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Domestic violence survivor teaches women to be their own hero


  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Oct. 28, 2021 - 5:46 AM

Domestic violence survivor teaches women to be their own hero

Sarah Fay Campbell / The Newnan Times-Herald

Females typically can’t put a lot of power behind a punch, so an open-hand stance and open-hand attack is better. Also step to the side to keep your balance.


After finally having her abuser arrested and getting free of him, Holly Reese recalls an official handing her the paperwork for her temporary protective order – aka restraining order – against her husband.

"They said: this is a restraining order. Learn how to defend yourself," Reese said. "This will not save you."

Her husband had bonded out of jail, and was making threatening phone calls and sending threatening messages. Law enforcement couldn't find him for months, and he repeatedly violated the order by contacting her, Reese said.

"As a survivor, not knowing what to do, I felt so scared. You're telling me to defend myself – this guy has hurt me more times than I can say. I don't know how to do that," she said.

"When you go home, you're like, what am I supposed to do now?" she said. "How am I going to defend myself from being out of shape and scared to death?"

Too scared to leave home

Reese was afraid to leave her home and was unable to go to her job.

For seven years she felt trapped in her home. She would go places with others, but not alone. She had a service dog, and she and the dog would go for drives, go pick up food in a drive-thru, but she was too scared to leave the car unless someone was with her.

"I didn't work anymore; I really didn't have a life. And one day, my mom was driving around, and she saw this sign," Reese said.

Reese had long ago adopted the nickname "DASmel." Like a damsel, but a stronger version.

Getting her life back

Her mom told her she had seen a sign with that name on it. As it turned out, it was a sign for Damsel in Defense, a company that markets personal defense devices through direct sales. Reese was intrigued and wondered if some of those devices could help her one day.

A few days later, she and her mother actually met the woman who was selling the products; then she and a friend saw her again at an event.

"I'm like – what is this? Something is telling me I need to talk to this person," Reese said. So she talked to her about the products and Reese’s friend said, "With those products you could defend yourself."

"That is what started my journey of getting my life back," she said. She felt more confident with the stun devices, pepper spray and non-lethal weapons. She now had the courage to go out in public by herself again.

But Reese wanted to do more. "I wanted to learn how to be a good fighter," she said. She started taking classes in jiu jitsu, krav maga and karate. She soon realized that while those martial arts had their benefits, the skills would take years to develop.

"People need protection now. To defend themselves, to help keep their kids safe – they need that today," said Reese. She wanted to learn "practical self-defense."

So she searched for an instructor who would teach street fighting methods. She finally found one: Nick Drossos.

As she learned, she decided that she wanted to teach other women.

Be Your Own Hero

Reese is now a certified Nick Drossos Tactical Self-Defense instructor and founder of Warrior Defenders. She offers classes to women to teach them how to defend themselves from attackers – and how to avoid attacks in the first place with things such as situational awareness and deescalation tactics.

Any woman can learn ways to defend herself, Reese said. "I teach women in wheelchairs, elderly women who have canes, women with disabilities." She has students who probably wouldn't be able to take traditional jiu jitsu or karate classes.

"I wanted everyone in my classes to feel welcome," she said.

Situational awareness is our number-one defense mechanism, Reese said. When people are out and about staring at their phones, their situational awareness is low.

Many women's self-defense classes are taught by men, or men help out in a class by playing the role of the attacker. But Reese said some of the women she has taught have been so damaged by domestic violence or sexual assault, they wouldn't be able to take a class where a man is teaching.

"A lot of them won't go up to men and ask for help," she said.

In a class, Reese will ask the students about their biggest fears and safety concerns, and she'll focus on particular techniques to address those concerns. Though you might learn several good techniques in one night, “you can't learn it all in one class," she said.

And people have to practice. "You need to drill at least once a week … You have to learn muscle memory," she said. "Then lean into knowing what your attacker is going to do – because that is real life."

She recalled one student asking to be taught how to get off the ground if someone had held her down and was banging her head against the floor – because the woman had been in that situation.

She asks students to bring their self-defense items they may have to class, and she'll show them how to use them. Women who use canes or walkers can use them as a defense weapon.

She also talks to students about using firearms. "I'm not against carrying guns, but you have to be really good at it and proficient with it," she said, or the gun could end up being used against you.

Reese has several educational videos on her YouTube channel, and one is from a female police officer. "She talks about why it is important to layer your weapons just like they do and why a gun won't protect you all the time," she said.

She also teaches gun defense: "how to get away from the line of target, how to make sure that you don't have your children in the line of fire," Reese said. She teaches how to get away if someone is holding a knife to your throat and if someone comes up behind you, as well as car safety, carjacking prevention and road rage education.

When it comes to conflicts on the road, "you're never supposed to pull over to the side of the road and confront somebody," Reese said. Yet there are videos on YouTube telling people to do just that.

Fewer victims – and more fighters

"I'm trying my best to save as many lives as possible so we see less victims on TV and more fighters," Reese said.

The recent case of Gabby Petito, who went missing on a cross-country adventure with her boyfriend and was later found dead, has raised significant awareness of the issues of domestic violence.

"That story is awful, but it happens so much," Reese said. "A lot of people are afraid to talk about domestic violence. It's not pretty; it's not something people want to face. They want to hide from it.

"It's sad to think that a woman would stay in those situations. And a lot of people don't understand why," she said.

There is a psychological overpowering that happens with abusers and the women who care about them, Reese said. "They abuse that power and make you stay in so many ways."

"People will say – you're stupid to stay," she said. "But you don't understand what is going on until you've experienced it. You have to find a way to leave, to break that trauma bond." Some victims of domestic violence even develop Stockholm Syndrome.

The bonds that hold victims to their attacker can be much like an addiction to drugs, Reese said.

Reese is very vocal about domestic violence, and has decals on her vehicle to let everyone know she is a survivor.

"When I drive around, I want women who are going through it to see that I am a survivor, that there are avenues to get out of it," she said.

And she said she meets a lot of people who see the decals on her car and tell her they are trying to find help for someone they know who is a victim of domestic violence.

Women trying to leave domestic violence situations may feel like they are alone. "But as soon as you move forward and take that step, you will not be alone. There are people and places who are waiting to help you if you would just step forward and prove you're ready to move," she said.

Often friends and family of someone dealing with domestic violence start to think their loved one will never take the action to get out. Reese said she suffered in silence.

Her family could tell something was wrong but "they just couldn't figure out what was wrong," she said. "They didn't know how to save me. I figured I could do it myself."

While law enforcement agencies want to help, "they can only do so much," Reese said.

She also participates in a local empowerment class for women that helps women recover from abuse and trauma. "We're doing the best we can to help as many people as possible," she said.

The class is held at a secure location. For more information, visit the "Women's Encouragement & Support Team" page on Facebook or email WESTCoweta@gmail.com .

One of Reese's mottos is, "Be your own hero."

"We don’t know that we have our hero inside us until somebody shows us it is there," Reese said. "Everybody can be your own hero. I'll show you how."

For more information, check out the Warrior Defenders YouTube channel and Facebook page.