Women’s Center hosts GV’s first Rape Aggression Defense Seminar

Becky Spaulding

On Jan. 11, the Grand Valley State University Women’s Center will host the first Rape Aggression Defense Seminar of the winter semester. The self-defense seminar is three hours long and is “designed to empower women through self-awareness and basic fundamentals of prevention and self defense,” according to the Women’s Center website.

A one-credit course is also offered, allowing students to engage in the material over the course of a semester instead of in the shorter three-hour seminar.

The seminars and courses will be taught by Grand Valley Police Department officers who are certified RAD instructors, and includes lecture along with self-defense techniques, a combination meant to educate and empower students.

“RAD is an internationally recognized training program that provides short-term self-defense training and education, and it’s the largest network of its kind,” said Theresa Rowland, the Violence Against Women Grant Coordinator for the Women’s Center. “With a focus on self-confidence and assertiveness skills, the program … includes education and basic information around awareness, preventions, risk reduction and personal growth.”

Along with self-awareness, prevention and risk reduction, the RAD program provides physical defense techniques based on the most frequent attack scenarios. Participants will be able to “engage in basic hands-on defense without playing the role of the aggressor,” Rowland said.

This program is different from other self-defense and martial arts courses, educating in prevention as well as defense.

“While martial arts have significant self-defense applications, self-defense programs like RAD present physical techniques as options rather than specific responses to specific attacks,” Rowland said. “This program is designed for women, and exposes them to self-defense techniques and information about crimes that take place on campus.”

Though this is a self-defense seminar, the focus is also on the mental state of women on campus and in society today, pushing away the “blame the victim” mentality that often creeps into sexual assault cases, and educating participants about the reality of sexual assaults versus common myths.

“As a culture, rape myths are widely accepted,” Rowland said. “Many individuals hold misconceptions about sexual assaults, and knowledge of the facts is essential to prevent sexual assault on campus.”

The program hopes to educate women that assaults will occur, and often there is nothing that could be done about it. This is not always the response from women who experience these attacks.

“While risk reduction and safety education efforts provide personal empowerment, knowledge and skills – we know that these efforts alone cannot keep someone from being sexually assaulted,” Rowland said. “Continually addressing sexual assault as something that could be prevented – ‘if only the victim had done (blank)’ – versus focusing on the realities that make perpetrators motivated and able to commit these heinous crimes is a problem.”

The program also wants to emphasize the fact that assault victims often know their attackers.

Nearly 70 percent of women who were assaulted on college campuses knew the offender, according to a 2009 study performed by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a U.S. Department of Justice study from 2000 showed nearly 90 percent. A National Crime Victimization survey in 2009 showed that only 21 percent of assault victims were attacked by someone they did not know.

The fact that some women do not know their attackers needs to “be balanced … with information that rightly informs women that they need to be most worried about people they know,” Rowland said. “Images of sexual assault by a stranger saturate our cultural consciousness of sexual violence, but more women know who their perpetrators are – acquaintances, friends, co-workers, neighbors, dating partners, family members, etc.”

This program is meant to not only give participants a sense of empowerment, but to educate them about on-campus attacks, how to prevent them, and techniques for risk reduction.

“In instances of sexual assault, GVSU feels strongly that emphasis should be on the prevention of sexual assault, not just ways that women can reduce risk,” Rowland said. “Therefore, in addition to educational efforts and services that enhance risk reduction, we try to equally focus prevention efforts around social norms and behaviors of perpetrators.

The RAD seminar hopes that women who participate will walk away more knowledgeable and more empowered, and that they will carry that with them in their daily lives.

“Not only will participants learn more about sexual assault and other crimes that take place on campus, they will gain knowledge and skills that can be used in their personal lives,” Rowland said.

The seminar is offered several times throughout the semester. The first one will be held on Jan. 11 in the Kirkhof Center, room 2263 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Students can learn more and register for the seminar at www.gvsu.edu/womens_cen, and can register for the Self Defense for Women course, PED 100, on their myBanner page. Any student with additional questions can contact the Women’s Center at (616) 331-2748 or [email protected].

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