Reports of sexual assaults are on the rise in Hawaii.

In the last five years, the numbers of reported rapes has more than doubled from 279 in 2012 to 619 in 2016, according to FBI crime data.

Several violent cases that made headlines recently are prompting women to take matters into their own hands.

Noel Kauanui is an instructor for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s Women Empowered Program that teaches self-defense.

“We teach women how to defend themselves in a sexual assault situation,” Kauanui said.

Kauanui has taught the class for the past three years and says interest in the class recently increased.

“In the last few months, with things that you’ve maybe seen on the news where women have been assaulted in their home,” Kauanui said. “I think the more we hear about those situations happening here in Hawaii, it causes women to think, do I have the technique and do I know what to do if something like that happened to me? Myself and most women can think of a time in their lives where they’ve felt unsafe or found themselves in a situation where they weren’t exactly sure to get out of it.”

The Women Empowered Program gives people options and tools that can help them get out of a dangerous situation if it does turn physical.

Students in the ongoing program said they joined the class for many different reasons.

Cara Petty has taken the classes for two years.

“I started because at that time, there was a lot of news with children being abducted,” Petty said. “While I never had to defend myself or needed to, I started to feel like, could I defend my daughter if the situation came about? And I really felt like I couldn’t.”

That fear prompted her to look into classes. She found the Women Empowered classes and has been taking them ever since.

Even her 10-year-old daughter takes classes.

“The children’s classes are to help prevent bullying, and she loves her classes,” Petty said.

Izumi Kawakami has also been a part of the Women Empowered Program for two years. She said she began because her whole family was taking jiu-jitsu classes.

“It was a family thing,” Kawakami said. “My husband trains. My two daughters train, and they were pressuring me, ‘C’mon mom, you’ve got to train too.'”

Kawakami says the classes are about much more than just self-defense.

“You leave feeling so empowered,” Kawakami said. “The more you learn, the more knowledge you receive, the more you practice, the more confident I feel, and I see it in my kids as well.”

The self-defense techniques aren’t about overpowering the attacker.

“We teach you how to use leverage and technique, not strength against strength,” Kauanui said.

Ultimately, they are showing ways to help you break free from the attacker.

“That may not stop the assault,” Kauanui said, “but at least now you’ve created a little distance and they don’t have that hold on you.”

Kauanui demonstrated several simple techniques in the standing position and on the ground, because she said many attacks end up on the ground.

Although taking a self-defense class may sound daunting, she said it’s a class anyone can take.

“There are modifications that can be made,” Kauanui said. “So that any woman, any size, any age, any physical issues that they might have, modifications can be made so that they can learn the techniques and learn how to defend themselves too.”

Women Empowered also discusses ways to help prevent attacks.

“There’s no perfect situation and there’s no perfect way to avoid them,” Kawakami said. “However, there’s a way to be made more aware of your surroundings and just to build the confidence in the person makes you a less viable target for someone who might be looking for someone to attack.”

Kauanui outlined some of the things a person can do to avoid being a target.

“If you’re walking alone, don’t be looking at your phone. Be aware of who’s around you. Look around,” Kauanui said. “Scan the area. We teach you to make eye contact with those strangers. Let them know that you see them coming so that if they are coming to you, it’s not going to be a surprise. You see them coming and you can identify them if you ever need to.”

Kauanui said it’s also important to be verbally assertive.

“It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable, or if you feel like you’re in danger to tell someone to stop and don’t come any closer,” Kauanui said. “If they do take step closer, than you know and you’re prepared to defend yourself if you have to.”

There are also three areas a person should pay particular attention to, according to Kauanui. She said statistics show the people are more likely to be attacked in parking structures, bank parking lots, and in their own home.

“Those are all places that studies have shown are more likely for an assault to happen,” she said. “You’re always going to be a target, but don’t be an unsuspecting target.”

The Women Empowered Program is holding a free seminar on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 9 to 11 a.m. Women of all ages are welcome. Space is limited.

To reserve a spot in the seminar call (808) 366-2996.For more information about the program and ongoing classes, click here.