Building on strengths

Conference teaches women’s empowerment
Sunday, February 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:33 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

A burly man slowly crept up on a sleeping woman. He warned her not to move as he grabbed her around the neck.

The man released the terrified woman’s neck and used his hands to pin her down. When the man started moving down toward her feet, the woman suddenly raised her right leg and delivered a full-force kick into his face. Surprised by the swift kick, the man let out a painful cry, but the woman did not relent. She kicked the attacker in the face again and again until he collapsed in defeat.

Then the man stood up and took off his helmet.

“If you’re pinned, there’s eventually an opening,” he said to the other nine women in the room who were watching and applauding the woman’s self-defense tactics.

This situation was not a real attack, but rather a presentation that was part of the fifth annual Women’s Leadership Conference, which was held Saturday in Memorial Union. The presentation, called the “Women’s Empowerment and Self-defense Demonstration,” was one of many events that took place during the conference.

Jennie Bedsworth and Michael DiBenedetto, the people who played the victim and the attacker, respectively, led the self-defense demonstration. They are part of Model Mugging, a specialized program that teaches women how to protect themselves during verbal and physical attacks.

“What’s most important, I think, is for women to see that all women really are capable of protecting themselves and fighting back if they choose to do so,” Bedsworth said.

Bedsworth said that when confronted by a potential assailant, a woman should put up her hands, stomp her feet and scream, “NO!” Then if the man attempts an assault or rape, she should use her legs to attack him because a woman’s strength is in her hips and legs, DiBenedetto said. For example, a woman could knee the attacker in the groin, and when he falls to the ground, continually kick him in the head.

Bedsworth and DiBenedetto stressed the importance of knocking the attacker out, running away and calling 911. They encourage women to let their adrenaline take over as they fight back.

Although the simulated attacks looked violent and painful, Bedsworth assured the audience that Model Mugging demonstrations are safer than sports. Throughout the demonstration, Bedsworth hit, elbowed, kicked, bit and kneed DiBenedetto many times.

“I just want women to have the message that they are strong, wonderful people, and they don’t have to take abuse,” Bedsworth said.

Bedsworth handed out a fact sheet about rape: 78 women in the United States are raped every hour and the most common date rape drug is alcohol. In fact, one of the women who came to watch the demonstration, Amy Palmer, said she had been raped before.

Palmer thought that the presentation was important, but she had mixed emotions during the realistic attacks because she was a victim.

“It brought back bad memories that I didn’t really want to feel, but it also made me feel empowered, like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this. If this ever happens again, I can kick his butt,’” she said.

Other events at the Women’s Leadership Conference included “Beginners Yoga,” “Take Charge of Your Money: Things Women Should Know,” “The Creative Spark: Women in the Arts,” “Female Assertive Communication” and “Gender and Leadership: Who Wears the Pants?”

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