I joined some sorority girls from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in a class on campus survival. They learned how to physically defend themselves and how to get out unhurt and alive. But more importantly, they learned how to avoid getting into dangerous situations at college in the first place.
Joe Lynch started teaching this class he calls "Fight like a girl" a year ago when his daughters got to college age.
He starts by hammering home the most important lesson.
"Stop staring at the cell phone," he said.
Instagram, Snapchat, texting -- they distract you from seeing signs of danger. And bad guys are looking for easy targets.
"Walking across the quad, oblivious to the surroundings, that's the person I'm going to come up and I'm going to steal a phone, steal a purse or hurt them," said Lynch about a criminal's mindset.
The girls learned quickly.
"A lot of times, I'm just on Instagram walking across campus by myself at nighttime and I'm just like, ‘La, la, la' and someone could come and very easily take my phone or attack me," said sophomore student Alex Raab.
Lynch also teaches them when you go out, make a plan and tell someone what it is. He said this might have helped Hannah Graham.
"The poor young woman at UVA was gone for two days," said Lynch. "Nobody knew where she was. Nobody knew to go looking for her. Nobody knew that she was missing because there wasn't a plan communicated."
And, travel in a pack -- don't go out alone. But if you are alone, it's safer to walk with a alongside another group.
"Even if it's not someone you know, if there's another pack around you, you can join in with them too," said senior Sara Knox. "It doesn't always have to be girls you're used to."
Car safety is important too. Keep your gas tank full. Park in well-lit areas. Keep your keys in your hand. And only unlock the driver's side door.
"If you unlock your car from a distance, someone else could get in, or they know you're going to your car and now they know where your car is because they see those lights flash," Knox said.
If you do feel a threat, confront it head on. That means if someone's behind you, turn around and look at him.
"He doesn't want a witness," said Lynch.
Keep strangers out of your personal space -- meaning close enough that they can touch you.
And in the worst case scenario, fight back.
"If I do hit you, that may be all it takes," said Lynch. "I'm pretty confident I could knock you out in one punch. We're not teaching the girls how to be fighters. We're teaching them to survive."
The girls know it's not just strangers on the street.
Sophomore student Megan Allis describes one possible scenario: "If you're out to a party, someone tries to feed you drinks and that doesn't work, so they [say], ‘Let's go up to the bedroom' and that doesn't work, and they will just take you up there and you've got to get away.
If he grabs your arm, twist down and away. Use leverage to break a hold. If a man is on top of you, use bicycle kicks and punch. Always protect your eyes.
Don't punch like boxers. You may hurt yourself that way. Use a hammer fist or an elbow strike. Aim for his neck and yell out his description for witnesses to hear. Fight as hard as you can to get away.
"It's very unfortunate, but you have to always be thinking, ‘Am I in a situation where I could get raped?'" said Allis.
The college years should be special -- and they can be -- but girls need to be careful and be smart about their safety.
Lynch also taught the girls a few more safety tips:
- No strangers in dorm room
- Never shower alone in group bathroom
- Control your alcohol intake
- Know your exits
In the dorms, don't let anyone in your room you don't know. Talk to strangers in the hall.
In group bathrooms, only shower when people are around.
If you are drinking, control your alcohol intake by making sure you know how much alcohol is in your drink.
Lastly, when you are at a party, make sure you figure out the exits.
And I want to emphasize this again -- for college girls, and really, all women -- stop staring at your cell phones. Look up. Be aware. Bad guys are looking for easy prey. You need all your senses to pick up the dangers.
Here are the details of the course:
They alternate their College Prep course, as seen in the story, with their Women's Self-Defense course every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.
The course costs $84/person, Advanced registration is necessary, COD is available.
For more info, call 443-333-4042 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.