There is a group of teenagers and young women in Orange County who now walk a little taller and with a little more confidence.
It might be because they now know how to deliver a swift kick to the groin or a palm strike to the face.
Or it might because they now know how to spot a controlling boyfriend and effectively end a relationship, or how to steer clear of potentially dangerous situations.
Nearly 70 high school girls and college women are now armed with valuable tools so they can be safer.
Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies partnered with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the interactive violence prevention program Get Safe to host the city’s first ever Female Empowerment Initiative Thursday, July 21, at City Hall.
The free event was inspired by a city youth committee that pitches City Council members on programs and activities they want to see in the city.
“When they came to us and said they wanted some type of safety class we said, ‘done,’” Davies said. “Safety is our No. 1 priority in the city.”
OCSD Crime Prevention Specialist Christina Longeuay said the course is likely the first of many the department and city will partner to offer.
“It’s important for personal safety because, in this day and age, you can be walking down the street anywhere and come across all types of dangers,” Longeuay said. “Giving them a little more confidence is the biggest thing.”
Executive director of Get Safe Stuart Haskin, who also is a reserve sergeant with the OCSD, and Dave Monderine, advocacy and training specialist, said they teach every woman that she is already equipped with the best tools for staying safe: their minds, bodies and voices.
“We don’t go through a bunch of stats about attacks or assaults,” Monderine said. “We don’t want to scare them, we want to empower them.”
The class was filled with humor and important information the participants could easily commit to memory and call upon, if ever needed.
The girls and women learned how to be more aware of their surroundings, how to assess situations and identify any risks.
They were told to get off their cell phones and walk tall with their shoulders back.
“People are walking around and not paying attention to their surroundings. It makes you a target,” Monderine said. “And if you look like a target, you may possibly be a target, even in a safe city.”
The favorite part of the class for many of the students was when things got physical.
The girls and women were taught the correct way to kick standing up and lying down, how to palm strike and the proper defense stance.
They learned how to use their voices to yell, “back off” with authority.
Christine Burke watched as her daughter, Kendra, a sophomore at Aliso Niguel High School, nearly knocked over one of the instructors with a strong kick to the padded bag.
“She’s going to be alone more than she was in middle school and in different situations,” Burke said. “It’s important for them to know the kind of dangers that are out there.”
Haskin and Monderine also covered dating safety — a subject that grabbed the attention of the audience because it’s one every participant in the room is likely to encounter at some point in life.
The instructors warned the students about being wary of men who want to order for them, talk over them or treat strangers with indifference — all signs of someone who might have control issues.
“We want to make sure you’re treated right, that you’re respected and listened to,” Haskin told the class.
Liz Gonzalez, a student at Cal State Fullerton, said she wished she would’ve found the course sooner having been in some of the situations Haskin and Monderine talked about.
Now, she said, she feels stronger and more prepared to handle a variety of situations.
“I loved it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just so important to know these things. It’s safe for me, as a woman, to know this.”