Rape defense class lends confidence

One in four women run the risk of being sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. But growing up in a suburb outside of Denver and then Pittsburgh, I always felt that I could protect myself if needed.

That changed when I moved from the area to work at Penn right out of college; not only was I living on my own, but I was also commuting by public transportation to a large unfamiliar city.

So when I saw a free Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) basic defense program being offered to female staff, faculty and students, I called a friend on campus to join me and signed up for the two six-hour sessions on Saturdays.

Offered by the University Police Department at their headquarters at 40th and Chestnut streets, RAD is a nationwide program created by a guy who, according to our instructor, taught his 70-year old mother how to protect herself using basic defense tactics. The point was that any woman could handle the physical tactics and benefit from this program.

The program was led by two members of the Penn Police. My class had a male and female instructor, but that is not always the case according the program coordinator, Community Relations Officer Stacey Livingston.

Before we got to the physical training, we started with some easy reading from our RAD manuals, learning risk reduction strategies at home, in the car, on public transportation and on a date.

Then we began the hands-on exercises.

Yelling “NO!” with every move made me feel self-conscious at first, but as the afternoon dwindled, the sense of power and confidence that grew followed me right out the door and onto the street, where my friend and I sized up the men we saw. Although I felt great, I knew that the next week would challenge what I had learned.

After rehashing the exercises of the first class, and then learning some defensive tactics to use when lying on your back or your stomach, the final afternoon put to the test not only what we had learned but our mental strength in handling dangerous situations. The simulation involved fighting off two of the biggest men I’ve ever seen outside of a NFL football game, and that’s before they were padded in protective gear. I left that Saturday feeling drained, but knowing that I was capable of protecting myself in an unavoidable situation.

Although I’ve reviewed my manual and physical tactics often since the course ended, practicing in my apartment is tough. I really don’t have any large pads for punching and kicking, and my neighbors do not appreciate loud defensive yelling. Fortunately, one of the unique things about the RAD program is that there is a free return and practice policy which allows me to retake the course or just participate in the simulations anywhere and any time the program is offered in the United States or Canada. Overall, this experience has given me the edge I was looking for, not only in learning physical tactics, but also, as my instructor said it, in using your head as the best weapon in defending yourself.

The next four-week RAD course begins Monday, Sept. 16. Classes are free for female students, faculty and staff. For more information about the program, visit www.publicsafety.upenn.edu/dpsRAD.asp on the Web or call Susan Dever or Stacey Livingston in Public Safety Special Services at 215-898-4481.

Michelle Campbell is a research specialist and lab manager in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Originally published on September 5, 2002