Dorothy McLeod – Augiust 25, 2004 Real life self-defence strategies and hands-on practice to protect children from bullies and sexual predators, and adults from attack, are among the workshops and courses offered by Westmount. They have been developed by George Manoli who still works as a crime prevention and community relations police officer in the north of Montreal.
He started to put his course together in 1982 after watching self-defence courses for women offered by martial arts organizations.
” I was taken aback,” he says. “They were dangerous and not tested in real life. I said there must be a better way.”
A self-confessed constantly active and hands-on person. his hunch that people needed practical experience to leam to defend themselves was vindicated when he vvas teaching a course to high school students. Several had taken Manali’s workshops as many as eight years earlier in elementary school and still had vivid memories of fending off feigned attacks.
On a private basis, he has also given workshops to women planning extended travels or older teenagers setting out on their first tour of Europe. Volunteers heading for unfamiliar countries and airline attendants who might have to deal with unruly passengers have also had workshops.
Before each class or workshop, he spends 20 minutes maximum outlining a bit of theory or scene setting. “Then, boom, we dive right into the pool,” he says.
Students learn a variety of tactics, verbal, physical or passive. They go outside to simulate real-life situations.
“What people remember are the hands-on simulations,” he says.
The women’s and teens’ self-defence courses cover situations such as being home alone, being followed, getting off busses, walking on the street or in malls, and traveling.
Some of the tips he has for women alone at home include answering the door with a cell-phone in hand, hanging a large dog leash or a policeman’s shirt in the entrance. Over-size men’s shoes or beware-of-dog signs can be useful too.
“Some people say that’s hiding behind men – but that’s the reality,” he says.
Participants should be in good enough shape to able to move around. If they have back or knee problems, Manoli has them go through the actions in slow-motion. Otherwise, he says the selfdefence courses are good exercise and stress-releasers too.
Underlying the self-protection techniques is a police officer’s understanding of the strategies used by attackers.
“An attack doesn’t just happen, it’s prepared ahead of time,” he says. That’s true of a mugging or abuse from a pedophile, he adds. The victim is first selected, then tested before the assault is carried out. Manoli sets up scenarios and story lines that help people to avoid being selected, to convince the assailant not to continue, and to deal with a life-and-death situation.
In the bullying workshop, parents get to watch how their child might handle himself. A child may tell his parents that he has stood up to a bully, but when faced with a simulated situation may show that he would not. If the real-life bullying continues, says Manoli, the child builds a wall around him and begins to feel he deserves it. Manoli gives strategies for dealing with bullying as well as making it clear that no one deserves to be bullied.
Parents must accompany their child for the “Don’t Bully Me!” workshop and for the streetproofing course for six to 10year-olds.
The streetproofing course deals with obvious problems such as attack or kidnapping, but also with the more insidious and harder-to-spot pedophile who lures the child before seducing, then abusing him.
Among children, pre-adolescent boys and post-puberty girls are most at risk, he says. Boys are also allowed more freedom than girls. He has written a book on avoiding being victimized by pedophiles. It is important for parents to talk to their children about sex. “Show me a child who knows nothing about sex and I see the next victim,” says Manoli.
Pedophiles, he explains, begin with a grooming stage where they gain the confidence of the child and the parents. Sons of single mothers may be more at risk because the mother may appreciate the appearance of a male role model and she is very busy trying to earn a living and do all the parenting.
Once the confidence is gained, the next stage is to lower the child’s sexual inhibitions. Magazines with explicit sexual material or sexual gadgets may be left laying around. The child may be encouraged to take a shower so he becomes used to being unclothed around the pedophile.
Once the final stage has been reached, the victimizer “plays with the child’s mind”. The victim is afraid no one will believe him if he tells. “Telling someone is not easy. He may be afraid that his mother and father will be sent to prison, or that he will be sent to a half-way home or that he is gay.”
The pedophile kidnapper may be a person with the same goals, but who doesn’t know how to get to know a child.
Manoli’s workshops are offered in the fall and winter sessions at Victoria Hall. Full details are in the Westmount activities’ guide.