BU Today

Campus Life

Department of Self-Defense

When “stranger=danger,” RAD is the answer


Watch this video on YouTube

Watch scenes from RAD, a self-defense class for women. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Are my keys, cell phone, and wallet in my pockets, rather than in my bag? Check.

Do I have a well-lit, well-trafficked route home? Check.

Am I wearing running shoes? Check.

Each night as the sun sets, these questions come to mind: will my walk home be safe? Will I be a target for assault or theft? And what can I do to prevent it?

Born in Boston, I was taught early on to be aware of my surroundings and leery of strangers. My mother was a single parent who worked full-time, and I was a latchkey kid. She kept it simple. “Stranger = danger” was the mantra I recited during my daily walks to and from elementary school, and as I let myself into our apartment every night.

That cultivated wariness lingered into my adulthood, as mom’s advice met TV news stories about rape, assault, and theft. My caution, realistic or not, spurred me to enroll in a self-defense class, not once, but three times, most recently here at BU.

At the University’s self-defense course for women, Rape Aggression Defense (RAD), I met others with similar reasons for signing up: some of us wanted to feel physically and psychologically empowered, some were fulfilling a request from a loved one, and others just wanted to kick some ass. You heard me. Kick some ass.

“My dad is making me take RAD,” explains Michelle Brosbe (SAR’12), who is traveling through Europe this summer with a female friend. According to her traveling companion, Cayla Banton (CAS’12): “I’m here because her dad is making me take it too.”

Boston University Police statistics show 5 rapes, 8 robberies, and 30 assaults at BU in 2008. “We believe the number is actually higher,” says Sergeant Jefferey Burke of the BUPD, noting that some crimes, like rape, often go unreported. “RAD helps prepare women to protect themselves in these situations,” says Burke, who has been a RAD instructor since 1992. “It’s one of the most rewarding and proactive things I do for my job — helping women to not become a statistic.”

Each year, 30 RAD-certified BU officers teach seven RAD courses at BU, training 85 to 100 women. “We host demos at the Student Activities Fair and Wellness Fair to attract students,” says Officer Peter Shin. “And we’d like to enroll more female faculty and staff.”

Shin says most classes are taught at night, but RAD instructors are willing to alter schedules to accommodate groups.

The 16-hour course covers many principles of prevention, such as how to “case” your home to see what crooks see: thin drapes, unlocked windows, a spare key hidden on site. It also teaches basic self-defense tactics that use women’s strengths against men’s weaknesses.

“Defensive stance,” cries Shin. “No!” the women in the class yell, their hands and bodies in combat position. “That’s good,” Shin says. “Yelling alerts people within earshot that you’re in danger. It also helps you breathe.”

RAD officers teach techniques for striking, kicking, ground defense, breaking chokeholds, and fighting with a close-quarter, self-defense keychain. “We show them how to use body mechanics and strength techniques,” says Burke, “so they don’t have to spend hours in the gym lifting weights to defeat someone who is larger than them.”

The course culminates with a much anticipated “beat down,” at which padded officers attack their students, who must break free using the techniques they’ve learned during the five-week course. The class later analyzes video footage of the attacks.

“I hope we don’t have to use these skills,” Banton says about her upcoming trip to Europe, “but I have confidence we can defend ourselves if something happens.”

The BU Police Department offers RAD courses throughout the year. Class schedules are updated periodically on the BUPD Web site. A $10 registration fee includes the manual, classroom instruction, and free lifetime return and practice at RAD classes.

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.


12 Comments on Department of Self-Defense

  • Kelley Adams on 04.27.2010 at 11:23 am

    Rape Prevention?

    I think programs like RAD are a great source of exercise and empowerment, and really allow people to take responsibility for their own safety while acquiring a sense of agency.

    Despite this, I think they are riddled with problems, especially when described as rape and sexual assault prevention programs. Specifically, these programs promote the stereotypical “stranger in the bushes” rape scenario when in reality, the vast majority of rape survivors know their attackers. Similarly, RAD assumes that physical force is the primary method by which sexual violence is forced on survivors while ignoring the roles of substances, coercion, threats, etc. Also, while women are by and large the victims of sexual assault and rape, men face these problems at a surprising rate. By making the program for women only, RAD sends clear messages about who are deemed acceptable survivors of sexual violence, as well as specific messages about gender, physical strength, and power. Lastly, programs like RAD place the onus on the potential victim to prevent or thwart an attack–and god forbid a woman completes the RAD program and then experiences an attack where RAD skills are not applicable (i.e. coercion, involvement of substances, or simply other means of physical restraint)–rather than addressing perpetration.

    For more:

    I don’t mean to trash RAD; I think it’s a great program for building self-esteem and a sense of agency and many other things. I just don’t think it should be touted as a means of sexual violence prevention.

