Combating violence against women

Warrior Sisters work to empower and support the vulnerable

Rachel Unger // The Torch

Warrior Sisters is a group of volunteers that set out to fill the gap that traditional women’s crisis groups could not. Every Sunday, they teach free self defense classes to ladies of all ages so that they can feel safe and empowered in all aspects of their lives.

Rachel Collins and Elizabeth Hayes are two of the small group of women that came together to create WS. “After working in a variety of women’s shelters, on crisis lines, and at rape centers, we felt there was a need to fill in the gaps,” Collins said.

They feel that the emotional support battered women receive is imperative, but it doesn’t teach the skills to empower women with the confidence and ability to resist physical violence.

“We believe that all women have the right to access free verbal and physical defense training. Services to provide support and healing after violence or abuse has happened are essential. Accessible training to recognize red flags and resist abuse as it’s happening is another essential part of ending violence against women,” Collins said.

After Wendy Watson, a Lane Community College graduate, experienced attempted robbery, she decided to get a gun. After contemplating her decision she thought, “But if I am too scared to use my phone to call for help in this situation how am I going to handle a gun?” Watson decided not to get a gun and instead, began attending WS trainings. “Now that I have found Warrior Sisters, I feel more confident and empowered to make the right decisions in an escalated situation,” Watson said.

In addition to reality-based physical defense techniques, trainings include practice in awareness, using one’s voice, identifying red flags of verbal coercion, setting strong verbal boundaries, and even using de-escalation techniques with someone who has become aggressive or violent.

These techniques are practiced in the classes. During the training, the coaches sit down with the participants and discuss possible scenarios for violence or unsafe situations. Then they demonstrate how to remove oneself from these situations with moves that they have the participants practice. “Practicing these moves helps you remember them, it’s called muscle memory,” Hayes said.

According to Collins, a majority of abuse and rights violations women experience begins as verbal abuse or coercion, then later turns into physical violence. “Self-defense programs that only include physical techniques are missing a huge piece of the puzzle,” Collins said.

In order to address these verbal abuse and coercion pressures that many women face daily the group splits off into smaller groups and practices how to say “no” in a very determined and straightforward way. They want students to know that they do not always have to explain themselves.

Amy Elliot, a regular student of the classes feels “It is imperative and crucial for all people to become empowered verbally and physically.” A mother of two small children, Elliot is committed to self-defense for the sake of modeling it for her children and community. “Thanks to the Warrior Sisters, I am able to unfold and embody my power responsibly,” Elliot said.

Collins and Hayes are excited about the work they are now doing with teens. They are currently working with two groups: the Academy of Arts and Academics in Springfield and Spencer Butte Middle School. Collins says that the parents love it and have been very supportive.

Word is spreading about this organization. They did almost 100 trainings in 13 states last year. Individuals and group organizers find them on Facebook, Instagram, and their website. They welcome opportunities to work with women’s groups in the local area and across the nation.

The trainings are open to women of all ages and physical fitness levels. They are free so that everyone may have access to them. WS receives support from a variety of different sources: donations of equipment, free spaces for workshops, and items raffled off in fundraisers. They also accept donations on their website.

Free trainings are Sundays 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m through Dec. 30 at Art of War MMA, 251 W. 7th Ave., Eugene. There is also a class on Tuesdays from 8 a.m.- 9 a.m. for which there is a fee usually on a donation basis. Collins suggests that people attend the free class then if it feels right for them they can sign up for additional classes.