What I Learned from Rape Defense Course


Tara Gordon

When my mother told me she signed me up for a rape defense class without asking me, I experienced something similar to the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, etc.  The last thing I wanted to do on Wednesdays from 6:00 p.m. 9:00 p.m. (three hours? really?) was to learn how to punch a rapist with Walpole cops. Naturally, I tried to get out of this; naturally, I was unsuccessful.  Usually on Valentines Day, people eat at fancy restaurants with their significant other. On my Valentine’s Day,  I was at the Walpole Police Department, sitting in my first RAD class.

Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) is a four week class that teaches realistic self-defense tactics to women. According to their website, the R.A.D. System “is a comprehensive, women-only course that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing on to the basics of hands-on defense training.” As I entered into the room, I entered the acceptance phase of my grieving process, reassuring myself that my two friends (whose mothers had also forced them to go) would help me get through it. I had minimal faith, but I soon learned that going to RAD was nothing to dread.

As more women entered the room, Walpole police officer Taylor Bethoney introduced herself and welcomed everyone to their first RAD class. As my eyes wandered around the room, I noticed there was a range of women in my class: there was a mother with her two daughters; there was a night-shift nurse who wanted to have the defense skills when she left the hospital at 2:00 a.m.; and there was my friends I, whose mothers wouldn’t let us leave for college without knowing how to defend ourselves in case of rape on a college campus. Much to my disbelief, the rest of the class was actually engaging. The officers explained that the important thing women get out of RAD is that they will become more aware of their surroundings, and take their safety more seriously. Although the class was more education focused, the officers ensured us that the following weeks would be all physical activity.Next week, I walked into Blackburn Hall in athletic gear for class. After stretching, the officers taught us three stances that we should take if we feel threatened. Next, they taught us how to scream. Yes, scream. The officers explained that every time we are instructed to practice a strike or block, or even a defensive stance, we must yell “NO”; if we weren’t loud enough, they would make us do it again at a higher volume. The reason for this extensive yelling was that in case of attack, the noise would attract attention from others and could help us escape. Full disclosure: I am one of those people who never sing, yell, or dance spontaneously in public. It makes me uncomfortable, so I was hesitant to shriek every time I punched the air. I soon realized that many women were uncomfortable with idea as well; however, the officers helped us get rid of that fear quickly, and soon enough all of us were screaming.

In the next two weeks, I was taught how to defend myself with punches, kicks, blocks, wrist grabs and more. After we learned each skill, we practiced with the officers, who held small soft pads for us to hit. Honestly, it was fun. For someone who sticks to the elliptical and stays away from contact sports, I enjoyed hitting things for a change, even if it was members of the Walpole P.D. with red pads. Going to RAD was even something my friends and I looked forward to.

The final week of RAD was a test, where each student had to go through three simulations of being attacked. We, the anxious women, were dressed in helmets and extensive pads and had to individually fight off four officers who pretended to be attackers; when one woman went into the test, we cheered her on; when she came back from the test, we applauded her. Following the simulations, we watched videos of our staged attacks, and listened to closing statements from our teachers.

Initially, I did not want to take RAD because I thought it was admitting defeat; admitting that I live in a society where weak females need to know how to defend themselves because rape is so frequent, especially on college campuses. Even though this is still true, the class made me feel stronger, both physically and mentally. It was empowering to see women of all ages in our community encouraging each other to be strong. Walpole is lucky to have such a program for women, and we need to ensure its existence, whether that be by encouraging WHS female students to register, or by funding it through the town budget committee. Coming out of this class, I implore any woman to take RAD, for it has not only taught me how to defend myself, but it has brought me closer to the women in my community.