Standing in the center of a circle of 11 students in the Milroy Public School gym, Deanna Larsen offered a message she believes every child needs to hear.

People are not always what they seem.

Sometimes, she added, they are trying to trick kids with the intent of doing them harm. This is not just an issue in larger communities, said Larsen, adding it can happen anywhere – even in a community like Milroy.

The recent story of Jayme Closs in Wisconsin is proof of that fact, and while that story has a happier ending as that little girl was rescued, that does not always happen when a child goes missing. 

No, said Larsen to the students and the parents who were also in attendance, the intent is not to scare anyone. It is about opening eyes and preparing people to be aware of what is going on around them and what to do if something bad might happen.

Larsen was asked by the Milroy school’s PTO to offer a self-defense class for kids on a Friday night, and that night she addressed a variety of topics and offered some basic techniques that can be used to stay safe in what could become an unsafe situation.

“I started learning karate when I was 11 years old,” said Larsen, who has been trained in and offers training for others in Kali, which is an art from the Philippines, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and kickboxing, a blend of boxing, Thai Boxing, Savate, Panatukan and JKD kickboxing.

Larsen, who lives with her family in Milroy, teaches self-defense classes to people of all ages, and her background in the martial arts provides credibility to the program she offers.

“A big thing is awareness,” said Larsen, emphasizing how important it is for parents to sit down and talk with their kids about the dangers that exist. “Parents need to have this conversation and to continue to have a dialogue with their kids about what they are doing.”

Social media has taken the issues of personal safety to a new level, said Larsen, adding she has heard far too many stories of people whose lives have been changed forever simply because of a bad decision they made in a public forum.

Boundaries need to be established, and children need to know that it is OK for them to tell people when those boundaries have been crossed, no matter who it is. People send the wrong message to children when they tell them some of the things that they don’t like are OK because one person is doing them, because they then have a hard time differentiating between when it is OK and when it is not.

“You are the boss of your body,” Larsen told the students, adding when someone gets too close you need to let them know.

Larsen brought the students out onto the gym floor to practice telling people who have crossed their boundary to stop, and she also provided them with basic self-defense punches and kicks that can help them.

One suggestion that appeared to resonate with the parents in the audience focused on a store setting. If, for some reason, a child becomes separated from their parent or adult and another person approaches them Larsen said just screaming and yelling may not be enough.

“Plenty of people would look at that and just think it is a child misbehaving,” said Larsen.

Her suggestion is for that child to yell as loud as they can “I don’t know you.”

That, she said, should get someone’s attention.

As a mom, Larsen said she is focused on helping other parents understand their role in keeping their kids safe. Yet, her work does not end there.

For Larsen, a ministry has also developed out of her training that is dedicated to helping young women. That ministry has her interacting with women who are working in strip clubs and prostitution, adding she knows through these efforts the realities of sex trafficking.

“When the Super Bowl was in Houston I went down to talk with women on the streets,” said Larsen, adding her role is in helping those who are in need to find the resources that can help them get away and change their life.

“I want them to know someone cares,” said Larsen, adding she will also share her faith with them letting them know that there are people who truly love them and want what is best for them.

Larsen has connected with an organization that is working in Mexico to help those young women who are being trafficked, and her plan in the next few months is to make a trip to work side-by-side with those who are part of that ministry.

While that ministry is working to get those young people help to get out of that life, it is also focused on helping them get back on their feet by training them to do other things. So, when she makes that trip Larsen is hoping to be able to take some items with her, such as cake pans and sewing machines, that can be used to help these young women not only understand how to better care for themselves but also to learn a trade through which they can support themselves.

Sex trafficking is a real issue in that part of the world, but Larsen added it is an issue right here in Minnesota, too.

“Minnesota has taken a very progressive stance on this issue,” said Larsen, adding young women who are picked up for prostitution are often not charged with a crime but are sent to a place where they can get help.

To learn more about the self-defense classes Larsen offers or how to get involved in the ministry she has been doing, visit her Web site at www.chainreactionma.com.