In a Saturday morning class at a city park community center, teenage girls and women ranging from their early 20s to late 60s begin warming up with Investigator Nina Mauldin. Soon, the activity transitions from toe touching and arm rotations to aggressive stances and stern warnings. Inv. Mauldin challenges women to not just speak, “No! No! No!” when doing a basic defense maneuver –– she wants them to yell it and mean it.
Inv. Mauldin has been teaching classes for almost 10 years in an effort to empower women against becoming victims in a dangerous, life-threatening situation. She was hired by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in 1996, graduated from the police academy, and worked first as an investigator and then as an agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for more than five years before she became a stay-at-home mother for a few years.
Inv. Mauldin then returned to the sheriff’s department, working as a plain-clothes investigator in a division called Victim Services. It was here that she learned about and was asked to be one of four instructors of women’s self-defense courses, which were implemented in 2006 by Lieutenant Maria Yturria. The goal was and is to provide a proactive service. Instead of just teaching victimized women how to protect themselves from further assaults, it was determined that women needed skills to avoid becoming statistics.
Even though Inv. Mauldin and her colleagues learned defense basics such as holds and restraints in the academy and on the job, the program she teaches was actually developed by Gojuru and Kempo karate black belt and Riverlands Hills Baptist Church senior pastor, Ed Carney, Ph.D. He was motivated in 1997 to create self-defense programs for females because he wanted his daughters to have the ability to protect themselves.
Dr. Carney selected and organized established moves that specifically maximize a female’s body strength and established an organization called Surviving Assault Standing Strong DEFENSE. Thousands have been trained using the program, the basic premise of which is for females to use their hands, feet, and voices against attackers’ weaknesses –– the ultimate goal: impairment. The motto of SASS is “Outer Peace, Inner Beast.”
One of the main purposes of the course is to prepare women for an antagonistic and aggressive situation involving another human being, most often a man. Most teenage girls and women — young and old — admit that they do not know what they would do if physically and/or sexually attacked. Inv. Mauldin and the other instructors teach females how they can be prepared both mentally and physically. “We prepare them for the worst-case scenario,” says Inv. Mauldin, “when there is no way out.”
Inv. Mauldin asks that women not demonstrate their newly learned skills with husbands and boyfriends. She wants to keep the skills inside the walls of the center so that women who may need to fend off an attack, from a friend, family member, or stranger will surprise the assailant with her maneuvers. As an investigator, Inv. Mauldin knows all too well how commonplace attacks are on women in South Carolina.
In fact, in 2015 South Carolina again ranked worst in the nation for deadly violence against women, according to the Violence Policy Center. The state ranks first among women murdered by men, and the last report released in 2015 is not the first time the state has earned this tragic ranking. South Carolina has been in this particular report’s top 10 as the worst state for violence against women for almost 20 years. While governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley felt so compelled to do something about the troubling statistics that she signed a bill into law that increases penalties and gives prosecutors more options for punishments against those who are violent toward women.
Reports from September 2015 reveal that five homicides were committed against girls under 18 years old, while eight victims were 65 years or older. Most disturbing is the fact that more than 90 percent of female victims know their attackers.
Inv. Mauldin teaches women’s self-defense courses through the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Victims Services. The other instructors are Captain Heidi Jackson, Investigator Aubrey Taylor, and Lieutenant Maria Yturria. Occasionally male investigators are asked into classes to serve as “the bad guys.” Classes are free, but women must register ahead of time as the classes can fill up depending on where they are held. Inv. Mauldin says classes average around 30 females, but some have included more than 100. She points out that newsworthy violent crimes against women often motivate”” a surge in new sign-ups.
The goal of the classes is to enable women to recognize their strengths and learn specific techniques so that they can make clear decisions quickly if ever in dangerous situations. The classes last four hours, and they are physically taxing. In other words, there is no need to plan for gym time on a class day. Those taking the class need to wear comfortable clothing and bring a water bottle. Those who are unable to physically participate in all or some of the class are encouraged to watch and learn. The minimum age is 18, unless accompanied by a mother or female guardian, and then a 16 or 17-year-old can attend.
In those four hours, Inv. Mauldin covers everything from how to best be aware of surroundings to how to stand when approached aggressively.
“Before girls go off to college is a perfect time to take the class,” says Inv. Mauldin. “Some of the things we teach are that females need to always watch their drinks when they are out in public, because it is easy for someone to drop something in it. We tell them to always leave parties together with friends. Don’t leave a friend or friends, no matter what they say. And don’t walk alone on campus. Never walk to the car or home fumbling with keys, texting, or talking on the phone. Be aware of the surroundings. And most of the time, it’s not just the creepy stranger, but someone you know. Trust your gut instincts. Call a security guard if necessary.”
Inv. Mauldin shares that it is especially beneficial for teens and girls in their 20s to take the class and hear some of the warnings and information from someone other than a parent as they may take it more seriously.
She has taught her own tween daughter the basics of self-defense, and her 70-plus-year-old mother has also taken the course. She points out that learning self-defense is beneficial at any age.
Although the comprehensive classes are a time of sober-minded instruction, women who attend inevitably erupt in side-splitting laughter and end up bonding with strangers as some of the techniques are awkward and intimate. Inv. Mauldin explains: “We try to lighten the mood so that people feel comfortable participating. It’s not stuffy. They have fun as they learn.”
One of the instructors was contacted shortly after a class by a student who worked as a nurse at a local hospital. A prisoner was brought into the hospital in handcuffs for a procedure and decided he would take the nurse hostage. He grabbed her in a choke hold, but her self-defense training enabled her to quickly free herself. Inv. Mauldin says that even though she and the other instructors have no way of quantifying how many women have been saved because of learning the defensive strategies, there is satisfaction knowing that so many women have been trained and empowered.
Although hearing success stories is rare, commonplace is women pulling Inv. Mauldin aside and sharing with her their ongoing struggles involving a violent or abusive friend or family member, and she is then able to provide them with additional resources. She also speaks to the group and to individuals about topics such as social media safety and how to seek help after a sexual assault.
Inv. Mauldin admits that the issue of violence against women is widespread and often systemic and generational. She sees the effects daily as her unit is swamped with cases. Yet, she believes that with more education, resources, and empowerment, women can break the cycle. “I want women to feel more confident. I’d like to know that in some way these classes might help to break the cycle of becoming victims,” she says.
For information about upcoming classes taught by Inv. Mauldin, contact Lt. Maria Yturria of the Victim Service Unit at (803) 576-3463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also email Inv. Mauldin at email@example.com. There are upcoming classes in the fall.