Last week’s attempted sexual assault and brutal stabbing of a 23-year-old woman — in the middle of the afternoon — left those who use the South Lawrence Trafficway bike path feeling uneasy.
“I would never imagine something like that would happen here,” 19-year-old Nathaniel Mehl said.
Mehl jogs on the path regularly and happened to be running on the afternoon of June 16, when he helped stop the attack in progress.
Those who teach self-defense classes in Lawrence said the incident has sparked an increased interest, especially among women concerned for their safety.
Robert Riley, owner of Lawrence Jiu-Jitsu, 315 N. Second St., said he offers a class specifically designed for women, hoping to give them the skills and confidence to fend off an attack.
“The most important thing I always want to instill in all of my students is the willingness to engage,” Riley said. “Have that be your instinct in lieu of just freezing up and not knowing what to do.”
Riley said Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the few self-defense systems designed to give a weaker person the ability to subdue a much larger attacker, but the different holds and techniques are not something that can be learned in a one-day seminar.
“Everyone needs to understand that self-defense is not something you can learn by reading a pamphlet,” Riley said. “It might take months, or even up to a year, to be proficient, to learn how to defend yourself adequately.”
Riley did offer some tips for women. If you find yourself in a similar situation, he suggests making as much noise as possible to draw attention to yourself. If you are going to be out jogging or biking in an isolated area, carry a whistle, wear a body alarm or carry pepper spray.
Police said the secluded location of the bike path makes it a difficult area for officers to patrol.
“There is no easy way to get to it,” Lawrence police Sgt. Bill Cory said. “It is so far out on the edge of town, and call volumes can keep us from getting out there on a routine basis.”
Police encourage people who use the bike path to be vigilant.
“Citizens just need to be aware of their surroundings,” Cory said. “Know who you are coming up against, who you are passing. If you’re riding on that path and you’re coming up on someone who looks out of the ordinary and you feel uncomfortable, turn around, go the other way and call police.”