Fighting back: Girls learn 'how to bring out the warrior'

by Sheila Gardner

Staff Writer

Every woman " no matter her age or size " has an arsenal at her disposal that can disarm even the most intimidating physical opponent.

"What you learn in the next 90 minutes might save your life, and can certainly protect you," sheriff's Deputy Kevin Schaller told a girls' physical education class Tuesday at Douglas High School.

Schaller, a martial arts expert and trainer for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, gave up three days off this week to offer self-defense classes for female students at the high school.

The classes were organized in the wake of the kidnap, sexual assault and murder of Brianna Denison, 19, of Reno.

"Let not her fate be wasted," Schaller told the class. "What I ask of you is please, pay attention."

He said women need to accept the fact that they are potential victims, but they can educate themselves in rape prevention tactics.

Schaller encouraged the students to use their brains and "gift of fear" which alerts them to dangerous or uncomfortable situations, and not to buy into the culture that depicts women as "hoochies and sluts."

"You are expected to keep yourselves nice and pure, to be a good girl. Is that the same signals the boys get?" Schaller asked.

"You are women, you are very special, you are a gift. You have power and control, and the responsibility that goes with it."

That includes establishing boundaries and avoiding risky behavior like using alcohol and narcotics.

"You have to use words," he said. "If somebody is acting improperly, the time to be polite stops. You need to be forceful."

With the assistance of Deputy Nadine Chrzanowski, Schaller took the girls through a drill which makes effective use of elbows, hands, and knees in disarming an assailant.

"Never, ever, go to a second location," Schaller said, debunking the theory that a compliant victim stands a chance of survival.

"Scream, bite, kick, fight," he said. "Would it be better to die now, or go 10, 20, 30 hours through hell on earth, then die?"

Schaller circled the class of 60 girls underscoring the importance of body language.

A stalker, Schaller said, could have selected eight victims from the group based on their reluctance to make eye contact.

"You don't want to look like an easy target," he said. "I don't care how long you have to stare this person down. Don't break eye contact."

Chrzanowski told the students to pay attention to their instincts and not worry about hurting feelings or overreacting.

"When it comes to you and your personal safety, I don't give a crap about hurting someone's feelings. You don't want to be sitting in an emergency room waiting for the deputies to arrive with a sexual assault kit," she said.

Schaller told the students it was essential they have cell phones, especially if they drive.

"You should have a cell phone," he said. "Tell your parents I said so. I hate cell phones, but it's the most valuable personal safety device you can carry. It's a direct lifeline to us."

No one should ever be reluctant to call the sheriff's office, Schaller said.

"We're sheepdogs. We protect the flock. We live for this," he said.

At 4-feet, 11 inches and 100 pounds, Alice Sady looked like an easy target.

Schaller showed Sady how to answer a door to block whomever is on the outside from getting in.

Sady said she doesn't take risks with her personal safety.

"I have a lot of guy friends who really protect me, and walk me to my car," she said.

The 16-year-old Douglas High School junior has 13 years of ballet under her belt.

"I'm small, but I definitely can pack a powerful kick," she said.

Senior Jessica Reynolds, who is heading to University of Nevada, Reno, said she appreciated the opportunity to learn the techniques and planned to take a self-defense class.

"It's scary to think about. But at the same time, I'm glad they provided the opportunity to be more aware. I know I have it in me to be safe," Reynolds said.

Schaller stressed that sexual assault victims should seek help.

"I know there are victims of sexual assault here," Schaller said. "It's very uncomfortable to be here. You must seek out somebody to talk with who is not a girlfriend. It's important that you not carry that baggage throughout your life."

Teachers Kelly Maestretti and Corby Hughes said they would follow up the presentation with additional instruction in the techniques.

"We're not trying to panic anyone," Maestretti said. "We just want to make everybody a little more on their toes. No. 1, we want them to be more aware, to pay attention. We want them to feel a little bit empowered."

Maestretti said the information was crucial for seniors who are about to leave high school for college and careers. Denison was abducted Jan. 20 from a house near the UNR campus. Her body was found Feb. 15 in a south Reno field.

"Everybody is on high alert when this is right in front of us," Maestretti said. "We want them to keep paying attention when this dies down. Plus, we both have daughters going to University of Nevada, Reno."


n Sexual assault continues to be the most rapidly growing violent crime in America.

n More than 700,000 women are sexually assaulted each year; it is estimated that fewer than 50 percent of rapes are reported.

n Approximately 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by friends, acquaintances, intimates and family members; acquaintance rape is common among adolescent victims.

n Among female rape victims, 61 percent are under age 18.

Source: Douglas County Sheriff's Office


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