ST. GEORGE — The Elizabeth Smart Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the education and prevention of sexual violence, has expanded its Smart Defense program to St. George, with its first session of classes set to begin Friday.
When she was 14 years old, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home and held captive for 9 months before being rescued by the police. In an interview with CBS in February, Smart said she was sexually assaulted on a flight with Delta Air Lines when she was flying back to Utah last summer.
During the interview with CBS, Smart said she “always felt safe on an airplane.”
“I’ve never been worried. I’ve never felt threatened on an airplane – until now.”
After falling asleep, Smart said she woke up to a man rubbing his hand between her thighs. As someone with a traumatic past, she said that at first, she immediately froze. Then she jerked away and waited for the man to apologize or acknowledge his reasoning for touching her. He said nothing. After the flight, she said she reported the incident.
This experience prompted her to launch Smart Defense, a program that teaches women and girls needed skills to protect against predators.
The program was developed by self-defense experts and combines highly effective techniques from jiu jitsu, muay thai and krav maga.
According to statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. The Smart Defense program aims to lower that statistic through prevention. Studies have also shown that around half of attackers will stop if their victim simply shows a willingness to fight back.
Smart Defense is currently available in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. The St. George location is the first major expansion of the program, with more locations across the country planned for the future.
After partnering with Fusion MMA & Jiu Jitsu, located at 2746 E. 850 North #1 in St. George, Smart Defense is set to begin two 8-week courses in St. George: one course will be held on Friday and the other on Saturday.
Aaron Reis, head trainer and owner of Fusion MMA, and his wife, Jennifer, will be running the courses.
Jennifer Reis has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu with experience teaching women self defense. Aaron Reis is a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and has taught women self defense for more than 20 years. They are both certified Smart Defense instructors.
Jennifer Reis told St. George News they expect as many as 20 women in each class and are grateful for the opportunity.
“We are honored to partner with Elizabeth Smart,” she said. “She is such an inspiration – her strength and the support she provides for women and victims of sex trafficking.”
This course is designed for teen girls as well as adult women and aims to provide a foundational understanding of self defense.
“Right now, more than ever, it’s good for women to have that general awareness and have tools to protect themselves,” Reis said.
While this course will provide a good basis understanding for self defense, she said that continuing self defense training as a practice is important for maintaining the muscle memory.
Open spots are still available.
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