The Women of Class No. 81

It is not in Bev’s nature to ask things of people. We have known her for the last four years and she’s never asked anything of us.

So we both knew that last Saturday had to be very important, very special, for Bev for her to break that tradition. Saturday was the day Bev asked us, if we possibly could, to be there for her. To help celebrate a turning point in her life.

The day that Bev stopped being afraid.

Afraid of what you ask? Try this. One in every three women will be sexually assaulted sometime in her life. Sexual assault survivors range in age from a few months to 97 years old. Over half of all rapes occur in the woman’s own home.

You get the picture. So did Bev. That’s why she was one of 16 women in Class No. 81, San Luis Obispo chapter of Model Mugging, a national organization that specializes in self-defense training for women.

Many of these women have lived—and survived—your worst nightmares. Others, like Bev, came to Model Mugging for empowerment. Saturday was their graduation. About 75 friends and family members gathered at the Model Mugging school in an industrial park, just off South Higuera Street.

We were ushered into a large room and asked to sit on think blue mats. Music blared from the stereo to help set the mood.

It was the theme from the Kevin Costner movie “Dances with Wolves.”

“Let me make something very clear,” Model Mugging co-founder and class leader Mary Tesoro tells the audience. “This is not a man-hating clas

There is passion in her voice. Some pride. A sense of urgency and perhaps even some concern, as Mary describes how the women of Class #81 have learned to fight back against the threat of rape and assault.

Yet this is more than self-defense, Mary stresses. These women are learning about self-esteem, about developing positive relationships with both men and women. We are told that we are more than mere observers at this ceremony. We are supporters of the soon-to-be graduates. We are expected to participate.

Mary then asks everyone to stand. At her request, we shout in unison the one word that brings us all together, the one word that continues to haunt far too many women.


Then the men are introduced—six male staff members who have all donned the heavy, padded armor on this hot afternoon to role-play the part of the aggressor.

“It means a lot to us that you are here today,” a man in a thick padded suit tell us. “We are honored to participate in this program.”

One again, we are asked to stand. Once more, we are asked to reach inside and yell with all our might.


The women of Class No. 81, dressed in gym clothes, are finally brought out to much cheering and applause. They’re excited. They’re pumped. It’s a curious sight. Dr. Phil meets Super Bowl Sunday, therapy in the arena.

One by one, the 16 women are placed in different assault scenarios. A parking lot. A college dorm room. A lonely hiking trail. Many are drawn from the women’s personal experiences. They’re getting something few people get.

A second chance.

Each attack is simulated, but each time, the women hold nothing back in defending themselves. Encouraged by the cheering and screaming audience, each woman expertly kicks and punches her male aggressor into submission.

What is she thinking? What is she remembering? The intensity of assault—kick after kick—quickly becomes draining on the audience. Soon those kicks are replaced by hugs. And more hugs as the women of Class No. 81 realize that graduation is over. They made it.

There is hardly a dry eye in the room as the students thank the audience for their support. One woman mentions her husband. Another woman talks about the courage of her family.

The ceremony ends to more applause. The music from shifts from “Dances with Wolves” to the soothing sounds of Enya. Each newly-graduated woman receives flowers from Mary.

We search out Bev when it’s all done. The broad smile on her face says everything. “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, this has to be among the best,” she tells us.

The music is upbeat. So is the mood. Everywhere I look, there are men and women in tearful embrace.

No longer afraid.

This story originally appeared in the San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune.

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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