RAD self defense class draws students

by Beacon Staff • November 2, 2011

strongFrankie Olito, Beacon Corresspondent/strong

The words “I’ll put a knife in you” still resonate with Mia Marchese as she recalls an incident on Newbury Street when she and a group of friends were threatened by a homeless woman.

Marchese, a freshman at The Berklee College of Music, said she has also been harassed at her bartending job, stating that men often get too touchy and inappropriately grab her.

It’s moments like these that brought women to the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) self-defense class last Friday, a program offered through Berklee and Emerson College to female students, faculty, and staff each semester.

RAD is a free twelve-hour course that teaches women the basics of how to defend themselves in case of emergency. According to Jackie Michalowski, a RAD instructor, participants complete the class after attending four sessions.

On Friday, the schools offered their first class of the semester.

As 33 female students entered The Loft, a large room on the third floor of 939 Boylston St. at Berklee, they sat down in chairs and began to fill out paperwork. When the class began, instructors locked the doors and covered the windows with paper. Additionally, the class was closed off to reporters due to discussions of sensitive topics.

But before the class began, Michalowski described the course step-by-step to the participants. She said the rows of chairs inside the room are pushed aside to provide more floor space.

According to Michalowski, the women are then taught basic techniques such as using their bodies as weapons, striking motions, the vulnerable areas on a man, and ground defense.

The women are also instructed on what to do in certain situations, such as being attacked by an assailant in a park or an elevator, Michalowski said. For example, the students practiced how to get out of a “bear hug;” a situation where an attacker grabs an unsuspecting victim from behind when they are standing at a vulnerable location, such as an ATM machine.

Aside from the physical component of the course, Michalowski said she helps students develop a certain mindset.

For example, she said she teaches students how to reduce risk of assaults, such as staying alert by not wearing headphones while walking on streets at night and parking cars under a street light.

Women often attend the class to learn about the legality of an attack, according to Michalowski. She said she recalls students asking about the true meanings of rape and stalking and what they can and cannot do to defend themselves when under attack.

“We teach them what the law is,” Michalowski said. “[The participants] want to be empowered and be able to do something if they are attacked.”

According to the Boston Police Department Crime Report, there have been 2,428 aggravated assaults from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23. Aggravated assaults occur when the perpetrator knowingly causes serious bodily injury to their victim.

From the same report, it was noted that there were 199 rapes or attempted rapes in Boston.

According to Emerson College’s crime report, the number of sexual offenses are high in public places. The report defined public property as, “All property, including thoroughfares, streets, sidewalks, and parking facilities that is within the campus, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus.” In 2009 there were three offenses, with four in 2010. In addition, the number of aggravated assaults hit high marks. In 2009, there were 56 offenses, and in 2010, there were 50.

However, on the actual campus, the statistics change dramatically. According to the Emerson College Annual Clery Compliance Report, during the past three years, there have been no sex offenses on the college’s facilities.

In fact, most students in the self-defense class, like junior Vanessa Collier, said they feel safe on their own campus.

“There is good security. and people feel really safe,” said the music production and engineering major at Berklee.

Like other females in the course who said they did not have previous experience with assault or attacks, Collier said she joined the class for different reasons.

“I want to have an approach to those stressful situations,” she said.

Like Collier, Emerson freshmen Michelle Morisi and Ruby Zhang said they came to gain a sense of security.

“[I want] to be able to feel safer and have a chance to get out of any dangerous situation,” said Morisi, a writing, literature, and publishing major.

“Sometimes, if I’m walking through the commons late, I would need the skills,” said Zhang, a visual and media arts major, referring to walking through Boston Common.

RAD self-defense classes are not only held for women, but are also taught to men, younger children, and the elderly, said Michalowski. However, these types of classes are not offered through Emerson.

Other area colleges that hold RAD classes include Boston College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Emmanuel College.

The second set of classes will be held in the Multipurpose Room of Piano Row on Nov. 28, 29, and 30, for which 25 women are already signed up, said Michalowski.

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