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3 new ways for Toronto women to stay safe

A man ways his way to his illegally parked vehicle during rush hour on King Street as cyclists and other vehicles manoeuvre around his car in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

A recent string of sexual assaults in Toronto's downtown neighbourhoods have left many women feeling unsafe. Since the summer, there has been a total of 13 incidents in the area comprising the Annex, Christie Pits and Little Italy, with three occurring last weekend alone.

For some local residents, this has been a call to action – resulting in innovative initiatives that put women's safety front and centre.

Learn self-defence

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A quick way to empowerment is learning self-defence, says Ali Siadatan. Mr. Siadatan, who has been practising martial arts for over 20 years, is the founder and chief instructor of Wu Xing, a martial and healing arts studio in the Annex (372 Dupont St., second floor). On Saturday, Oct. 13, he is offering a two-hour self-defense workshop for women aged 13 and up.

"I felt that this was something I could do to fight back the feeling of oppression in the neighbourhood," he said.

During the session, women will learn what do to if they are grabbed by the hair and techniques for escaping from an attacker who has pushed them to the ground.

An assailant who attempts to grope from behind will have to contend with a "finger lock," a manoeuvre in which the finger joints are grabbed and bent to a point of extreme pain.

"If you're grabbed, you know have access to his arm," said Mr. Siadatan. "That's a bonus. You can do something with that."

But it does take practice and so, after Saturday's workshop, Wu Xing will be offering a full series of self-defence classes for women that will run until mid-December.

Take a cab, for less

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Even though Mr. Siadatan insists that anyone – no matter what your fitness level – can learn martial arts, some women would prefer a less physical way of dealing with potential threats. So feminist community organizer Steph Guthrie helped organize a discount on taxis by partnering with the cab app, HailO.

The app, which is free and available on iPhones and Androids, allows you to locate nearby taxis and even place a hail request through your smartphone.

On Friday, at a Walk in Support of the Women of Christie Pits rally, HailO gave out a discount code that allows users to get a cab ride home discounted by $10 anywhere in the city.

"Some women just feel safest taking a taxi, and that's fair," said Ms. Guthrie. "This voucher is a way to make it more accessible regardless of your socioeconomic background."

The buddy system just got easier

Ms. Guthrie, who recently started the Take Back the Block movement, which promotes neighbours looking out for each other, stresses that there are other ways of promoting safety that cost nothing.

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She suggests that women use bikes, pair up or walk in groups. Social media can be useful as well: Ms. Guthrie encourages women to use the Twitter hashtag #TBTB to find other women in their area as walking or jogging buddies.

The buddy system may, after all, be the safest, easiest way to increase security. At least Joel Buxton, a Toronto comedian, thinks so.

"The first person I ever fell in love with was sexually assaulted," he said. "I saw firsthand what it does to people."

So he's decided to take action. Recently Mr. Buxton set up his Facebook wall as a buddy booking system, letting people know where he's going to be in the city and offering to walk them home.

So far no one has taken him up on his offer, but he doesn't mind. He just thinks it's important that the offer is on the table.

"Short of going around punching strangers, I think a show of support from dudes is something that we can try to do," he said.

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