Air Force Academy cadets teach self-defense to human trafficking victims

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Spradlin
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

Two Air Force Academy cadets and their Aikido club coach traveled to central South Dakota to help victims of human trafficking learn self-defense techniques, Sept. 19-21.

Cadets 3rd Class Hannah Schroeder, Lois Taylor, and Neland North, their coach, volunteered to lead a two-day session at the Pathfinder Center, an organization that provides safe haven and empowerment to victims of human trafficking.

“Aikido works really well for people who can’t use brute force to beat someone who’s much larger,” Schroeder said, who has trained in the discipline for eight years. “Aikido teaches you to use your body weight against your opponent. For example, when that body weight is applied at a joint it breaks pretty easily.”

The goal was to introduce the women to techniques that would incapacitate their attacker and allow them to escape. Schroeder found that the physical instruction was just one element of her lessons; she had to help them build their inner strength and confidence as well.

“Most of the women we worked with hated the idea of hurting someone, even if it meant defending themselves,” Schroeder said.  “Before we could even teach them, we had to remind them that their lives and the lives of their loved deserved protection.”

Cindy Molacek, a Pathfinder Center coordinator, said moving beyond trauma was a key area of focus for the program. Several of the women in the course told her that they believed these skills could prevent them from being trafficked again.

“We need to find an answer to [human trafficking], and I think that is another benefit of having the cadets with us, if your eye isn’t trained to see something – you’re not gonna see it,” Molacek said. “There’s nothing like meeting someone who has been through it to leave a hook in your heart.”

Molacek said a general reluctance to accept the prevalence of human trafficking in the U.S. sometimes leads people to miss crucial warning signs. She said many of the women in the program had been recruited as preteens and teens while still attending school.

“They were amazingly resilient.  Just imagining what they went through gave me chills and yet they always seemed to be smiling,” Schroeder said. “Seeing their attitudes in spite of everything they went through was not only impressive but inspirational.”

(Jennifer Spradlin is the public affairs mission element representative for Cadet Wing)