LA CROSSE, Wis. -- It's a fight women hope they never have to experience.
For the past two months, a group of women have been taking a self-defense class designed to teach them how to protect themselves from rape. They put their skills to the test during their graduation, where they had to fight their way out of a simulated sexual assault.
Tony Nickelatti is a captain at the La Crosse Fire Department. Tonight, he's going to attack Donna Dwyer.
Dwyer is no stranger to violence.
"I wound up in the hospital a couple times because of it with stab wounds, and a busted nose and things like that. Because he was a violent drunk," said Dwyer.
She was in an abusive relationship 10 years ago. And when she has to defend herself from a simulated attack during graduation, she's afraid her emotional scars will open up again.
"It's going to be emotional. Because it's going to bring back a lot of memories that I've been trying to bury for all these years. Hopefully it'll bring all that out so I can move forward," said Dwyer.
"Graduation is very dynamic,” said the class’s instructor Master Larry Klahn, “It is the closest thing that we can do in a classroom setting to set up, to basically fool the brain into thinking it's in a real assault situation. We turn down the lights. And we get dressed up a lot like a dog trainer.... You're going to be sequestered into the side room there. We'll bring you out one at a time.... And I will put your arm into the bad guy's arm.... You have to get to the exit sign.... There is nothing halfway. You will not get out of here because you're just here or because you completed eight weeks of training. You will get out of here legitimately or your won't. Plain and simple. You have five minutes."
"What an experience,” said Dwyer after fighting off Nickelatti, “I was on him, thinking about some of the things that happened to me in the past. And I kept pounding his head. And then I hit him in the groin. And he kept grabbing me by the leg so I couldn't get up. And I finally flipped him over on his face and then started in. And then I got out and ran off to the corner."
"I asked Master Klahn. I said, 'When do I let go of these women?’” said Nickelatti, “He said, 'Well, if they do something to you that would deem you unresponsive if you didn't have this gear on or if you start seeing white spots.' And I've seen both."
Dwyer and the other women might be exhausted, and they'll definitely be sore tomorrow, but they've proven to themselves they've got the training to fight through the fear.
"I'm glad I went through it. That was the best thing I could have done is to learn how to protect myself,” said Dwyer.