Women can learn to 'crash, smash and dash' for free in Little Italy bar

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Women can learn to 'crash, smash and dash' for free in Little Italy bar

A bar in Toronto's Little Italy is offering up more than just pints and live music this month.

Every Wednesday, Nightowl at 647 College St. will offer free self-defence classes for women between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Packed into the bar's basement this past Wednesday were women who decided to take their safety into their own hands.

The key to the moves self-defence instructor T.J. Kennedy teaches his students is "crash, smash and dash," he says. They're designed to end a violent confrontation quickly and get away without getting injured.  

The classes come in direct response to an alleged gang-sex assault that happened just a few doors down at College Street Bar in December last year.

The bar's owner, Gavin MacMillan and manager, Enzo De Jesus Carrasco, have been accused of forcibly confining and sexually assaulting a 24-year-old woman at the establishment.

The two individuals have been banned from the bar, which will remain shut until May 12.

Kennedy, who moonlights as Nightowl's security guard, says the incident sparked a wake-up call in the city's bar community.

"We're just pulling our hair out at a lot of things that are happening in our industry and in our city in terms of attacks on women ... We just wanted to do something to kind of combat that," he said.

Kennedy, who instructed a full house Wednesday night, has been working in private security for about 15 years.

"For me, all it really takes is once for it to change someone's life forever and far too many people have told me their stories," said Kennedy.

"Often when people come to learn, it's a reaction to something that's happened; it's not proactive for something that's going to happen and their stories are heart-breaking."

'It can happen to anyone'

Laura Fraixanet, who lives in the city's west end, attended Wednesday's class with her friend Eloise Moretto.

"Even though Toronto is a safe city, I felt like I needed to attend." Fraixanet told CBC Toronto.

She works at a local bar herself and was personally shaken when she heard about the College Street Bar sex assault.

Despite having a background in taekwondo and judo, Fraixanet felt that attending the class would arm her to respond if she ever saw an assault happening at her own workplace.

"It can happen to anyone," she said.

"This is more realistic because it puts us in random situations in a bar or in the street."

'Don't outsource your personal safety' 

Kennedy says the focus of his class is to arm women with not only the tools to defend themselves but also the confidence to execute them.

"We have to take responsibility for our own personal safety. We have to be aware and we have to be armed with the skills to protect ourselves if something happens."  

Kennedy wants his students to remember a few well known phrases in the self-defense community that stress the importance of having a back-up plan, if ever you find your safety compromised.

"Don't outsource your personal safety" and "when seconds count, the police are only minutes away," Kennedy told CBC Toronto.

Facing a threat head on 

Both Fraixanet and her friend Morretto, left the class with a feeling of self-empowerment.

"I always feel safe in Toronto," Morretto said, but she believes she "could maybe have more confidence in me if something happens."

Fraixanet now feels she can respond to a violent situation if it happens. 

"Don't be scared to respond to an attack; just go ahead and face it," she told CBC Toronto..

Kennedy hopes that the two hours spent in Nightowl's basement can change the outcome of a confrontation that can happen in seconds.

"I hope that, God forbid, if it ever does happen to them, six months down the road, a year down the road, 10 years down the road, that this will still be in their memory, and will come forth and will help them as it has many others."