The experience of walking down a dark alley or passing by a stranger after hours can turn from fearful to prepared with the study of defense system training.
Rape Aggression Defense systems, a nationwide program, offers this type of training, designed for women to avoid dangerous situations and be able to defend themselves in the event of an incident.
“A woman in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and approximately 68 percent of rape victims know their assailant,” the organization states, a fact the program seeks to change.
The course teaches how to reduce the risk of being attacked and how to defend yourself if attacked, said RAD Nevada County coordinator Kay Swartzendruber, who garnered the collaboration of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition and Grass Valley Police Department for the local program.
“RAD teaches you how to reduce your risk, whether at home, which is where a lot of sexual assault takes place, whether you’re in public, or out and about, and what to do if you become a victim and enable your assaulter so you can get away and escape,” Swartzendruber said.
The course is $25 and includes a workbook and manual and certification of achievement and lifetime participation and practice rights with any RAD program. The program is for girls and women 12 and older, and children must have a signed parental consent form.
“We charge $25 per class just to help cover expenses if we need to pay for using utilities, print up student manuals,” Swartzendruber said. “We are a nonprofit, so when people give, it’s a tax-deductible donation.”
DVSAC collects the fees for the class and provides a web page to sign up for the class.
“We want to teach women how to use their body parts to defend themselves and not have to be so vulnerable to attackers on the street and not have to have a deadly weapon,” said Sandy Dickinson, program advocate for DVSAC, who teaches the class with Stephanie Terrassa, prevention advocate. “We get rape victims, sexually assaulted victims, human traffic victims, and this teaches them, besides just body parts, words, which are the most important thing.”
The ability to collect the funds and instructors for the class was challenging, Swartzendruber said.
“I raised $15,000 by speaking with different service organizations in town,” Swartzendruber said. “It took me a little bit more time to get the training scheduled, find different people who would be willing to be trainers, to get a lot of things set up and get our first class on the ground. So it’s taken me about two and a half years to get here today.”
Due to space restrictions, the class can only accommodate 16 participants, though if a larger facility were available, the class could expand.
“The nice thing is it’s completely mobile. If somebody was to offer us a space that was large enough to conduct the class, we’d be happy enough to teach the classes at larger locations,” Swartzendruber said. “I would really like to get into the high school or junior high and teach a course for the younger girls, so we’re definitely willing to do it in other locations.”
Scholarships are also available, and those interested can contact DVSAC or Swartzendruber.
“We learned so many practical ways to get out and avoid situations, so I highly recommend it,” said Ruth Burton, a Grass Valley resident who took the class in February. “They’re volunteering their time, and I love that, too, because it means they have passion for it. And some women shared their stories of rape and abuse. It was really touching to hear people’s stories, so it’s turning something pretty ugly into a positive.”
The class empowers women and helps diminish a feeling of helplessness in difficult situations, said Janaia Donaldson, a Nevada City resident.
“I feel like this ought to be a required curriculum for every woman on the planet,” Donaldson said. “I think we would all stand taller and move about in the world much more easily if we knew we would hold on our own.”
The instructors and staff also help to create a supportive and comfortable environment, Burton said.
“It was really empowering to feel that women were helping each other to be strong, and it wasn’t a competition,” Burton said. “All the trainers said, ‘You can do it!’ and were professional but supportive.”
The price and fact that after you take the course once, you can go back for life were attractive features of the program, Donaldson said.
On the last day of the course, the women wear full-body gear and execute the moves on a full-grown man, also dressed up.
“You actually get to gear up, and that’s when you’re getting a little scared when you’re in situations and you’re very vulnerable, they have two come on you at once, like simulating a real-life situation,” Gordon said.
The 12-hour course is completed in three days, and the next sessions will be 6-10 p.m. April 19, and 1-5 p.m. April 20-21.
To sign up for the training, call Swartzendruber at 530-277-4338 or visit http://dvsac.org/rad/.
“Everybody’s going out and getting guns now, but when push comes to shove, you have to be able to use your body. You can’t rely on pepper spray or a gun,” Gordon said.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.