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Public Safety Week: The Art of Self-Defense

When “stranger=danger,” RAD is the answer

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As part of the BU Police Department’s first-ever Safety Week, November 15 to 19, on Tuesday and Wednesday, RAD demonstrations are being held at the GSU, from 12:15 to 2:15 p.m. Above, 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 urged by 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 was preparing to travel through Europe with her friend Cayla Banton (CAS’12) when she took the course. According to Banton: “I’m here because her dad is making me take it too.”

Boston University Police statistics record 2 rapes, 10 robberies, and 7 assaults at BU in 2009, the most recent year for which those figures are available. “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 7 RAD courses at the University, training 85 to 100 women. “We host demos at the Student Activities Expo 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 be flexible to accommodate groups.

The 16-hour course covers many principles of prevention, among them avoiding dark bus stops at night and not putting personal contact information on public profiles. Those taking the course learn how to “case” their home to see what criminals look for: thin drapes, unlocked windows, a spare key hidden on site. RAD also teaches basic self-defense tactics that emphasize women’s strengths.

“Defensive stance,” cries Shin. “No!” yell the women in the class, 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-quarters 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,” where 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, “but I have confidence we can defend ourselves if something happens.”

As part of BUPD’s first-ever Public Safety Week, November 15 to 19, 30-minute RAD demonstrations are being offered today and tomorrow, beginning at 12:15 p.m. and running until 2:15, at the George Sherman Union, 775 Comm Ave. Weather permitting, the demonstrations will be held outside the GSU, otherwise they will be inside. Throughout the week police officers will be on hand at the GSU from noon to 2 offering bike and laptop registrations and answering any questions about the department’s services and public safety.

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

This story originally ran on April 27, 2010.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Public Safety Week: The Art of Self-Defense

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2010 at 8:00 am

    fine for a child

    Please explain how “Stranger = Danger” jibes with the popularly touted ideals of tolerance and diversity (???).
    This may be a suitable mantra for a latchkey elementary school girl, but as adults, distrust of “strangers” has given us every one of history’s most regrettable socio-political periods.
    Of course we should all be aware of the possible dangers that face everyone who leaves the house, and be prepared to deal with them. But think of all the tens of thousands of strangers you have passed just in the past year. How many left you alone? How many helped you in some small way? How many harmed you? I’m betting that last column is the smallest.
    Let’s be safe, but not paranoid.

  • Anonymous on 11.17.2010 at 10:43 pm

    Self-defense can be a great thing for both men and women to learn. That said, I take exception to the idea being put forth here (both in this article and by the fact that this class is called “Rape Aggression Defense”) that women should be living by a “rape schedule”. This is the idea that you should live with a constant awareness that you could be attacked, and that all your actions should focus on preventing that: don’t go certain places at certain times, carry your keys in your hand, etc. It makes you feel like there is no public space for you; anywhere at any time you’re a potential victim and it is YOUR JOB to prevent that. This isn’t even necessarily going to prevent a rape or a sexual assault- most of these crimes are committed by someone you know, with whom you’d let your guard down.

    Learning self-defense is great and can’t hurt, but we need to be more careful about how we frame these things and what we call it. It is not a woman’s responsiblity to make sure she’s not a victim.

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