  • Steve on 04.27.2010 at 12:37 pm

    As a 6’2″ 250lb male who has trained in boxing and trained with women, I can tell you that the average woman doesn’t have remotely near the strength to overpower someone my size. A women would need some kind of mechanical or technological advantage in order to stop the attack.

    The use of batons or a guns should be recommended by this course. Nothing says “NO!” like a baton to the temple or a .38 Special to the chest. A women who has been raped or killed is not morally superior to one who has had to use a weapon to save her life.

  • 5'6 Female on 04.27.2010 at 2:21 pm

    Something other than self-defense PLEASE!

    I have to agree with both comments that have been posted to this article. As a woman who has attended quite a few self-defense classes, I inherently know they are only helpful for self-esteem and temporary confidence. Most people don’t leave the class and practice on their own, or if they do, they don’t practice what they learn over and over again to build their muscle memory.

    When you practice these techniques on unsuspecting boyfriends or when you try to practice yourself, you quickly realize that you can’t say “No, grab me here!” to your attacker. You also quickly realize that due to size and weight it would be incredibly difficult to overpower someone who was bent on attacking you. It would happen too fast…unless you saw it coming and were prepared to react quickly to it…

    I believe that is where we as individuals and we as parents err in our decision making. We focus on the 1 – 10% solution of self-defense rather than focusing on the awareness skills that would keep our children out of that situation all together!

    Almost all self-defense programs I have found online or in-person assume that you are already in a horrible situation. There is only one program I have come across recently that teaches you what to see to AVOID the situation entirely: Sealed Mindset’s 15 Seconds to Safety program. I have taken the course and I have had all of my girlfriends go through the online course.

    We now know enough to observe a situation or a person to assess if the person or environment could be a threat to us BEFORE we get too close. Awareness is not just common sense. It is something that we can all learn to be better at and it is something that as parents we MUST teach our daughters.

  • Anonymous on 04.27.2010 at 6:33 pm

    No need to worry, call BU escorts to walk you home!

  • Glen Mills on 04.28.2010 at 10:59 am

    Misinformation regarding RAD

    I am an instructor of RAD, radkids, RAD Defensive Keychain, RAD Aerosol Defense Options, RAD for Men and RAD for Seniors. I would like to address some of the comments here.

    Something other than self-defense:

    There is a large misconception that RAD teaches women how to overpower male attackers and nothing could be further from the truth. RAD could not agree with you more that physical self-defense skills are only a small part of the solution and that practice is vitally important. This is why there is a free lifetime return and practice policy. We also teach that it is not smart to practice with boyfriends, husbands or other male friends and relatives because a student will only experience the dissapointment that you describe. These fake attacks are not realistic in that a woman will not use real techniques to hurt a friend or relative.

    The goal of RAD is not to teach a woman to overpower a male attacker, the emphasis of RAD is in fact on awareness and in avoiding situations in the first place. When avoidance does not work we teach women techniques that will only temporarily give them a chance to ESCAPE. The decision to use these techniques is up to the student and we also let them know that there are no guarantees. Some situations are truly no-win scenerios and this is true whether you are a 90 pound woman or a 240 pound heavily armed police officer.

    While the self-defense techniques take a great deal of time the emphasis of the program throughout is always awareness and avoidance.

    The 6’2 Boxer:

    Yes guns and weapons are usually very effective but there are many times women (and men) are in situations where they won’t be armed. College campuses and many night clubs don’t allow weapons. As another commenter said, many attacks come from significant others (at a time and place a woman wouldn’t think to be armed.) Finally, weapons don’t always work so it is best to have more options. RAD does currently offer 2 weapon options and there are possible plans to offer firearms training in the future.

    Rape prevention?

    RAD does not assume that physical force is the primary means of sexual violence. We do in fact teach that most women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes from people they know and in a variety of situations. I have read your blog and while you are correct about many assumptions being made regarding sexual assault and violence by some self-defense programs I believe you have made a few uninformed assumptions about the RAD program and the real messages it delivers.

    RAD makes none of the assumptions that you have described.

    In regards to attacking this problem from a broader point of view RAD has started working towards this. The RAD for Men program is a self-defense program but more importantly it teaches the roles and responsibilities that all men (and women) in society have to be responsible for their behavior and their attitudes regarding violence, sexual assault, objectification of women and attitudes towards what is and is not acceptable. Men should not be allowed off of the hook when it comes to their responsibiities in addressing this issue.

    I would strongly suggest that you consider becoming a RAD instructor yourself because that is the only way for you to see the curriculum as it is supposed to be taught and to get a more objective point of view. I also believe that with your opinions you would offer a lot to the RAD community in the continuous evolution of the program.

