LHS junior leads self-defense class to help peers combat college assault

LHS junior leads self-defense class to help peers combat college assault

Students at Lincoln High School took a self-defense class last week. The workshop was organized by junior Lauren Amaral, front row, center. Participants included, in back from left, LHS physical education teacher Mike Orsini, seniors Nicholas Lopes, Jeff Munoz, Morgan LaRose, Martine Lokken, Peter Lavallee, Lauren Hervieux and Amaral's uncle Brian Gosselin; and in front from left, junior Kelvin Freitas, senior Alexis Jackson, Amaral, and seniors Wendy Lopes and Kaitlyn Aspinwall.

LINCOLN - As part of her graduation project, a Lincoln High School junior led a self-defense class last week to ensure her peers are better equipped to protect themselves from assault on college campuses next year.

Lauren Amaral and her team of seniors learned the basics of making a fist and throwing a punch, as taught by LHS physical education teacher Mike Orsini and mixed martial arts competitor Brian Gosselin, but the focus of the workshop was primarily on staying alert and aware of surroundings.

Amaral said with one in five college women being victims of sexual assault, most of which occurs during their freshman or sophomore year, she felt her project should raise awareness of the issue.

"The way I wanted to solve it is by getting seniors to learn warnings and how to protect yourself," Amaral said.

She is not alone; President Barack Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in January. Last week, the task force released its recommendations for improvement and announced a new website, www.notalone.gov, that posts enforcement actions and information victims can use to find help and file complaints.

Orsini, who owns Rhode Island Self Defense Center in Johnson, stressed situational awareness to the group of a dozen young men and women.

No one is going to become Rambo after a 45-minute class, he joked with the students, but they would be able to pick up a few tips to try to keep themselves safe, like keeping headphone volume to a minimum and not looking down at a cell phone as they walk home at night.

"The most important thing is being alert," Orsini said, adding that even pepper spray, a knife or a gun cannot help someone who is not paying attention enough to reach for it. "Don't be paranoid, but be aware."

That awareness extends off the streets and into parties, he continued, urging students to keep tabs on their friends and alternate exits. He recommended they use school escort buses when leaving the library late at night, rather than walking home alone, and parking in well lit areas of the parking lot.

Gosselin, Amaral's uncle and owner of Extreme Fitness in Cranston, also advised students to have 911 dialed on their cell phones so they can discreetly hit call if something happens.

After the discussion, students paired up with punching bags to practice some basic hits. After all, Orsini said, people will not rise to their expectations in a crisis, but rather fall to their experience. Having a basis of defense, he said, can help students feel comfortable protecting themselves long enough to get away.

But Orsini's most important rule for students was to follow their intuition.

"First of all, always trust your gut," Orsini said. "Listen to your gut. If it doesn't seem right, something is probably wrong."

Amaral said now that she has executed her first event, she hopes to plan more next year when she is a senior, as well as incorporate self-defense training into the physical education curriculum.