When Marilyn Walsh took her first women’s self-defence class, ‘stranger danger’ was in the cross-hairs.
Even now, decades later, Walsh says people tend to think violence against women comes mainly from random attackers.
“It’s what you see in movies,” she said, and news reports. But women are much more likely to be attacked by someone they know.
In 2011, Statistics Canada found husbands and boyfriends were implicated in nearly half of all police-reported violence against women, and more than a quarter were friends or acquaintances.
Only 16 per cent were strangers.
“Most women are attacked in a home, not out on the street,” said Walsh, who is teaching a series of free workshops on women’s self-defence at Community Centre 55 this spring.
Such classes have switched focus since Walsh started teaching nearly 40 years ago.
“I think they’ve become more responsive to the information we have about violence against women,” she said.
While the classes still cover street safety, they also cover safety tips for things like babysitting, team sports, and business trips.
Besides strategies, Walsh teaches students ways to escape chokes and holds, how to punch and kick effectively, and how to defend against weapons or multiple attackers.
Over the years, Walsh said many students have told her the course has boosted their self-confidence. Some have said it saved their lives.
“I think every women and girl should take this program, just as everyone should take a First Aid course,” she said. “It gives you awareness, helps you deal with the stress of the situation, and gives you practical skills so you can cope with the emergency.”
One of the workshops will run every Wednesday in April at Community Centre 55, from 6 to 8:45 p.m. The next will run on the last two Sundays of May, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Both workshops are open to women ages 12 and up and, thanks to a $5,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Toronto Beach, all the sessions are free. The money was raised last September, when the club put on a Corks ‘N Kegs fundraiser at Beach United Church.
“Without the Beach Rotary, none of this would have happened,” said Evonne Hossack, director of Community Centre 55.
To register for a course, or for more info, call Centre 55’s Lainey Anderson at 416-691-1113 ext. 223.