Op-Ed: In Defense of Self-Defense


TL;DR: In the past on IC’s campus, the Rape Aggression Defense program has gotten a bad rep. However, self-defense courses are something I find important for our community. Here's why:

Since taking my first self-defense course four years ago, I’ve wanted to hold an event for my friends and peers to increase our collective awareness and strength. On September 29, 2018, Passion Project held our first self-defense event catered to self-identified women at Ithaca College in conjunction with the Rape Aggression Defense program (RAD).

Ever since I was little, my parents have taught me to be hyper aware, to the point where my friends thought I was crazy. Before I came to college, my dad made me take that self-defense course, because he didn’t know what type of fuckery would be going on with these stupid college students. I mean, he did, but he just wanted to know that I would know what to do. So here I am — in a country and time where Brett Kavanaugh can be a supreme court justice — trying to get all my friends trained.

"So here I am — in a country and time where Brett Kavanaugh can

be a supreme court justice — trying to get all my friends trained."

From the beginning, I wanted to make sure that our course would be brief, taught by professionals and filled with knowledge. In my search to check off these boxes on the low low ($$), I came across the IC Public Safety program, RAD. The RAD coordinators at the college certify attendees through a month of courses, to “develop and enhance the options of self-defense, so they may become viable considerations to the woman who is attacked,” as their objective states.

RAD only allows those who identify as female to take the course, which raises a red flag for many (including me), as those who do not identify as female cannot take the course, even though females aren’t the only ones who are sexually victimized.

In my initial meeting with Crystal Young, RAD officer and IC’s Coordinator for Administrative and Operational Support, I asked why this was a policy. I referenced that fact that, according to the National Institute of Justice and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 15% of college men are also victims of forced sex during their time in college. From what I gathered, it seemed the mentality behind the rule (which is specific to IC) wasn’t based on research, but personal biases about women in uncomfortable encounters.

However, having the sessions sorted by gender creates a safe space for women, which it absolutely did for our event. The fact is that RAD does train men, but it takes a separate amount of time to train instructors for the men's program. In the end, it really leaves no space for those who identify as non-binary — something to think about.

"Having the sessions sorted by gender creates a safe space for women.

... In the end, it really leaves no space for those who identify as

non-binary — something to think about."

So, at the beginning of this class, our instructors (we had five) talked through several scenarios and some vocab words to get us into a defensive mindset. A lot of it I had heard from my dad before, as a Marines veteran and current security lieutenant from Long Island who was scared shitless to raise a daughter in the city. So in my head, none of the scenarios seemed too insane to me or out of the ordinary to consider.

In July of 2015, female faculty and staff at Ithaca College were invited to take the RAD training. Subsequently, students voiced concerns about the nature of the training. In response, representatives from the Student Governance Council, Feminists United, Spectrum and athletics wrote a letter to The Ithacan. They stated: “To address a problem radically is to address it at its root. R.A.D. does not offer a radical approach to ending sexual assault on our campus. Instead, it addresses potential victims instead of potential perpetrators.

In finding student organizations to co-sponsor the event, I encountered opposition with compelling points. One member of Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action chapter at IC sent me the open letter which further stated, “It is not the job of a woman to stop a rape from occurring, as the R.A.D. site implies. The only way we can end rape on our campus is by educating potential perpetrators about consent.”

The letter also expressed concern for the lack of conversation around domestic violence: “A 2010 government report stated that over half of sexual assaults are perpetrated by an intimate partner, which means that they might not be violent at all.” So without disregarding this incredibly valid point, programs like RAD are created to be starting points for conversation, as most self-defense classes are. Unfortunately, RAD didn’t have a conversation with our group about this, but I wonder what it would look like if that was a necessary conversation in self-defense courses. This letter is not outdated and brings up incredible points, but the women who took the course felt significantly more capable and knowledgeable walking out.

After practicing those moves, I could feel my body work in a way that a at gym session never could. I now know that if some belligerent idiot decided to grab me because they think I’m cute and I say no, I’m trained to GT and P. Only people who were there would get that last reference ;)

We’re all trying to reassure ourselves that sexual assault will never happen to us, but the truth is, it can, and it has. A lot of the push back on RAD has to do with it’s “radical” approach to self defense, but honestly, the ridiculous and scary shit that might happen to people is radical and should be — I believe — something that everyone is keeping in the back of their minds. There are some super shady people out there and being prepared is my favorite thing to be.

"We’re all trying to reassure ourselves that sexual assault will never

happen to us, but the truth is, it can, and it has. ... There are some super

shady people out there and being prepared is my favorite thing to be."

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