LAKEWOOD, Colorado — A survivor of the Columbine High School shooting is championing a program that trains victims to fight back.
Krista Hanley is the program director of the personal safety training program at the Colorado chapter of IMPACT Personal Safety.
“We can’t really create and be creative without being safe," she said. "I found myself restricting my life. And I was afraid to go out on dates. I was afraid to walk at night. I was afraid living alone in my apartment."
She described the program as "self-defense skills in a really trauma-informed and non-prescriptive way."
On Tuesday, Thornton Police arrested a man who tried to abduct a 10-year-old girl outside of her school. According to police, the girl fought off the suspect, then banged on the windows of the school to get the attention of staff.
"Of course, they did the right thing," Hanley said. "This child may not have even taken a self-defense class or may have taken some other sort of like a martial arts class. And they knew that they had a voice and that they can scare someone away."
That response, Hanley said, are also skills that they teach in their classes.
Hanley describes IMPACT as a holistic form of self-defense education.
"And what we specialize in is setting up lifelike scenarios with our suited instructors," she said.
In certain classes, instructors will wear protective equipment covering the top half of their body, in order for class participants to practice physically defending themselves from an attack.
"And so you can really feel what it feels like to fight and use your body and feel your power," said Hanley. "Self-defense believes that we all have the innate skills to protect ourselves. And what we're doing is we're just bringing that to your awareness and we're teaching you some extra tools to put in your tool belt so you can pull out the tools you already have and that you've already used to keep yourself safe in life."
The group holds around two to three classes each month, and rents out different locations in the Denver metro and beyond.
They train kids as young as six years old, but Hanley said they've seen an increase in the number of families signing up to train together.
"I think after the pandemic, when everyone is maybe staying home together a little more often and they felt sort of safer at home now that people are starting to do things alone and they're going back to school and stuff, people are feeling like, "Oh, we need more skills to keep ourselves safe.'" she said. "So we've had parents who have children who may be trans or who may be bullied in school, and they're coming and they really want to give their kids some great tools."
Hanley added that some parents come because something bad may have happened in their neighborhood or child's school.
"And then we also have parents that are just like fully, you know, they're like, 'This is part of my job as a parent is to to make sure that my kid is as safe as possible. And I want to also contribute to this safer world that we can build,'" explained Hanley.
Overall, Hanley's message is that she believes everyone has the skills to defend themselves.
"Let's all be confident that we can use our voices, use our bodies and really fight back," she said. "And that is not to be at all victim blaming of anyone who has experienced something that has happened to them. It is never your fault when something bad happens. It is never your fault if you feel in the moment that you don't have those skills available to you, you know, the fact that you chose to stay alive and stay in the moment and went through what you went through is also really important for us to recognize."
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