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A fighting chance against vulnerability

With the abduction of Carlie Brucia fresh in their minds, a self-defense class teaches girls how to avoid being victims.

Published February 15, 2004

TAMPA - A firm grasp ensnared the teen's arm.

Gen King could have surrendered there. She barely weighs 100 pounds and stands barely 5 feet tall, with a long, blond ponytail. But on Saturday, she was trained to escape.

A side-kick to the knee created a distraction. She swung her arm back in an arching circle that exposed a weak link between her gripper's fingers and thumb. Her wrist wriggled free.

"That's easy," said her attacker for the class, her mom Genevieve King with a sigh of relief.

The mother, 40, and daughter, 13, had registered for the self-defense class before they were haunted by the video clip of Carlie Brucia walking, hand-in-arm, with her abductor in Sarasota.

By Saturday's class, though, they and families across Tampa Bay could think of little else.

"Now I think I would do better if that happened to me," said Gen, 13, of South Tampa. "I've known how to kick and everything. But I've never known how to get my hand away."

More than 300 children, mothers and fathers packed the self-defense courses at seven YMCA branches in Hillsborough County, some coming as far as from St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor.

The Ophelia Project of Tampa Bay, which seeks to promote a healthy culture for girls, planned the safety training classes several months ago. The event was part of an international movement, called V-Day, to bring public awareness to ending violence against women and girls.

Interest has skyrocketed in recent weeks, following the kidnapping of 11-year-old Carlie outside a car wash in Sarasota on Feb. 1.

She was found dead five days later.

"Parents are so worried right now," said Liz Kennedy, organizer of the Ophelia Project in Tampa Bay, after attending a packed session at the Interbay YMCA in South Tampa.

"We taught our girls to be compliant, and as a result they are much more vulnerable," she said. "What they are telling us today is to kick and scream and make a fuss."

Blows and shouts were among the many techniques that Esther and Dick Staples of Brandon Combat Hapkido volunteered to share with nearly 70 girls and parents at the Interbay YMCA.

Even a small preteen can distract an abductor with strategic kicks to the abdomen, or a firm blow under the chin with the palm of a hand.

Young children should learn to scream "stranger," instead of struggling and crying, if someone grabs them in a shopping plaza.

And never leave a public place with an abductor - even if threatened with a knife or gun.

"If he would take the chance to kill you there, in front of God and everybody, what is he going to do to you in an abandoned orange grove?" Esther Staples asked.

Use purses, umbrellas and rolled magazines as weapons, she urged. And run, run, run.

"Even if he has a gun, you should run," said Danielle Kimball, 11, beaming confidence after an hour and a half of training. "I learned you shouldn't be afraid to run."

"Hold your head up, shoulders up and do not look like a victim," said Dan Kimball, 42, who brought his daughter from Palm Harbor. "It probably increased your awareness."

That was exactly the lesson Mudra Kumar, 46, hoped her 11-year-old daughter would learn.

She raced to a class after learning it had been opened to girls under 12 years of age.

"Even before this happened with Carlie, we've got to be very careful about what's going around in our neighborhoods," the Davis Islands mother said.

"It just bothers me, and it scares me."

- Letitia Stein can be reached at 813 661-2443 or

Ten rules for safety:

1. Don't think and act like a victim.

2. Always trust your instincts.

3. Lock doors to your car and house.

4. Always use the buddy system.

5. Observe your destination, such as a car in a parking lot.

6. Hand over a purse or credit cards if confronted, to avoid

injury or death.

7. Know safe locations in your area and along your commute.

8. If you're going to carry a weapon, such as pepper spray,

know how to use it.

9. Practice mental survival training - envision potential threats

and your responses.

10. Never leave a public place with a stranger.

- Source: Esther and Dick Staples, Brandon Combat Hapkido

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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