The recent surge in sexual assaults against women in the District has fueled new interest in women's self-defense classes and put pressure on women's groups to find ways to offer more classes.
In the first six months of this year, reported rapes in the city increased by 66 percent over the same period a year ago to 149 assaults between January and June, according to D.C. police.
During the same period, calls to the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, which counsels rape victims, doubled to an average of 240 a month, according to Denise Snyder, executive director of the center.
After several highly publicized fatal attacks along Arlington bike paths and a string of abductions and rapes in the city, inquiries also quadrupled for the only two self-defense classes designed for women available in the city.
"Women are feeling like they want to take charge and empower themselves," Snyder said. "They want to live their lives with less fear."
Enrollment at the center's 10-year-old eight-part course that has trained more than 1,000 women in quarterly sessions has usually drawn 20 to 25 women per session.
Now it regularly attracts 35 or more, Snyder said, most of them white and Hispanic women in their twenties and thirties who are new to the area and fearful of the city's violent crime.
About a quarter of the women report having been attacked at some point before enrolling in the course, Snyder said.
Meanwhile, organizers of the D.C. Self-Defense Karate Association say the 16 spaces in their $650 anti-mugging sessions are filled weeks in advance.
"People are emotionally charged," said Carol Middleton, a black belt in karate who founded the Self-Defense Karate Association 14 years ago.
Last March the association began offering the seven-hour course, called "model-mugging," to teach women to defend themselves by simulating assault experiences and requiring them to spar with men wearing 40 pounds of protective padding. The class is taught at All Souls Church in Northwest Washington.
The cost of the crisis center's eight-session course, also conducted All Souls Church, is $100, with discounts based on income. The course offers psychological as well as physical training in street-smart techniques for resisting attack. Members of the Self-Defense Karate Association are among the instructors, but much of the course teaches awareness, strategy and safety precautions.
Both the center and the karate association also take their classes to businesses, shelters and community groups, and requests for those sessions have increased by 50 percent in the last six months, organizers say.
Snyder said inquiries indicate that the need is far greater than either class can accommodate, and that the center would like to offer more courses in more places around the city.
That desire is frustrated, she said, by a shortage of available facilities large enough and inexpensive enough for the classes. She said many women who ask about the class say they can't travel all the way to Adams-Morgan to take it.
No survey has been done on the effectiveness of the training, but Middleton said there are hundreds of success stories:
"Instead of walking around in a state of paranoia," Middleton said, the graduates "have a healthy fear."