For many of the teens served by the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, violence and abuse at home, often fueled by drugs and alcohol, have long been their norm.
And their experiences are not at all uncommon in the Cayman Islands. More than 1,400 domestic abuse cases involving adults and children were reported to the Royal Cayman Islands Police in 2017 – more than double the 676 domestic abuse incidents reported in 2015.
Driven by a desire to change the tide and empower teens, a group from the Crisis Centre’s youth program, the TAYA Lounge, learned self-defense tactics Saturday at CrossFit Cayman in Camana Bay.
The two-hour session, led by professional bodyguard Renata Kecskes in honor of International Women’s Day, emphasized a key message: the best self-defense is knowing how not to fight. Basic situational awareness techniques can help avoid violent confrontation altogether.
“My biggest nemesis is the general concept that ‘self-defense’ means to know how to fight,” Ms. Kecskes said.
“During my interactive seminars, I raise the importance of situational awareness that helps you to be out of harm’s way, as the best self-defense is avoidance.”
The techniques Ms. Kecskes teaches provide valuable insight, not just for young people, but for women who may find themselves targeted by domestic and sexual violence. She points out that violence against women remains one of the most common human rights abuses in the world.
From an attack in a parking lot to an assault at home, she says the greatest weapon a potential victim possesses is their brain. Other items, such as fists or blunt objects, are just tools. Survival often depends on the ability to react quickly and use logic.
“You can’t wait for someone to save you. You have to be your own hero,” she told participants on Saturday.
She disavows commonly repeated, and flawed advice, such as shouting “Fire!” during a sexual assault. She points out that when neighbors look outside and see there is no smoke and no fire, the natural assumption is, there is no danger.
She encourages students to get assertive and be prepared to fight for their lives, if the situation arises.
“It doesn’t take years to learn, require special athletic skills, or demand daily practice to know how to protect yourself. It is not based on ‘cool techniques’ seen in movies or on fighting styles suited for martial art competitions,” she said.
“It relies on what works in a given situation, and there are no rules, except enabling your own protection. When all fails and social skills won’t work, I teach my clients to defeat the threat and stop the violence from happening to them.”
Basic self-protection begins with awareness of our surroundings: keeping attention off cellphones when walking, utilizing peepholes before opening doors to strangers, and trusting a gut feeling that communicates an unsafe situation.
Rather than reasoning with attackers, Ms. Kecskes encourages getting tough and being assertive. Instead of asking a stalker to leave, turn and tell the person in a strong voice, “I know you are following me. Keep walking!” She points out that common criminals don’t rely on reason or discipline; they instead seek out easy targets.
While valuables such as money and jewelry can go, individual lives are priceless.
For the teens at the seminar, a key message was learning the difference between instigating violence and self-defense.
“I always tell the teens, violence is not the answer,” said TAYA Lounge coordinator Natalie Baldwin.
“They grew up in violence … all they see is violence. So unfortunately, it’s important for them to also learn to defend themselves. Self-defense and violence [are] different and it’s an empowering thing to know that you can’t let anyone come and attack you and take control over you.”
The TAYA Lounge is a recent addition to the Crisis Centre. Situated in Estella’s Place, located at Crown Square on Eastern Avenue, the lounge offers a safe place for at-risk youth, ages 14 to 21, to learn life skills and access therapeutic resources.
Saturday’s seminar was just a part of a larger effort to show youth that a different path is possible.
“I think the main thing I learned is to be really assertive, confident and powerful whenever you are, like Renata said, being attacked,” Ms. Baldwin said.
“There are a lot of life lessons you can use in the real world whenever you are trying to talk to people and communicate. You can be assertive with conflict resolution through communication, and the way you stand.”
The event was also promoted by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Grand Cayman, a supporter of the Crisis Centre and the TAYA Lounge.
“We’ve just been trying to think outside the box. What knowledge can we impart that [young people] can actually use on a day-to-day basis? I thought, I’ve done this class before and it was so good, just being able to hear your own voice sometimes and speaking up like that,” said BPW member Candice Czeremuszkin.
“It’s just empowering.”
For more information on RenataK Self-Protection Int. and Ms. Kecskes’s seminars, email [email protected]