When store owner Lisa Ibias heard about an assault not far from her Mendenhall Valley shop, she began worrying about the safety of her employees in what seems to be an increasingly targeted area.
“Immediately my husband went to the Damsel in Defense store and bought us a whole box of stuff,” Ibias said. That “stuff” included pepper spray cans and a few stun guns for employees at her three clothing shops — Downtown Dames, Lilette Resale Boutique and Alaskan Dames.
But she wanted to do more and not just for her employees, which is why she decided to host different defense experts at her valley location, 9131 Glacier Highway, for three lessons in self-defense or “Dames in Defense” as the classes are called.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt instructor Harmony Armstrong led the first class on Friday in a corner where clothing racks were removed to make room for a dozen employees and customers who showed up in workout gear, ready to learn defense moves.
“I’ll walk around and choke you if you’d like,” Armstrong told the group after teaching them to tighten their neck muscles and lunge forward, then down to break the weakest parts of an attacker’s hold, the thumbs.
Armstrong taught the women a couple introductory moves from her Jiu-Jitsu background to prepare them for scenarios based on police reports detailing how women are most often attacked. What’s the best move if an attacker tries to pull on one arm to drag someone away? What if the attacker pulls on both arms? What if, as many women in the class feared, the attacker pulls a woman from her hair?
The various techniques Armstrong reviewed on Friday considered each of these scenarios and each time, they ended with a “super slap” to the attacker’s ear. That will, if done with enough force, throw off the assailant’s balance and give a would-be victim time to run away and get help.
“The idea is to get them to let you go so you can get away,” Armstrong said. “There’s no point trying to fight someone who is stronger than you.”
In Southeast Alaska where Armstrong was born and raised, she said it’s especially important that women prepare themselves for these worst-case scenarios. The 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey revealed that in this state, 58.6 percent of women were victims of some form of violence. That figure is likely lower than the actual rate of violence because physical violence is the most underreported crime, according to the victimization survey director André Rosay.
Amrstrong said she knows all too well about those statistics.
“I know the bad things that can happen, I’ve seem them first hand,” she said.
As a youth in Alaska, Armstrong said she has suffered from violent attacks, along with several of her friends.
She said looking back, knowing just a bit of what she knows now could have made a world of difference.
“I don’t live my life in fear because I’m confident now,” Armstrong said.
The women in Friday’s class were beginning to feel that same confidence.
“Oh, that works so well!” and “Hey, it worked!” were some of the shocked responses from the women who practiced getting away from their “attackers” during the class.
The next two Friday classes planned at the Alaskan Dames shop in the valley are scheduled for Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m., where Juneau Police Department Officer Ken Colon will talk about employee safety around shoplifters, and Damsel in Defense representative Sue York will go over defense weapons for women and how to use them, respectively.
The classes are free and open to everyone in the community.
• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.