When the first attacker grabbed my wrist; I hammer-fisted his forearm and issued a sweep-kick to his groin.
The second time I was assaulted, I was bear-hugged from behind and fell to the ground; I kicked and struggled my way out of my assailant's grasp and then punched a second attacker right in the face.
The third attack was perpetrated by three men. Before they grabbed me, they cat-called. Hey baby. You alone? Want to come home with me? My eyes were closed, to increase my sense of disorientation. They touched my shoulders. My brain tunneled. Then one of them took hold of me and I screamed — a real scream, the kind you hear in horror movies. My eyes flew open.
All of a sudden, I was on the floor again (I really need to work on maintaining my center of gravity); I squirmed away and kicked him hard to make sure he stayed down, just as the second guy started to approach. I punched him in the arm and shot my knee into his groin. The third guy . . . I can't remember. My adrenaline was pumping too fast; I was trying too hard to remember to "use my voice" — to articulate the word "No!" every time I struck out, as much to encourage breathing as to convey my resistance.
Yes, my assailants were suited up like a cross between the Michelin Man and the lobster dude who waves to cars on Commercial Street. Yes, I too was wearing padding (on my elbows, knees, and hands, plus a helmet). Yes, I knew that I was in a safe environment. But it was still fucking terrifying.
It was a Saturday morning in April, and I was going through three simulated assaults as the capstone to the Portland Police Department's Rape Aggression Defense Program. The program, run by Portland police officers and trained civilian volunteers, is sponsored by the Amy St. Laurent Foundation, which was created by St. Laurent's mother after 25-year-old Amy was abducted and killed in 2001. For almost 10 years, the PPD has held these classes several times a year; they consist of four "classroom sessions" — book learning and physical training — plus the final simulation session.
According to PPD statistics, there have been six forcible rapes in the city so far this year. This time last year, there had been seven. The 12 other women in my class were there for a variety of reasons. Some were case workers who wanted to be prepared for home visits or interactions with troubled clients. Others were women who wanted to feel safer during nights out in the Old Port. One woman signed up after her house was broken into. There were two mother-daughter pairings. We ranged from teenagers to middle-aged women; we varied in size and shape and comfort-level.
It feels silly at first — at least, I felt silly — learning the "defensive stance" (one leg back, both arms bent and up, like you're ready to karate-chop), practicing blocks and parries, having to say "No!" literally hundreds of times per night. Sometimes I switched it up, to amuse myself. I'd say "No." Like a statement. Then I'd say "No!" Like a triumphant holler. Then I'd say "No!" Like I was actually scared.