Interest in Officer Teri DeSilva's classes has spiked in recent months, following a string of sexual assaults in the city, she said.

Before she was an Ashland police officer, Teri DeSilva escaped a Medford carjacking by grabbing her assailant's knife with her bare hands.

After the incident, she got serious about self-defense.

"I really started wanted to do this after I was a survivor of a violent crime," DeSilva said.

Now, 22 years later, she's still teaching women's self-defense classes.

"Women don't know how powerful they are," DeSilva said. "My classes empower women, and they learn how strong they are."

DeSilva has taught hundreds of women, age 12 to 85, strategies for avoiding and defending against attacks.

"Being aware of your surroundings is the best prevention," she said.

She retired from the force in December, but is working part-time at the Ashland Police Department through June.

Interest in her classes has spiked in recent months, following a string of sexual assaults in the city, she said.

"There's been more interest, but it's too bad it takes incidents like these to generate interest," she said. "Self-defense is something so empowering to women, I wish 100 percent would take it."

Ashland resident Emily Bredleau said the recent assaults have prompted her to sign up for one of DeSilva's classes.

"I want to learn self-defense just to be more confident, especially with some of the things happening around here," she said.

DeSilva teaches the two-hour classes once a month and on request.

She speaks about her own experiences and then has the women practice a series of defense moves, including palm, elbow and knee strikes.

She begins each class by recollecting the carjacking attack.

"I was doing all of the things you're not supposed to do," she said. "I had a big bag and my keys were at the bottom, I ignored my gut feelings and I turned my back on the man walking toward me."

The man had abducted another woman minutes earlier, but his plan had been foiled because her car wouldn't start.

As the man approached DeSilva, he told her to get in the passenger seat, she said.

Instead, she grabbed his knife and "went running after him," she said.

That unexpected move possibly saved DeSilva's life — and altered her career path.

"Later, the officer on the scene said, 'Ever think about being a cop?'" she said.

Her next women's self-defense class costs $40 and will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on April 27 at Rogue Valley Martial Arts studio, 300 Hersey St., suite 7. For more information call 690-9693.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.