    You are 100% correct in that this is a societal problem but when it comes to offering real long-term solutions nobody has come up with a strategic plan that will actually work. RAD is only one small piece of the puzzle and does not presume to be anything else. RAD is only a program that offers options to women, that they may consider, if and when they are required.

    The instructional objective can be found on the RAD website: “To develop and enhance the options of self defense, so they may become viable considerations to the woman who is attacked.”

    Also from the website:

    “The cornerstone of R.A.D. Systems, this course has its foundations in education and awareness. The course includes lecture, discussion and self defense techniques, suitable for women of all ages and abilities.”

    RAD is nothing more and nothing less than an educational awareness program that teaches some physical options that are hopefully never needed and may or may not work. It does not have all of the answers but for some of the women who have taken the program and successfully avoided dangerous situations or survived assaults by exercising their options the program has been a lifesaver.

  • Anonymous on 04.29.2010 at 11:21 am

    Take RAD

    As a student who has taken RAD, I recommend it. The officers who instruct the class do a great job explaining prevention, as well as teaching physical self-defense techniques. It’s a lot more than fighting.

  • Self Defense Austin on 05.31.2010 at 2:05 pm

    RAD is a valuable program because it introduces women to self defense training with controlled resistance. So many self defense programs that are taught to women are based on fantasy and not reality. At the very least, taking a RAD seminar is going to teach you basic skills and some common sense awareness and prevention training.

    As for the negative comments here, look… I’ve taught womens self defense workshops since 1997. I also taught a program twice a year at a major university through the kinesiology department as part of a for-credit course I taught. The sad fact is, most women won’t take an in-depth self defense training program. But, they will take a one-day course that is specifically geared toward the unique situations women face during a sexual assault.

    And, any training that gets more women interested and involved in learning self-defense and assault prevention skills is all right by me.

    Keep up the good work. :)

  • Anonymous on 06.01.2010 at 1:55 pm

    Great but Limited

    Although RAD is a great program, it misses out on a whole section of the BU population – men.

    Yes, in our society and throughout the world we see men as more capable in defending themselves. Hardly anyone thinks of men getting raped, robbed and being vulnerable.

    RAD needs to expand their aims to allow men to join and learn defensive moves to protect themselves from rape and injury as well.

  • Ilda on 06.01.2010 at 2:20 pm

    new classes please!!!

    I’m just disappointed that this article came out AFTER the last self-defense class. For those of us who had no idea this was offered, it’s too late. I keep checking the website for updates but no other dates have been posted yet.
    It sounds great but there appears to be a very limited number of classes and I wish they were offered continuously, perhaps one class every 2 weeks…at least once a month. There are many people like myself who are looking forward to attending!


  • Anonymous on 07.21.2010 at 8:24 am

    keys? seriously? in my humble opinion, this is a poor excuse for self-defense training. confidence building, yes…but what good will confidence without effectiveness do for you in the street, when your aggressor can be anywhere from a drunken delinquent to a crazed fiend. Against the former, these techniques may work, but against the latter, this will accomplish absolutely nothing…i believe self-defense techniques of any sort should be holistic methods of preserving your well being rather than mere scare tactics that will work half the time. Scratching, biting, eye strikes, knee stomps/kicks and just plain acting like a berserk lunatic will forever be quicker and more effective than reaching into a purse filled with a million things, pulling out a set of keys, and trying to poke at someone….sorry for being so negative, but i really find that to be the one of the most pathetic self-defense ideas ever suggested…

  • Anonymous on 08.02.2010 at 2:43 pm

    RE: keys

    The “key strike” is only one of many techniques taught in the class. RAD is a balanced program that integrates knee strikes, breaking choke holds, punching, ground defense, as well as preventative education.

    RAD officers make it clear that not all techniques will work for everyone, but they’re all options. Women can use what they think will work best for them.

    If you’re a curious woman, you should enroll in RAD to develop a more informed opinion of the program.

  • Tom on 10.02.2010 at 4:14 am

    @ 6.2 250lb male

    Violence against women at the hands of a man happens differently than that of man to man. A large male looking to rape a female does not ‘square off’ in a fighting stance and try to ‘fight her’. If they did then in most cases the man would have the upper hand, but that is not the case. The attacks are behaviourally and psychologically based (I have worked with over 300 survivors of rape). A Self defense program worth it’s salt must incorporate the behavioural elements to it. If it does, then a smaller (physically) weaker woman can definitely gain the upper hand on a stronger man…
    Richard Dimitri from Senshido wrote a good book on the subject called ‘Total Defense of the self’. You can buy it at http://www.senshido-self-defense.com
    It covers all of the behavioural and psychological aspects of violence as well as the physical and was a real eye opener to me when I read it. It is as real as it gets.
    Good discussion!

Post Your Comment

(never shown)