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Woman attacked in Seattle park urges self-defense classes

Police say a homeless man attempted to rape Kelly in the public bathroom at Golden Gardens. (KIRO 7)

In early March, Kelly Herron was jogging through Golden Gardens Park when she stopped to use the bathroom. As she tells her story, she was washing her hands when 40-year-old Gary Steiner allegedly attacked her, threw her to the ground, and tried to rape her.

Related: Alleged victim of Golden Gardens homeless attack: ‘I just never stopped fighting’

Herron fought back, suffering blows to her face and arms in the process, and escaped. A Good Samaritan who heard the struggle was able to lock Steiner in the bathroom until police arrived.

Herron credits self-defense training she received through her work just a couple weeks prior to the attack for giving her the tools she needed to survive. That self-defense training came from Jordan Giarratano, owner and head Martial Arts instructor at Fighting Chance Seattle.

“It’s still a lot to wrap my mind around that I had any part in helping,” Giarratano said. “There’s a bit of a sense of disbelief, like, she must have just had this already inside of her. She is very strong. I can’t imagine that in two hours I could have given her the skills to survive something so intense.”

“And when I had a chance to talk to Kelly and really hear her story and hear how it played out for her, it became pretty clear to me that she had internalized a lot of the messaging and a lot of the basic best practices,” he said. “So there’s also this sense of overwhelming humility.”

Learning self-defense principles

Giarratano opened his martial arts school in 2011 and noticed that over time, his students were about 80 percent women. He says he thinks that’s because of the value system with which he runs the place.

“The big thing I offer is empowerment,” Giarratano said. “We start with people who never really thought they could be a martial artist and we transform them. In our society, women are very seldom given opportunities to be big and powerful and embrace those sides of themselves. I came from a background [in martial arts] where women were integrated into the training and not treated differently in terms of assumed-to-be-less-than.”

“And so I just started doing that naturally, because that’s my value system and it ended up resonating pretty hard with women,” he said. “We just do really well with creating an environment where women feel like they can thrive.”

It also matters that he is unequivocally a feminist.

“If you are not teaching from a context of feminism or the context of what violence against women actually looks like, you’re doing a tremendous disservice,” Giarratano said. “You have to understand that violence against women is systemic and it’s based on how our culture developed and if you just think of the end results of someone just comes and attacks you and you’re going to fight back, you’re missing the entire problem.”

His willingness to offer a self-defense class came out of frustration over hearing the wrong advice being given on TV.

“I just kept feeling the tips they were giving — not only were they not good tips, I thought they were the kind of things that were going to cause more harm,” Giarratano said.

Specifically, he says, you can’t deescalate rape.

“Period. You cannot deescalate rape,” Giarratano said. “If someone is attempting to rape you, they have already objectified you. They have already decided you are not a person. Your feelings don’t matter, your opinions don’t matter, you don’t have autonomy. They are taking that from you.”

“Deescalation is the process of connecting with someone to humanize yourself and let them know that you are trying to meet them where they are and bring this down,” he said. “You can’t deescalate if someone doesn’t see you as a person.'”

Giarratano uses his classes to teach people how to tap into intuition.

“There’s nothing I, as a self-defense instructor, can say to tell you what to do, when,” Giarratano said. “That’s why we teach intuition because you need to know what is happening to me and your body is going to tell you to fight back. Everybody is going to tell you to not fight back. Your body is going to tell you to yell and argue or tell you to be quiet. You kind of have to open yourself up to this power.”

On Tuesday, March 28, Giarratano is teaming up with Herron and her employer, RealSelf, to open up a class to the public for free.

“I have one hour to reach a very large number of people and I want to help people to understand that the power is already inside of them,” Giarratano said.

Herron’s alleged attacker has been ordered by a judge to undergo a competency evaluation before the case can move forward. That evaluation is scheduled for April 4.

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