library, said the library has hosted two other self-defense classes — one in September for women and another class for teenagers, both of which Lang said were popular.
Monday night’s class was no exception.
About 30 women attended, and there was a waiting list. The women were good-natured, laughing at Martin’s jokes but many had real concerns for their safety and were eager to learn.
One woman, who works as a home healthcare nurse, said her job can sometimes put her into dangerous situations — she said she’s witnessed drug deals at some of her home visits.
Another spoke candidly about a crime that almost took her life. Now, she heads a neighborhood watch group in the hopes to prevent similar situations from happening to others.
Lang said after taking the class, she walks differently. She’s more aware of her surroundings.
Awareness is most important, said Martin, who emphasized women should prevent putting themselves in circumstances that may be dangerous.
He told the class to not park in dark, isolated areas; always look out for places that a “bad guy” can hide and keep doors and windows of the home locked and a phone by the bed, in case of an emergency.
Everything has a potential to be a weapon, he said, you just have to know how to use it — and not be afraid to do so.
Martin requested 10 seconds of silence at the start of the class and asked us during that time to think about the people who have helped us become who we are — those who care about us and our best interests. Ten seconds, he said, can change a life completely or even end one.
Martin would know.
On March 24, 1987, his cousin was killed, a night that pushed him to be more proactive for women’s safety.
On that day, 24-year-old Saundra Marie Martin’s body was found 10 miles from where she worked as a bartender in German Township. Investigators determined that she had been stabbed 20 times and robbed by Mark Breakiron, who was convicted of the crime in 1987.
Since then, a federal judge ordered that Breakiron’s trial be revisited because of evidence that had been withheld in 1987.
“This was my turning point, and why I do what I do,” Martin told the class.
Martin said he began leading the classes for the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office because he often worried about his mother, sister and wife, who are important women in his life whom he wants to keep safe.
Martin said he doesn’t advertise the classes, but organizations can contact the Sheriff’s Office to set up one of the classes for a group.
“I want women to have the upper hand,” he said. “If it helps one person, than I’ve done my job.”
A key focus of Martin’s class is on moves that can take a grown man down if necessary. Martin said to think about those people who care about us, and that should give us the motivation to come out of scary situations with the upper hand.
And the numbers are scary.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, one in 10 women will be hurt on purpose by someone they are dating, one in nine teen girls will be forced to have sex and one in five young women will be the victim of a sexual assault in college.
Martin’s class wasn’t about packing powerful punches and kicks but about landing blows in spots that are most vulnerable on a man and how to strike those areas to break free of an attack. As women, we often feel that we are not as strong as men, but it’s not about strength, it’s about mental awareness and training your brain.
Could you gouge someone’s eye out, if you had to, Martin asked. I don’t know if I could.
But after a rigorous workout of self-defense moves, Lang made a good point.
“I’ll be sore tomorrow, but at least I’m alive,” she said.
So as I walked to my car last night, I remembered to walk with confidence, looking at the shadows behind my car for someone who may be waiting there. I quickly got into the car and locked the doors before I drove off.
Yes, I thought, I’m alive. And I hope to keep it that way for a while.