Two sketches from two victims of the man Clayton Police believe has raped at least seven women in the south metro county over the last three years. PHOTO: CLAYTON COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT

Serial rapist prompts Clayton Sheriff to push self-defense classes

As Clayton Police search for a man they believe is linked to at least seven rapes of residents over the last three years, the county Sheriff’s Office launched self-defense classes for women in the community that will run through the end of April.

Clayton Sheriff Victor Hill announced the classes three days after a woman said she was attacked and raped at knifepoint in her home on March 2 in the 7000 block of Southlake Parkway. After quickly hitting enrollment capacity earlier this month, Hill added 10 more classes through next month.

Clayton’s offer comes as a number of law enforcement agencies around metro Atlanta have rolled out similar self-defense courses. The John’s Creek Police Department has an ongoing self-defense program for girls and women, covering such topics as online and home safety, weapons and awareness strategies. The Marietta Police Department plans to host a “Rape Aggression Defense” course for female high school seniors for April 8-17.

The Henry County Police Department has several two-day self-defense classes scheduled through the end of the year, with the first kicking off this Thursday and Friday.

While Clayton is responding to a specific threat, law enforcement officials across the metro area sometimes offer the courses as part of their public outreach program based on “what they think the need is in their particular community,” said Bill Hallsworth, a coordinator of jail and court services at the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.

For Clayton, the push has come as police have become more convinced that the rapes are linked. Five of the rapes happened between July 2015 and May 2017. 

In each, the women were typically attacked between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. and entry was gained through an open window or the man pushed his way through a door. All but one of the victims lived in an apartment or townhouse complex. The man has used a gun or knife in at least a couple of attacks, police said.

Some of the victims had children who witnessed the assaults. All of the victims was black and recent DNA evidence has led police to believe the attacker is the same person.

Gayla Nobles, executive director of Southern Crescent Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center, said self-defense training can make women feel more confident that they can keep themselves safe in violent situations. She added that strategies such as women not walking alone at night, staying in well-lit areas as much as possible and keeping aware of surroundings at all times, can provide valuable protection.

That’s especially important in the age of cellphones, where people often walk with their heads looking down at the screen and not at the environment around them.

“I think it’s great that the sheriff is taking this initiative and really trying to empower women in Clayton County,” she said. “It definitely brings awareness of the need for safety and really talking to women about basic tips.

To sign up for the Clayton classes, contact Amanda Borher at (678) 479-5322 or through email at Amanda.Boehrer@claytoncountyga.gov. Further help is available from the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center from their 24-hour hotline at the 770-477-2177.

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