Sunday November 19 2017

Take charge of your safety

self-defence class taekwondo

A self-defence class in session. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Phionah Nassanga

It was a lively Saturday night when Olivia (names altered), a 28-year-old businesswoman and her friends went to a house party in Naalya, a suburb of Kampala. “The house party ended at about 2am and my friends and I decided to move the party to the nearest hangout,’’ she recounts.
At the hangout an hour later, she went to the toilets. On her way, she noticed a strange man standing outside the ladies.
“I said, ‘excuse me; these washrooms are for women only,’ as I tried to direct him to the gents, which was next-door, but he kept looking at me,’’ narrates Olivia.
Little did she know that stranger was not lost but had a hidden agenda. In the blink of an eye, he had closed the entrance to the toilets. Her threats and screams for help did not deter him. With loud music outside, he knew no one would come to her rescue.
“I screamed but no one could hear me. That is when he scratched me in the face and punched me. At this point, I was down on the floor, scared and screaming at the top of my voice for help as he strangled me. Thank God, somehow I managed to scratch him in the face as I had long nails then,’ remembers Olivia.

The attacker lost concentration as he tried to draw his face away. This gave Olivia a chance to reach the door. When she opened the door, a woman seated opposite the entrance saw the invader trying to pull her back and informed a waitress who came to her rescue.
To date, Olivia does not know what the man’s intentions were.
“I was bruised, with scratches all over my body. I do not know whether he wanted to rape or kill me because he grabbed me by the neck and it was a near death experience for me,’ she says, wiping tears.
Security was able to pin him down and call the club’s management. The attacker was then dragged to police but all the while, he did not say a word.
Since he was not charged and no explanation was given for his actions, Olivia lives in fear that the man will continue hunting for her.

Another experience
Like Olivia, Dorothy Lwanga a mother of one was attacked at a music concert in 2015.
“I received an important phone call, but owing to the noise at the concert, I was forced to move out to find a better position to return the call. On my way out, a group of about three people followed me but I did not know they were trying to encroach on me.’’
Lwanga says one of them bypassed her in a hurry stopping right in front of her. As she tried to move past him, he blocked her way. The other two who had remained behind grabbed her hands as they blindfolded her while covering her mouth to stop her from screaming.
She recalls how she was saved by an abrupt noise and footsteps coming in their direction. In panic, the attackers ran away. Lwanga returned only to ask her friend to help and to accompany her home as she could not continue with the concert.

Lessons
“I did not know how much power I had over what had happened to me. That is why I had to drop the case, but after I posted on social media, from the comments, I realised I should not have dropped the case,’’ Olivia recounts.
On that awful night, she learnt that there is power in numbers. Had she not gone out with friends who stood as eyewitnesses that evening, who knows whose statement police and the club management would have believed, given that the attacker kept claiming she had taken his money?
One thing Lwanga learnt is not to stay out late especially when she is alone and if she is with friends, it is wise to stick with them wherever they go.
“If I had stayed in company of my friend, none of this would have happened,’’ she says.

Self-defense tips
Ibrahim Bogere a karate instructor and security supervisor at the American embassy Nsambya, advises women to be prepared in every situation no matter where they are.
Better still, one can choose to attend martial arts classes to learn self-defence skills.
“In a self-defence situation, one of the secret weapons is the element of surprise. Do not rush to fight back even when you seem frightened, because by the time one attacks you they are confident you are not able to defend yourself which is fine to let one take advantage of that misconception,’’ explains Bogere.
One needs to use a confident, relaxed attitude in which their shoulders are put forward, arms bent, and the hands are up and open as though they are surrendering.
This peace-making posture may mislead the attacker into thinking one is willing to comply then if it becomes necessary to strike, he will probably not be prepared for it.

Halima Namakula, an artist and director of Women at Work international says self-defence is important and staying safe should be every woman’s priority.
“Keep at least one of the self-defense items handy with you all the time, to ensure your protection while hanging out.
Carrying a pepper spray along with you would not be a bad idea.
Namakula emphasises that women should not drink too much and should consider hanging out with friends who do not drink as they can easily come to their rescue.
Asking one’s companions to accompany them to the bathroom or toilets can save one from danger.
Before you excuse yourself, inform a friend of where you are heading to. In case you are delayed, they will be obliged to find out what is taking one so long.

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