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SMC students learn self-defense

Meg Mirshak | Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Erin Weed, founder and executive director of Girls Fight Back, an organization that provides personal safety and self-defense information for young women, presented her program to about 50 students in Saint Mary’s Carroll Auditorium Tuesday night.

Weed founded Girls Fight Back in 2001 after her best friend, Shannon McNamara, was murdered in her college apartment near Eastern Illinois University. Inspired by the way her friend fought back against her aggressor, Weed said she realized young women must learn practical methods to protect themselves if necessary.

“Nothing changes your sense of security more than seeing what violence does to a woman,” said Weed, who witnessed the trial of McNamara’s murderer.

After working with violence-prevention experts and self-defense trainers, Weed began traveling the country presenting her self-defense initiatives at middle schools, high schools, major corporations, colleges and neighborhoods.

Weed said the most shocking part of her friend’s murder case was that many people in the apartment complex heard McNamara’s screams as she was being attacked, but no one did anything to help her.

“Specifically in college campuses, we ignore sounds,” Weed said.

Girls Fight Back is Weed’s most popular program, but she also teaches courses on spring break safety, campus crime and workplace safety for interns new to the lifestyle of an urban professional woman.

Through Girls Fight Back, Weed said, she hopes to teach young women that “fighting like a girl is a very good thing.”

Weed said she tells women the best way to learn about personal safety is through empowerment, not fear or intimidation because they may be known as the “weaker” sex.

A Girls Fight Back program covers reducing risk factors, paying attention to one’s intuition, home security measures and tips for Internet safety. Weed put that and more information for campus safety in her book, “Girls Fight Back: The College Girl’s Guide to Protecting Herself.”

And it really is a guide for a safer lifestyle, said Cassie Quaglia, president of the Residence Hall Association, which sponsored Weed’s presentation.

“Girls Fight Back gives our students practical knowledge to apply to everyday living,” Quaglia said. “It is not just about the self-defense aspect.”

Quaglia said small changes help make everyday life safer, and Girls Fight Back reminds that to students to avoid tragedies like McNamara’s death.

The second half of Weed’s presentation includes a program Weed calls “three steps to a safe and empowered life.”

The first step, “learning to trust your intuition,” could have prevented McNamara’s death, Weed said.

She also warned women against being a sitting duck for attacks.

“All of us know what it looks like to be an easy target,” she said.

The presentation ended with a short demonstration of self-defense moves that a woman could put to use if she is ever attacked. When found in a violent situation, women who have never been taught proper ways to defend themselves pause because they do not know how to react, Weed said.

She also showed the audience how to use everyday objects, like a cell phone and a high-heeled shoe, as an “improvised weapon,” if circumstances allow.

“It is my hope that you will see something in today’s program that will make you want to go and take a self-defense class,” she said.

The Girls Fight Back Web site, she said, has a directory women can use to find listings of self-defense classes near them.

Some in the audience said they would consider Weed’s suggestion.

“Weed was encouraging because you never think you will be in a situation like [McNamara’s] and it was nice to know women can defend themselves,” freshman Stacy Biedron said.