Safe Sister

Safe Sister

Safe Sister is a self-defense course for women that combines education, self-defense and awareness to instill self-confidence and security.  This new program was created by Kathy O’Toole, a sixteen year police veteran and detective.  Sexual assault and domestic violence are all too common in her line of work.  “I have been asked by victims ‘What can I do?’ in regards to knowing what to do in those situations.  I didn’t have an answer.”  The only options for women in southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico are to obtain a firearm or learn martial arts.  “I have no issue with either, but not everyone will want to pull a trigger.”  Her experience showed her too few women were prepared and informed to spot trouble and deal with it before it became a problem.  “The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime.  Fifty one percent of those will involve an attacker who is an intimate partner.  Another forty percent of rapes will be caused by someone they know.  Most incidents aren’t caused by a random guy jumping out from behind a bush.”

            Kathy met with a life coach three years ago to assist her in advancing in her career.  Kim, the life coach, asked Kathy what her passion was.  Kathy replied that she wanted women to feel safe.  “Men generally don’t worry about walking alone to their car.  Women do.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  I told Kim about the lack of programs in the area and she replied, “Why don’t you start one here?”  Kathy was surprised by the question.  Throughout her life she always had volunteered and served people in some way.  Now she was faced with a challenging opportunity to help empower and serve based on her passion.  Kim referred her to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Fort Lewis College.

            Kathy followed through and signed up for the Leading Edge (LE) program.  LE educates entrepreneurs about starting and running a business and gives assignments which lead towards a complete and specific business plan.  “I was unprepared how detailed and excellent the course was.  I thought going into it we would knock around ideas about business, but no.  They spoke about creating a business model, profit and loss statements, spreadsheets, and used business terms I had never heard of before.”  Two SBDC consultants taught the class.  “They provided such good information about filing a business with the state, and whether to register as an LLC or corporation.  Every business choice seemed to have several possibilities.”  Kathy finished the class as she came to terms with the level of personal commitment needed to launch her program. 

            Solidifying her desire to launch Safe Sister, Kathy took the class a second time.  “I don’t intend for Safe Sister to replace my law enforcement career but to supplement it.  Time management was a challenge because I had to make sure I was putting in the time to get the job done.  Showing up is a big part.  There is a lot more learning in front of me.  I have a website ( but I have a lot to learn about social media.”   Kathy also stated that SBDC cares about people being happy in addition to being successful.  “Life isn’t about coming home from work just to do more work.” 

            “I plan on haunting SBDC’s doors for a while.  If I had started a business on my own without their help, I’d have made two hundred errors right off the bat.  SBDC is so willing to help.  They are very good.  If I met anyone who said they were to start a business, I would tell them to take the LE class first.  It will save you a lot of headaches.”

            Safe Sister had their first trial program and the feedback was encouraging.  One woman said she would have paid $200 dollars ahead of the class, but afterwards she felt the information, experience, and feeling personally empowered was worth $500.  The program provides people with a plan and as close to real world situational training possible.  Safe Sister’s first class begins August 5th in Bayfield.  Women can enroll on the website.  Classes meet for three hours, once a week, for three consecutive weeks.  She partners with her husband and Farrel Dodge (a mixed martial art champion).  All work in law enforcement.  Kathy teaches the situational and educational components and the men instruct on the physical tactics.