With a new group of freshmen about to head off to college, Nancy Stockwell has added self defense classes for college-bound women to her offerings. 

Stockwell offers the popular, common-sense based classes at the Bettendorf Life Fitness Center and elsewhere for women and girls of all ages.

She lives on her family's 150-year-old farm in rural Walcott and is a certified instructor who leads classes for girls, ages 9-12, ages 13-15, and, now, for college-bound women.

Stockwell initially became interested in concealed-carry handguns as a method of self defense, but discovered that other women were not as comfortable with guns. "I figured there had to be a middle ground between carrying a hand gun and martial arts. I wanted to find out simple things women could do to defend themselves."

In the beginning, Stockwell started with the parks and recreation department in Cedar Rapids, before pitching the program to Nathan Pittman at the Bettendorf Life Fitness Center.

Pittman, the center's recreation director, said he's always looking for new programming and welcomed the inquiry.

Stockwell developed the classes, first by doing online research. She also found a class similar to what she envisioned in suburban Chicago.

"I wanted common-sense defense methods," she said. "How do women stay safe in the first place?"

Stockwell has taught techniques to females from 8 to 67 years old. These days, she works with Josh Howat at Big Five Power Conditioning, Davenport. Howat offers advice on techniques, and helps her deal with various issues that come up in Stockwell's classes.

Howat sees self-defense as a logical step in personal safety.

"Self-defense is like using a fire extinguisher correctly, compared to being a fireman," he said. There's no need for everyone to be a fireman but all people should know basic fire safety.

Each class Stockwell teaches is different, she said. The instructional methods are age-appropriate; there's a lot of role-playing and offering real-life situations that might come up.

At the college level, Stockwell teaches how to get out of difficult situations, and "easy, simple things to do" if trouble can't be avoided.

For example, she hands out pepper spray and shows the women how it's used. She also hands out free gifts: One is a drink test kit for three date rape drugs commonly used in bars.

"That's when we talk about safe dating," she said.

For the younger ages, she uses an activity book. The girls fill out about half of it, and then take the book home as conversation-starters. "I hope it gives parents a way to have an individual one-on-one with their daughter," she said.

There are videos on bullying, cyber security and "stranger danger." Younger girls talk about bullying much of the time, Stockwell said. Typically, the instructor asks about the form of bullying, and then works out a technique to deal with it, with Howat's help.

According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, or RAINN, women ages 18-24 years old are four times as likely as women of all ages to experience sexual violence. College women at the same age are three times as likely, and most of it occurs in on-campus housing.

Statistics from various colleges and universities, find rape, assaults, and "fondling" cases on college and universities. These institutions are required to report the crimes because of the federal Clery Act, passed in 1990.

Most of the RAINN research comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey. It indicates four out of five young women do not report sexual violence, because they believe it is a personal matter, they fear reprisal, or they feel the incident is not important enough to report.

Pittman, at the Life Fitness Center, said the self-defense classes are popular all age levels. Classes called "Princess Power" for the youngest ages, consistently sell out.

Stockwell has high hopes for her classes. "My goal is a safer community one woman at a time, and a safer future, one girl at a time," she said.

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