West Orange High School Girls Get Lessons in Defending Themselves Against Sexual Attacks

Sarah Eichelberger practices with Dave Ordini during the presentation at West Orange High School. Credits: Christy Kass
West Orange High School students practice moves they learned. Credits: Christy Kass
Dave Ordini and Michael Romano talk with the high school girls about defending themselves in the event of a sexual attack. Credits: Christy Kass

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Giggling quickly turned to silence as the girl on the mat struggled with the man twice her size who was trying to hold her down and force her legs apart. She got away when he released her, and he turned to the rest of the girls watching.

“She did good,” he said. “She was going for my eyes.”

Dave Ordini of the Millburn-Short Hills Athletic Club was demonstrating what the female students at West Orange High School would face in the event they are attacked. Ordini, along with Michael Romano and Susie Greenfeig, recently visited the school to teach the girls some key things about Krav Maga Strong, a simple yet highly effective self-defense system.

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The trio gave the self-defense training in each gym class throughout the day, varying it with each class so the girls could talk and compare their experiences later.

“Women tend to always think if they’re attacked, they will just kick the attacker in the nuts and run,” Romano told the girls. “But if I’m trying to rape you, I’m aroused. My pain receptors aren’t there. If you kick me in the nuts, I won’t feel it for about eight minutes.”

While each of the classes generally started with laughter and nudges, it wasn’t long before the girls realized the seriousness of the training they were getting. Especially when the instructors told them that one in every five girls is sexually assaulted during her freshman year of college, and that’s just the girls who report it.

“It’s not about sex, it’s about physical dominance,” Ordini said. “If she keeps me at bay, I may beat her up instead of raping her.”

The instructors showed the girls different chokes and maneuvers to get out of them.

“If you can breathe, you can fight. And if you can fight, you can get away,” Greenfeig said.

One of the key points the instructors stressed to the girls is that if they’re being attacked, go for the eyes. They called is “scooping melon balls” and demonstrated how to use the thumbs to dig into their attacker’s eyes.

“Yes, it’s gross,” Greenfeig said. “Your thumbs are going to get sticky. But which would you prefer, a little stickiness on your thumbs, or getting raped?”

Krav Maga relies on one’s natural instincts and reflexes to fight off attack. Many of the girls, in addition to using some of the techniques the instructors showed them, wriggled and pushed and kicked and fought to get out from under the two much larger male instructors.

Statistics show that within 23 seconds, if a woman is fighting him off, the attacker is thinking about leaving. And if she’s going for his eyes and other soft tissue, he’s also thinking of how to protect himself.

Krav Maga differs from the martial arts in the way it’s executed. While martial arts involve getting set up and into positions, Krav Maga is just plain old dirty fighting.

“It’s the difference between a pistol and a machine gun,” Romano said. “With Krava Maga, you just keep fighting, however you can.”

Greenfeig said one girl who recently had some Krav Maga training at the athletic club actually had to put it to use when a man tried to attack her in New York. The girl screamed, “Please don’t hurt my baby!” and the man ran off. Greenfeig said using a word like “baby” will cause others around to notice what’s happening, much more often than just shouting “Help” does. The girl was unharmed after the attempted attack, but she did start taking full-fledged Krav Maga classes.

“I’m happy the board of education decided to let us have this training here,” said Ron Bligh, director of athletics and supervisor of health and physical education at West Orange High School. “If this keeps even one of our girls from getting attacked, it was worth it.”

Student Sarah Eichelberger said the training was eye-opening for her.

“It’s really interesting,” she said. “I had been considering taking martial arts, but now I’m thinking I should do this instead.”

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