Starting this semester, the college plans to teach the Rape Aggression Defense System, a comprehensive program offering realistic self-defense tactics, awareness training prevention techniques, risk reduction and avoidance methods. Each session lasts two hours, and the class meets weekly. The course is offered as a physical education credit to any interested female students and community members.
“I want as many girls as possible to take the course,” said Michael J. Hill, Director of Public Safety, “So I think making it a P.E. credit will convince large numbers of girls to sign up. And once you take the course, you can take it again free for life.” He and fellow Public Safety employee Joanna Gallagher, a 23-year veteran in the private security and public safety field, are the college’s two certified RAD instructors.
Even though the course appears purely physically based, in reality “it’s 20 percent physical and 80 percent prevention-based,” Hill said. “Most of the students will learn as much outside of the class as they will inside. These are skill sets every woman should have. Improving awareness and intuition are techniques that are immediate and effective.”
A section of the RAD mission statement, listed on its official website said, “The program provides educational opportunities for women, children, men and seniors to create a safer future for themselves.” Notably, however, the program will not be offered to men at the college.
Alexander Noyes ’15, an Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) member, expressed some concern over the all-female nature of the program.
“I think the fact that these courses are female-only is operating on assumptions about gender that aren’t entirely true. I, as a man, am one example of a Swarthmore student who would be interested in taking these classes. I would also like to protect myself from sexual or nonsexual crimes […] For example, it hasn’t been too long since two male students were victims of a physical assault on campus,” he said.
Hill explained that there was no stereotyping in the decision to offer the course exclusively to girls. “Right now I’m only certified to teach the course to girls, but hopefully in the future I’ll be able to do the same with boys,” he said. Gallagher is also currently only licensed as a RAD instructor for girls. She said she hoped to be able to teach the course to boys at some point as well.
The course, although sometimes offered to men, is most often taught to girls and women.
“There are some benefits for men with this [type of] training,” said Lisa Sendrow, an ASAP and Sexual Misconduct Advisory Resource Team (SMART) member, “but 95 percent of the time it’s men attacking women.” Sendrow said that the classes would provide a refreshing and useful balance to the goals of ASAP and SMART which provides a discussion-based safety net for survivors. “These techniques are not just aggressive, they allow girls to avoid dealing with certain situations, to connect physical and mental strengths together.”
Not everyone is entirely satisfied with the particulars of the program, however. Although Noyes certainly does not believe there is anything wrong with a class that advocates physical defense methods, he also does not think the R.A.D. program should be the sole manner in which the college community addresses assault.
“Obviously these classes cannot and should not be the only way our community addresses sexual assault,” he said. “ASAP programs need to continue. This year ASAP classes were reduced in number, a trend I hope does not continue. The administration needs to constantly try to improve the ease with which survivors can report and find resources.”
For Beth Kotarski, Director of the Worth Health Center, programs like RAD coupled with ASAP and SMART are the keys to educating, protecting, and providing advice to survivors and students alike surrounding issues of sexual assault.
“The RAD is [just] one way to empower folks,” she said. “For that reason, I am glad it is an option if it helps to give a sense of confidence and awareness to the physical nature of assault. What we know, however, is that no one program is the ‘magic bullet’ for preventing crimes of sexual abuse and violence. That is why the college is taking a wider approach. The idea is to broaden thinking about the underlying culture/climate that can perpetuate gender-based and sexual violence.”
Generally, the program has been met with positive responses and welcomed as another component of the college’s attempts to mitigate sexual assault stigma and provide safety.
Certainly, however, more work needs to be done. RAD joins and ongoing campus effort to eliminate sexual assault, and Kotarski stressed the importance of continuing this kind of work at the community level.
“The idea is to broaden thinking about the underlying culture that can perpetuate gender-based and sexual violence. To get any meaningful work done, we know that it has to happen at the community level,” she said. The RAD Basic Physical Defense Course will be offered on Feb. 20 (6–9 p.m.) and Feb. 23 (8 a.m.–5 p.m.) and also on April 3 (6–9 p.m.) and April 6 (8 a.m.–5 p.m.). Female students interested in joining the program for a P.E. credit should contact Joanna Gallagher at email@example.com.