The Shaolin-Do martial arts studio on St. Claude Avenue is offering a free self-defense class Sat. Oct. 10, following a series of sexual assaults and armed robberies in the St. Roch and Upper 9th Ward neighborhoods that has been widely discussed on social media.

Shaolin-Do owner and instructor Joseph Meissner says students whose friends were victims of recent assaults requested the class.

[jump] “If violence is the only way out, you have to become like a vicious animal,” Meissner says. “You have to able to drop social inhibitions, be willing to claw at the eyes, bite, knee, elbow, and strike viciously to take away that person’s ability to hurt you.”

Preventative skills like confident body language and conflict avoidance are important, Meissner says, but easiest to learn from a book. In class, he focuses on physical defense techniques intended to be easy to remember under stress.

As many as five sexual assaults in the St. Roch, Upper Ninth Ward, Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods have been reported to police during the last three weeks, according to New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) spokesman Tyler Gamble. None of the victims knew their attackers.

Two victims described similar assaults to The New Orleans Advocate, saying they were certain they were attacked by the same man.

“We see similarities but at this point there’s not enough physical evidence to connect them at this time,” Gamble said. NOPD has increased the number of officers on patrol, he said.

Police provided surveillance video of a suspect from an ATM where he used a victim’s stolen card. An NOPD press release describes the perpetrator as "an unknown black male," about 6 feet tall and 160 pounds (pictured). According to social media accounts, the suspect has approached residents in the area asking for money or offering to sell a CD.

Residents are circulating an open letter to New Orleans District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents the area, as well as District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry and New Orleans Sexual Assault Response Team coordinator Amanda Tonkovich. “Were you aware of this serial rapist/rapists? It is of great concern that news of these attacks has been underreported,” the letter reads. “It is of greater concern that this man is still at-large, despite multiple assaults in one week in a concentrated area.”

Ramsey aide Freddie King provided Gambit with a statement attributed to the councilwoman. "I am aware of the recent attacks in the St. Roch, Upper Ninth Ward, Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods," it said. "I am in constant contact with NOPD. There are active and ongoing investigations concerning the assaults. We will keep the community updated with information that we are able to share. I am confident in the NOPD, and hope they make an arrest soon."

The free self-defense class takes place at noon on Saturday, Oct. 12 at Shaolin-Do Kung Fu & Tai Chi, 4210 St. Claude Ave.