Classes teach women more than fisticuffs


A loud and thunderous “NO” filled the room. Their faces were confident. They had no fears – certainly they are not going to be the next targets of sexual assault.

These are the women that are taking the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) self-defense classes offered by the Harvard University Police Department.

“It just reinforces the idea that I don’t want this. I don’t want to be attacked. I don’t want to be raped,” explained Sarah Prosser ’02. “I think it is something that every woman should know how to do.”

Prosser is one of more than a dozen students in this month’s class. The classes are free for any student or staff member (and their families) affiliated with Harvard; the classes have been offered to non-affiliates as well.

The class consists of four different nights. Each night the students learn a different set of ideas and techniques, culminating in a simulated attack on the final night.

“I have learned about self defense intellectually, but I have never had someone simulate an attack,” said Wing-Sy Wong, who is a staff member of HLS. “If someone came at me, I would have felt nervous, but now I feel better.”

“That’s what we teach … transfer your fear into anger,” explained Sergeant Scott Simas, one of the instructors who has been teaching the class for the past six years. “The emphasis is on awareness, risk reduction and – when it gets to an actual confrontation – escape.”

RAD, which is a program nationwide and in Canada, is offered to women only.

“A lot of moves we teach are based on the element of surprise,” explained RAD instructor Kristin Metivier, a police officer with the HUPD. “They will only work once. So if a guy knows what a woman is going to do, he may be able to take measures to counteract it … we don’t want to give away our secrets.”

To maintain the element of surprise, Metivier also advises her students not to show the moves to significant others. “Eighty percent of attacks are perpetrated on you by someone you know,” Metivier explained. “Don’t go home and show your significant others because a lot of moves depend on the element of surprise.”

“Women can be the aggressors too but these classes are basically for a male aggressor against a female victim,” added Amy Scholsberg, a detective with the HUPD and an instructor for the class.

The other reason that the class is offered solely to females is so that the women taking the class feel comfortable, according to Simas.

Prosser feels that sense of comfort. “This is a safe place for women,” said Prosser. “There’s something communal about this.”

The only men allowed in the room are male police officers who have been trained in RAD school. During simulated attacks, the male officers are attacked by multiple men. “So we can see what it’s like to be overwhelmed by force,” Simas explained. “So that we get the same sense as a woman would feel going up against a man.”

Barbara Becker, a visiting fellow at GSAS, is taking the class this month. Since she travels a great deal, Becker felt that it would be a good idea to take the class. “I need a lot of freedom to move and travel by myself,” Becker explained.

Catherine LeMagueresse, a visiting fellow with the Human Rights Program at HLS, is also taking the course. LeMagueresse said she is taking it for two reasons. “First of all it can happen to me,” she explained. “The second reason is that in France I work for an NGO that fights against violence against women … I would like to know what things I can tell them.”

The course is funded by the HUPD, according to Metivier. She added that last year the HUPD taught 13 classes and had over 200 students.

The HLS Women’s Law Association (WLA) helps promote the class, according to Shawna McKee ’02. McKee is on the WLA’s RAD committee. She took the class last month.

“It changed the way I walked around,” said McKee. “I was definitely one of those people who walked around with head phones on; now I would not do that.”

“They have two to three guys attack, one at a time, in different ways, and you have to go back to techniques that you have learned,” explained McKee. “You don’t have to think. You have this tool-box, unconsciously, now, and you just know what to do. You won’t just freeze up.”

McKee also said that the class is very beneficial to those who are new to the area. “A lot of people who come to the law school haven’t lived in a large city before, so it becomes more important to learn techniques to be aware of your surroundings, simply because it’s a new environment,” she said.

The class is offered on a continual basis. Students can come together and set up their own classes with the HUPD according to Simas. “The most important thing is getting the women in the class … that’s what we want to do.”

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