RADical Self-Defense

February 25, 2000

Robyn L. Loda

It takes a certain amount of courage to make the decision to attend a Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) course offered at Tulane. But when statistics show that one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, being prepared can mean the difference between confidence and self-doubt,not to mention life and death.

Tulane was one of the first universities in the South to offer this two-day, intensive course six years ago and continues to offer classes each month. Part of a national program headquartered in Virginia, RAD Systems Inc., boasts 3,000 instructors throughout the United States and Canada who have trained more than 100,000 women.

Requiring no particular fitness level or gadgets such as pepper spray, the RAD system relies solely upon women's natural physical abilities. The RAD course is open to women only, though instructors can be either sex.

"We want to create space of total privacy for women to take this course," explains Wilce Gilbert III, Tulane's RAD coordinator who serves as a sergeant in the Tulane Department of Public Safety as well as a part-time officer on the New Orleans Police Department.

"Females have traditionally been socialized to be peacekeepers, not aggressors," says Gwendolyn Dardant (N '01), RAD instructor who has practiced martial arts for the past nine years. "They not only have to overcome during an attack the normal human reactions of stress, danger and fear, but also the conditioning that has been programmed into them by society itself."

RAD's basic course begins with four hours of classroom time to give each student a foundation of awareness, risk reduction and avoidance strategies, which RAD considers 90 percent of self-defense training.

Megan Noller, graphic designer in the university publications office, says, "I felt overly worried about being at risk of attack when I first came back from the discussion part of the course, but all the instructors' facts about date rape and other serious situations were ultimately excellent ways of giving us the kind of awareness we should have had all along."

Gilbert says the course aims to increase awareness about realistic dangers. "This class isn't meant to scare you," says Gilbert. "It's meant to open your eyes; it's meant to make you grow."

The second part of the RAD program focuses on ways of handling potentially dangerous situations. It systematically covers the basics: stances, yelling, movement, blocking, striking and kicking. The physical options continue with defenses against wrist grabs, bear hugs and chokes.

Once students learn the skills, they take part in assault simulation. Covered with helmets, elbow pads, boxing gloves and knee guards, they have only one goal: Fight off the attackers and run to safety. During class, Gilbert reminds class participants, "You do not have to render your attacker unconscious and drag him to the authorities. The object is to survive the assault."

He then slips into a back room and returns about 20 minutes later in black full-body pads. Each woman is called up to the stage alone to fight off both Gilbert and another RAD aggressor. The woman is told to face the back wall and imagine using an ATM machine. Suddenly, an aggressor leaps onto her, holding her in a tight bear hug. She fights him and the second man with surprising force and runs to safety. The simulation is videotaped and Gilbert offers students free copies.

"Most of the time you're too keyed up from the stress of being attacked, even in simulation, to remember what you actually did," he says. "Students are shocked to see what they did when they watch the tape later."

Class participant Erin Spinner (N '01) agrees. "Before taking the RAD course, I felt like I'd be too embarrassed to try to actually fight off anybody because I would not affect them at all," she says. "But now I'm confident because I know that I could really hurt someone with these techniques."

To keep these skills sharp, RAD invites every student to return for refresher courses and more advanced training free of charge at any of its nationwide locations. The RAD course offered at Tulane is open to all women, staff, faculty, students, as well as members of the community. It is sponsored by the Department of Public Safety's Office of Crime Prevention and Victim Resources and costs $25 per person.

To find out more about upcoming local classes, call Wilce Gilbert at 865-5381, ext. 1253.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000