Nearly 20 women shouted “Stay back!” and practiced defending themselves against potential assailants in the UT Police Department training room Monday evening.
The women were participating in the Rape Aggression Defense system, a national program that teaches self-defense and crime prevention tactics to women. UTPD officers have offered the 12-hour RAD classes to women for free since they received a grant from Voices Against Violence in 2001.
UTPD Detective Eliana Decker, one of the instructors, said RAD is unique for women because it offers an environment where women will feel comfortable and can learn their own ways to improve personal safety.
“This class offers women a chance to self-reflect and decide for themselves what their own self-defense looks like,” Decker said. “I’ve seen so many women who think that they’re coming here to learn physical self-defense and leave knowing that they are stronger than they realized.”
UTPD Lt. Greg Stephenson said while it is still important to teach people not to commit assault, UTPD also wants to make sure women have the skills they need to defend themselves.
“If I could teach people not to commit crimes, I would do it,” Stephenson said. “But I also have to look at what can I do. And if that is to teach women to fend (for) themselves or be aware and prevent crimes, we’ll do that.”
Over the course of three days, women in the class learn harm reduction strategies, crime prevention techniques and physical self-defense strategies by watching instructional videos and participating in hands- on demonstrations.
Stephenson said UTPD hosts this class for women because they want to provide multiple avenues for women to feel safer on campus. UTPD previously offered the class for men, but discontinued it due to lack of interest.
“RAD is a lot more than just self-defense,” Stephenson said. “It’s a lot about understanding and being aware of your surroundings and what either the police or the public can do to make life a little tougher for criminals and easier for women.”
Plan II senior Francesca Reece said she has been lucky not to have encountered an unsafe or dangerous situation during her time at UT, but she took the class because she wanted to know how to protect herself after graduation.
“We all have romanticized notions of thinking we can attack or that the adrenaline will be able to carry us through, but this practice and learning techniques will truly give me the confidence to know that I have the skills needed to get away,” Reece said.
Decker said among the 2.3 million women who reported attempted sexual assaults in the U.S. last year, 71 percent who knew self-defense were able to avoid being raped.
“Everyone in every situation is different, but self-defense is always an option for each individual to use,” Decker said. “In cases where a stranger or a rape aggression comes about, a woman who knows self-defense will be a surprise to their attacker.
UTPD will be offering another RAD class in November. Registration is currently open for all female students, faculty and staff.