SALT LAKE CITY — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women across the U.S. have experienced rape in their lifetime. The Elizabeth Smart Foundation's new Smart Defense Training Program is giving women the tools to fight back.
"It's about teaching women and girls how to protect themselves," Elizabeth Smart said at an unveiling of the training center at Trolley Square on Saturday. "It's a little bit different than just a series of movements. It talks about situations and scenarios."
The idea behind Smart Defense came after Smart was sexually assaulted on a Delta flight in February of 2020. The Washington Post reported that "a man seated next to her put his hand between her legs. She says she woke to him rubbing her inner thigh, and froze."
"She was in this very scary situation, and she felt like she had not done enough to prepare herself for that," said Smart Defense program director Miyo Strong. "She in turn wanted to prepare everybody else in the community."
The training's foundations are in mixed martial arts, which Strong and her partner, Jason South, are experts in.
"It is a blend of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, krav maga, wrestling, boxing, all of those very, very effective martial arts," Strong said.
"This is a tool that hopefully you can take, and you train and you practice it every day so that should you ever find yourself in that situation — which I hope no one ever does — then it is an option for you," Smart added.
According to data from the FBI, Utah has a significantly higher rape rate than the U.S. as a whole. In 2019, Utah had nearly 57 rapes per 100,000 people compared to 42.6 per 100,000 people nationally.
Smart Defense has partnered with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Rape Recovery Center, and others to provide sexual assault education and awareness in addition to the self-defense training.
"You're also learning how to recognize red flags and how to set clear boundaries, understanding what enthusiastic consent is," Strong said. "All of these precursors to really truly keeping ourselves safe."
Aside from the hands-on self-defense lessons, Smart said she wants everyone who takes the class to walk away feeling confident and empowered.
"I hope they realize how strong they really are," she added. "I mean, we had a room full of people today, and every single person in this room is stronger than they think they are."
Smart Defense is open to anyone wanting to learn, or improve on, self-defense skills. Private and public classes are taught at the Trolley Square location every week. More information can be found at elizabethsmartfoundation.org.