Gym and tonic: women fighting back

AS A martial arts champion, Jess Fraser can look after herself, but when Jill Meagher's body was found in Gisborne South, it triggered a two-day anxiety attack.

AS A martial arts champion, Jess Fraser can look after herself, but when Jill Meagher's body was found in Gisborne South, it triggered a two-day anxiety attack.

"Hearing about Jill Meagher's body being found really broke me," Ms Fraser said. "I thought I was probably not the only one feeling that way and I better do something."

A champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Ms Fraser came out of teaching retirement to run a free women's self-defence and awareness workshop in October. She was overwhelmed when 600 women responded and the one-off workshop turned into a series at local gyms. About 300 women have taken part.

"It is about empowering us again so we don't feel overly scared going about our normal lives," Ms Fraser said.

Ms Fraser, who founded Australian Girls in Gi (gi is the uniform worn by martial arts practitioners), said women needed ways to deal with the rare attack by a stranger. But it could also be someone known to them, which was far more common.

A self-defence business, Guardian Defence, Brunswick, had 200 calls in the days after Ms Meagher's body was found. A fortnight later that figure had risen to 500. A regular week before then would have yielded five to 10 inquiries. Guardian Defence's co-owner, Zunami White, said businesses, such as Coles supermarkets, had also wanted courses for employees.

Josh Feggans, of Coburg, wanted the course for his partner, Jo Spurling, after Ms Meagher's death. "He wanted me to be able to defend myself," Ms Spurling said.

West Footscray neighbours Leah Akritidis-Smith and Sharna Wilkins had no links with self-defence, but after Ms Meagher's body was found they started (f)Empower - which has arranged free self-defence classes with nine gyms and self-defence groups around Melbourne. Advertised through Facebook, 200 women have already taken a free class, and more are planned until February.

Last week, 80 women city workers took self-defence sessions through the Wing Chun Bing Fa Kung Fu Academy.

"Leah and I were both feeling bad about what had happened to Jill Meagher, and we felt a bit lost about what to do," Ms Wilkins said.

"We wanted to make something good from something bad."

The Martial Arts Industry Association's president, Walt Missingham, pointed out that Ms Meagher had been a Tae Kwon Do student, and that martial arts did not necessarily help. "Rushing out to do a martial arts course doesn't give you a get-out-of-jail pass," Mr Missingham said.

People who felt under threat needed to be aware of their environment.

Meanwhile, police are trying to determine if a serial sex offender has struck again in Melbourne's east, the ninth in the past four months.

On Thursday, November 29, a Hawthorn woman, 29, left Camberwell railway station and was walking home about 10.30pm.

When she came to the intersection of Burke Road and Leura Grove, she was approached from behind and indecently assaulted, police said.

The man then ran away.

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