SPECIAL REPORT: Sexual assaults and holiday crime causing more women to 'take control'

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - With the recent rise in reported sexual assaults against women, coupled with the uptick in crime like purse snatching and robberies during the holiday season, more women are looking for ways to protect themselves and their families.

Many are flocking to self-defense classes looking for ways to fight back should they find themselves in trouble. Many are learning techniques of jujitsu at Gracie Barra in Columbus. Now more than ever they say, knowing how to defend yourself is a valuable skill.

"I definitely feel more confident if someone were to come up and put their arms on me or something. I would be able to handle the situation," says self-defense student, Crystal Hicks. 
 
She's been taking classes for 3 1/2 years with her daughter. Hicks believes it's important for women of all ages to know how to defend themselves.

Recent reports of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact involving politicians, celebrities,  businessmen and more from Washington to Hollywood to Alabama, is proof she says of the importance of knowing what to do in unexpected and potentially dangerous situations.

"My daughter is 15-years-old and I wanted to get her here because of the dating situation and people at school you never know what will happen. So I wanted her to be able to defend herself in case of any situation that she came into," Hicks said.

Statistics back that reasoning. According to numbers from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women have survived an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes, and 17,700,000 women have been the victims of rape since 1998.

RAINN says teenage girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault. And female college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than women in the general population. Though women make up 90 percent of sexual assault victims men are at risk too.  One out of every 10 rape victims is male according to RAINN.

But it's not just concerns over sexual assault, crime in general from purse snatching to robberies, to workplace and domestic violence, all are reasons why these women are taking control. Gracie Barra owner Josh Bowlin says having self-defense skills can help level an uneven playing field.
 
"Jujitsu was developed to help the smaller person overcome the bigger person through leverage and technique," says Bowlin. "Practicing technique over and over again to be able to protect themselves and better prepared," he says.

Amanda Gill says her small stature was what got her thinking about her safety. "I work in a male-dominated field, I am an engineer at a manufacturing plant and it would behoove me to get some self-defense skills under my belt," Gill says.

Seven months into self-defense classes she's feeling more secure and thinks it's something other women should consider.

"I would suggest it to any woman who has ever felt threatened in any kind of way, in a domestic situation, out and about, whatever, any kind of threat jujitsu is definitely going to make you feel more confident about yourself," Gill says.

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