ELENA CHERNEY – THE GAZETTE – Novenber 3, 1994
At Beaconstield’s Ecole Primaire, first and second graders waiting for their lunchtime self-defence class cao reel off the police description of the « bad guy » who tried to abduct two local schoolgirls last month.
« He smells like fish and he wears a long coat, » says Lydiane, 7.
« And he has glasses, » adds Kyle, also 7.
With a would-be abductor and bathroom stalker somewhere at large on the West Island, schools are locking doors, parents are rnanning the locked doors, and the children inside are being streetproofed.
Children not yet able to read are being taught to recognize the bad guys, and, at 45 pounds, they’re also being taught how to get away l’rom the bad guys.
« OK, what did we say sexual assault was? » George Manoli, a Montreal Urban Community police constable, karate black-belt and self-styled street-proofer who gives classes at schools and Ys around the city, asks the 6- and 7-yearolds sitting on the gym stage. The 14 children are quiet for a moment, and then one raises his hand.
It’s when someone touches the part of you covered with your bathing-suit, » the child says.
« Good, » Manoli says. « But how about if they ask you to touch them? Is that sexual assault’
Manoli talks about sexual assault matter-of-factly, reminding his charges that the assailant can be someone they know, a relative, babysitter, or friend. The children have obviously been through his drill many times and know most of the answers, raising their hands eagerly to show off how much they’ve leamed.
The children’s favorite part of the class is clearly the role-play, where Manoli, padded like a football player, tries out verballures on the children, grabs them,•and challenges them to show off what they’ve learned.
They get to hit, punch, scream and kick a grown-up in the middle of the school day – most emerge l’rom Manoli’s grasp smiling as their classmates otfer criticisms. (« Y ou should have screamed louder, » or, « why didn’t you try scratching? »)
Manoli has been teaching self-defence to women and teens for 17 years and to children for four, he said. For his school and Y sessions, he charges between $60 and $75 per child for a six to 10 week course, he said.
« It’s a no-nonsense approach, » ManoIi explains, describing how he has adapted sophisticated martial arts moves to suit small children and women in heels.
No-nonsense is the right approach, says former Y outh Protection officer Nancy Craig.
« The simpler the better, » she says. « There are practical things that kids need to learn. They can kick and scream.
« They need to leam that’s okay. They have a right to not go with someone if they’re afraid. »
Leaming to say no is a form of empowerrnent, a concept central to Devon Rice’s Street Smart Kids program.
Rice teaches intensive weekendseminars for children, and aims to go beyond simply preparing them to battle the streets, she says.
With the help of a social worker and two martial artists, Rice says she has developed a program that helps children cope with schoolyard bullies and teasing they don’t like as weIl as street attackers.
Rice founded her non-profit organization in 1993 after researching programs for her daughter Christina, who was abducted a decade ago as a toddler but was retumed safely to Rice .
A Street Smart Kids seminar costsabout $135, but Rice will lower the priee if parents organize a group of 20 children, she said. She also works on a sliding scale for those who can’t afford the regular fee.
Rice says the West Island incidents have boosted interest in her program – she has had calls from 10 parents in the last week hoping to organize group sessions, she says.
And no matter how good your child’s program might be, without parental involvement, a child will not be street-proof, Craig said.
« You have to do it incrementally. You start with a very young child, teaching them they can say no when they want to, even to a simple thing like tickling. »
Parents who want to learn more about street-proofing their own chi!dren can contact the Missing Chi!dren’s Network, which ofJersfree, 45 minute sessions for parents, said Mabyn Armstrong, director of prevention.