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'I went from victim to victor': Marine teaches victims of domestic violence to fight back

A Marine and current Columbia officer is teaching survivors of domestic violence self-defense.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Midlands man is teaching survivors of domestic violence self defense. 

Leslie Langley is a survivor of domestic violence. Her story of abuse started when she was just a teenager. “When I was 14, I was actually in an abusive relationship with a 19-year-old. It ended up with him sexually assaulting me with his friends, and it spiraled on from there," Langley said.

Langley said the abuse continued into adulthood. “I was sexually assaulted multiple times. I ended up dropping out of college because I had a class with one of the people who assaulted me.”

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Langley says the abuse eventually took over her life. “I went through a heavy bout of depression, which led to me being homeless and not feeling comfortable in my body, multiple suicide attempts.”

However, the 29-year-old is a fighter. She started taking self-defense classes.

“I’m not afraid to pump my own gas. I’m not afraid to go to the grocery store by myself.”

Langley says these classes ignited a fire within her. 

“It's like feeling you’re drowning for so long and finally being able to catch your breath again,” Langley said. “I went from being timid, shy, and afraid to sharing my story with you.”

Her coach, retired U.S. Marine and current Columbia Police Department officer Gerard Brown, says he teaches domestic abuse survivors the power of defense, in turn re-building their inner warrior. 

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“We all have mothers, sisters, cousins, you know? And we would want them protected when we are not there. This is my way of giving back," Brown said. “The mental growth, the physical growth, the confidence, the essence of re-finding themselves or restoring what was lost.”

According to the most recent statistics from the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA), more than 40% of women and about 29% of men have experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence.

The state’s rate of domestic violence is 5% higher than the national average, with South Carolina ranking as the 6th most dangerous state for women.

Coalition executive director Sara Barber says self-defense classes can be part of a survivor's recovery. 

“It can be a preventative tool," Barber said. “Teaching people self-defense can increase their level of confidence, which makes them less vulnerable to violence.”

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As for Langley, she’s now an assistant self-defense coach and a strong voice advocating for women.

The self-defense classes are free for survivors of domestic violence, and there are currently two spots open. Survivors must provide copies of a police record or be able to provide proof of abuse to receive free classes.

For information head to Kage Ryu Jujitsu.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence hotline 800-799-SAFE. 

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