Having sparked public outcry across the country, the death of Jill Meagher prompted self-defence organisations to unite against women’s sexual assault and violence.
Blazing the trail within Victorian communities is Women’s Self Defence Network, which was founded by Rachel Kealy with one clear message in mind: to empower women from all over Melbourne with the knowledge to defend themselves and stay safe in public.
With a passion for helping people Rachel was fortunate to learn invaluable skills and knowledge in self-defence from husband Tristan, who has trained in the martial arts industry for 35 years.
“I’ve been getting all this information for all these years and every time I’d hear something on the news like (what happened to) Jill Meagher, I just kept thinking… I wonder if these people would they have been able to get away safe if they had the knowledge that I had. That’s why I really wanted to start the business,” Rachel said.
The power couple believe the key to safeguarding women is teaching them ‘pre-incident knowledge’ and how to recognise a situation where there could be a threat.
“We found after talking to a lot of people that it’s getting from A to B that’s the main threat,” Rachel said. “It’s about assessing your situation, making sure if there’s a potential threat you make good choices, the types of targets a predator is looking for, what makes a soft target a hard target.”
Acting on gut instinct is another important factor to recognise, as Tristan explains.
“Women have really good instinctual gut feelings about situations. It’s about giving them the knowledge to tap into that and recognise it is the first big step in helping their confidence.”
The Women’s Self Defence Network teaches simple skill-sets that are easy to recall, so they are not seen to be ‘easy targets’ by predators.
“We discuss parking your car, what you should be doing when you’re leaving a shopping centre, using your voice as a weapon – the stuff that’s easy to remember,” Tristan said. “We play a game called ‘talking with your hands’ where you have your hands higher than the other person, preferably at their shoulder height. This gives you space between you and the other person and stops them from getting to your face. The more space you create, the more time you’ve got to think and react.
“If you do end up in a situation where someone has closed the space and someone has physically grabbed you, we teach you the skills to defend yourself get someone off and get away as quickly as possible.”
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Knowing that it can be a daunting task to sign up for a seminar or workshop as important as the one’s held at Women’s Self Defence Network, Rachel wants to reassure and encourage women (and men) that it is a safe space and you only have confidence to gain.
“There are people who come in with no confidence in self-defence and after learning a few small skills, can walk away knowing that they’ve learnt something that’s going to be so valuable for them,” Rachel said.
Social media Influencer, TV presenter and producer EmmyLou MacCarthy experienced a frightening situation when she was confronted by a man after leaving an event.
“Late last year I was attacked in a carpark,” EmmyLou said. “I saw the man as I was walking to my car and in my gut, I knew that he was strange. I got into my car, made a phone call and locked the doors luckily because he tried to get into my car. It was incredibly scary.”
“I drove away and he still tried to run after the car. You think you are going to be able to take off and drive but when someone is attacking you, you’re actually shaking and the adrenaline is running through you as well.”
After EmmyLou’s experience she teamed up with Women’s Self Defence Networking at an event that taught guests safety around cars and the power of using your voice.
“What I loved about Women’s Self Defence Network is they teach practical tools around self-defence. You don’t have to have a black belt, what you need is a couple of key easy-to-recall skills when you’re in those situations, so for me that was really important,” EmmyLou said.
The Women’s Self Defence Network workshops and seminars are not only for women as the name suggests, but for men too. Tristan wants to encourage as many people as possible to learn the lifesaving techniques and principles.
“One of the guys I was teaching was coming out of Coles at night and a guy came at him with a knife and he said, ‘I just instantly did what you taught me. I just yelled at the offender and I stood there and didn’t back down’. He then explained how the guy started apologising. The skills we taught him shocked the offender straight away because he was so loud and affirmative in what he was saying,” Tristan said.
Continuning their mission to empower and arm individuals within communities across Victoria, with the knowledge to tap into their intuitive ‘gut feeling’ and asses their surroundings. Rachel and Tristan urge you to remember that prevention is always better than the cure.