Self-defense film gains worldwide audience

The Northwest Progress - Publication
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Local teen’s video in response to fatal abduction of Florida girl has been downloaded in 41 countries

At 16, Dallas Jessup of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish already has a burning objective in life. “My goal is to put predators out of business,” she vows, “and I don’t want to stop until it’s done.”

Jessup is the driving force behind the free online video “Just Yell Fire,” a 48-minute instructional film that teaches girls simple self-defense moves to enable them to break free from their attackers during attempted abductions or assaults.

What started as a school project has turned into a worldwide phenomenon, with the film now viewed in 41 countries and Jessup receiving several national awards and being featured on TV programs including “Today” and the Montel Williams Show.

As the film demonstrates, eye jabs, ear pulls, groin slaps, biting and scoop kicks are among the tactics girls can use to avoid joining the grim statistics that Jessup recites by rote: more than 114,000 attempted abductions in the U.S. each year, 80 percent of them by strangers; one in four girls will become victims of date rape by the time they graduate from college.

School video project It was the 2004 abduction and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in Sarasota, Fla. that initially grabbed Jessup’s attention.

Like others around the country, she had watched the girl’s abduction -- recorded on a security video -- on TV.

“This man came up to her and said something – we don’t know what – and she walked away with him willingly,” Jessup recalled last week. “I realized that’s when my call to action came to help girls know how to protect themselves, because I knew how to get out of that situation.”

Jessup started tae kwon do training at age 10 after being told by her father that she’d need to get a black belt before she could start dating. To her dad’s surprise she stuck with the training and earned the black belt by 13. Still, she wasn’t allowed to date until last December, when she turned 16.

After graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes School, she went on to St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, where she is now a junior, and started working on the video as a freshman to attain her service cord for graduation.

“It was never about the service cord,” she said. “It was about doing good for the community and making a difference where I could.”

She was assisted in developing the script by her friend, Lourdes classmate and fellow parishioner Catherine Wehage, who with Jessup and another Lourdes classmate, Matt Wadzita, star in the film.

The two girls started on the video with the goal of teaching 11- to 19-year-old girls easy-to-learn Filipino street fighting techniques Jessup had gotten from martial arts instructor Chad Von Dette.

“It’s definitely a subject girls need to be aware of and know how to get themselves out of these situations,” Wehage, 17, a junior at LaSalle High School in Milwaukie, Ore., said last week. “It’s not just girls, it’s anybody in general.”

Jessup said Von Dette was the one who came up with the “Just Yell Fire” theme, considering it a more effective means of attracting the attention of others rather than shouting “Help!” or “Rape!”

Downloaded in Iran The girls added star power to the video when actors Josh Holloway and Evangeline Lily of the TV show, “Lost,” volunteered for cameo appearances. Wehage had inroads to the cast through a cousin who works on the “Lost” set.

Wehage’s mother, Aulani, who works at Clackamas Community College in Portland where the video was filmed, used her ties there to connect with award-winning Portland video director Takafumi Uehara, who volunteered his services.

While the film cost more than $600,000 to produce, actual expenses totaled approximately $6,000 thanks to community contributions and the volunteer time donated by the professional film crew, Jessup said.

The film, available on the nonprofit Just Yell Fire’s Website, features abduction/date-rape scenarios and self-defense techniques, the dating bill of rights and safety tips from Vancouver Police Chief Brian Martinek about walking and jogging in pairs.

Since its release in October 2006, the video has received more than five million hits and has been downloaded more than 425,000 times, Jessup said.

“What I find really cool is 8 percent of our downloads are in Iran, which is hardly known for protecting the women’s right, and I’m so happy that ‘Just Yell Fire’ is making a difference there.”

She said e-mails from the U.S., the United Kingdom, India and other parts of the world come into the site at the rate of from 20 to 800 per day. Expressions of gratitude included one from a girl who said she lived in a bad neighborhood and had always been afraid to walk to school -- until she saw the video.

“We get e-mails from schools, libraries, police stations & violence (prevention) shelters,” she said. “It’s really comforting to know that I’m making an impact.”

For her work, Jessup, who plans to major in communications and law in college, has received the CNN Hero Award, the Volvo Life Award, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and the Caring Institute’s Caring Award, among other honors. This summer she’ll travel to India to tour schools and help train instructors there.

She and her mother, Maggie Jessup, executive director of Just Yell Fire, also stay busy training Just Yell Fire trainers and lobbying the legislatures in Washington and Oregon to make self-defense programs for teenage girls mandatory in schools. They’re also planning a newsletter.

“It keeps me really busy,” Dallas Jessup said, “but it’s a cause – totally worth dedicating a lot of my time to.”

To learn more: Persons interested in sponsoring “Just Yell Fire,” bringing a training program to their school or receiving the free DVD may visit the website.